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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Outgoing Stats Service Head Discusses Mistakes

MOSCOW — Russia's economy has not yet started to recover, and a lack of good economists is to blame for the depth of the crisis, the outgoing head of the State Statistics Service, Vladmir Sokolin, was quoted as saying.

In an interview with Itogi magazine, Sokolin, who is due to leave Rosstat after 11 years at the helm, also criticized the 2008 decision to put the service under the control of the Economic Development Ministry, which he said threatens the objectivity of the data.

Russia's gross domestic product (GDP) shrank by a tenth in the first half of this year, a much deeper slowdown than in many other emerging market countries such as Brazil or China.

"The main difference in these countries ... is the presence of a large squadron of economists who can analyze the cause of the illness and suggest adequate ways for treatment," Sokolin said.

"And who will cure us? The expert environment, on which the government should lean when taking serious economic measures, has effectively been atrophied. The Economic Development Ministry, sadly, cannot come up with such solutions today."

The press service at the Economic Development Ministry does not comment on interviews, a spokeswoman told Reuters.

Revision in data since the start of the crisis, including a sharp reduction in unemployment levels in the spring as a result of a recalculation of the total population size, has led some analysts to question the reliability of the official statistics.

Sokolin's new job will be heading a Commonwealth of the Independent States intergovernmental statistics committee.

"I do not know [if this is a promotion or an exile]. I am a state employee. The government proposed me for the job ... and I agreed," he said.

Sokolin said "a big mistake" was the fact that since last year, Rosstat is answerable to the Economic Development Ministry rather than directly to the government as before.

"The agency, which is the main user of our data and which compiles a lot of reports and forecasts, has a big temptation to direct statistics in the direction which it needs," he said.

"So the ministry starts to give orders — we need to monitor this and that. It is a good thing that for now they are not saying how to monitor, not trying to manipulate the numbers."

Sokolin also does not share the view of the Economic Development Ministry — and other officials — that Russia has started to climb out of its first recession in a decade.

"If we look at the Rosstat model, it does not confirm the Economic Development Ministry's information that we have already started to move upwards," he said, adding that the trend in industrial production, adjusted for seasonal and calendar effects, has been "absolutely horizontal" in the past four months.

"So we are really lying on the bottom. The crisis, thank God, has not started to dig deeper, but the trend is not yet showing a rise. Of course you can take other indicators, correct the coefficients a bit and show that growth has begun."