Can Russian data be trusted? A hazard map of official statistics rated on 30 indicators


Center for data and research on Russia and Boris Nemtsov Foundation for Freedom submitted a hazard map of Russian official statistics

One of the problems created by Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine in 2022 has been the increasingly limited availability and reliability of official Russian statistics. Over the past two years, at least 35 Russian government bodies have closed certain statistical indicators to the public. Almost 500 datasets have disappeared from the official websites of federal agencies alone. In some cases, entire statistical platforms stopped functioning.

Moreover, published statistics cannot always be trusted: researchers doubt its quality and perceive the data suppression as an attempt to create the illusion that the war has no impact on Russian society and the state. With fieldwork impossible, this situation poses numerous challenges for anyone studying Russia — be they journalists, researchers, analysts, or those simply interested in the country’s situation following the outbreak of full-scale war.

However, it is also important to avoid the idea that all Russian official data is always falsified and that the country has become impenetrable for an outside observer. Russia, unlike North Korea or the Soviet Union, does not seek to close itself off from the outside world completely (at least not yet). Despite wartime censorship, Russia still has plenty of high-quality open data — more than some other countries that are generally more democratic. What matters is how to properly use this data.

The hazard map of Russian official statistics is designed to help with this task. It thus raises awareness of distortion risks for particular indicators and helps understand which data can or cannot be trusted, to what extent and for what reasons. This study has been conducted by the Cedar (Center for data and research on Russia) team for the Known Unknowns project with the support of the Boris Nemtsov Foundation and the Ideas for Russia initiative. 

About the hazard map:

— For the first edition of the map, we selected 30 indicators that are used to assess the demographic, social, and economic situation in modern Russia. Subsequently, we thoroughly analyzed each indicator with the assistance of subject matter experts. In total, over 20 leading experts from various fields participated in the project, not including the authors of the report;

— For each indicator, we noted ‘red flags’ — potential issues that require special attention. 

  • Sharp changes in methodology;
  • Discrepant data from different sources;
  • Abnormal jumps in regional data;
  • Data inaccessibility or publishing issues;
  • Confirmed cases of indicator manipulation;
  • Poor record keeping or low quality of primary data;
  • Sloppy data interpretation. 

— Based on the results of our study, we assigned reliability scores to all indicators. There are three levels of reliability: Green — for reliable indicators, Yellow — for indicators that can be trusted under certain conditions, Red — for unreliable indicators.

Twelve indicators on our list received a ‘red’ score, including the minimum subsistence rate, poverty rate, census results, causes of death. For example, the poverty rate is several percentage points lower when calculated using more recent methodology. The reduction of poverty is stated as a high priority for the Russian government, and since the outbreak of war, the authorities have reported unprecedentedly low poverty rates twice

Eleven indicators have been marked ‘yellow’, for example income, unemployment rate, GDP, population size.

Only seven indicators have been marked ‘green’, including fertility rates, infant mortality, number of court sentences and court cases.

In the future, the hazard map of Russian official statistics will be expanded. We plan to incorporate new indicators and broaden the dataset, implying that more information about data on Russia will become available.

The project will be publicly presented online on March 25 at 16:00 CET. To register, please follow the link.


Cedar (Center for data and research on Russia) is an independent think-tank aimed at providing data about Russia to the academic and expert community. The Center provides access to independently developed and published digital tools and sources.

The Boris Nemtsov Foundation for Freedom was founded in 2015 in Germany. Its mission is to preserve the liberal legacy of assassinated Russian politician Boris Nemtsov. The Foundation aims to develop human capital and to promote freedom, education and human rights.

Ideas for Russia is a research initiative co-founded by the Boris Nemtsov Foundation for Freedom in partnership with the Faculty of Social Sciences (Charles University) and Prague-based Institute for International Relations. The initiative establishes an academic network that is aimed at producing empirical scholarly insights on current and future trends in Russian society, politics, and economy. Ideas for Russia fosters collaborative projects of reputable Russian at-risk researchers, Russia scholars in Europe and the U.S., as well as students interested in studying Russia.