Tensions between Russia and the UK have reached boiling point after the attempted murder of Russian spy Sergei Skripal in the UK city of Salisbury.

The leaders of France, Germany, US and the UK have issued a joint statement blaming Russia for the attempted murder of the former double agent.

In the meantime, Verdict has taken a look at the two nations on either side of the diplomatic row and — if it comes to blows — which could have the edge.


At more than 17 million square kilometres, the Russian bear is approximately 70 times larger than the British bulldog.

With 123 million hectares in arable land — the world’s third-largest area behind only India and the US — Russia has the potential to be an agricultural superpower.

The country has 36,400 agricultural enterprises and 174,600 farmers, according to the 2016 agricultural census.

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Meanwhile, it’s often claimed — though it’s in some doubt — that golf courses occupy more English land than housing does. The claim was first made by housing consultant Colin Wiles in 2013 and publicised by Britain’s biggest housing charity Shelter.

When it comes to sheer size, Russia wins this round by a wide margin.


At 144 million, Russia houses around double the United Kingdom’s 65.6 million. Russia’s population has stabilised in recent years after declining for some time, while the British population climbed steadily.

While there are undoubtedly more Russians, according to Russia’s Federal Statistics Agency, 14% of the population lived below the official poverty line in 2015, up from 11 per cent in 2014, and the highest percentage since 2006.

Sociologists from the Russian Academy of Sciences, however, believe the situation is worse. They estimate that the number of poor has doubled since 2013 to hit one-quarter of the population.

Russia has also failed to prepare its pension system for a rapidly ageing population. In 2016 the government raised pensions by 4% to make up for rising consumer prices, but as the inflation rate was more than double that last month, real pension incomes are falling.

Russian life expectancy has reached record highs, with those born in 2016 expected to live 71.87 years on average, according to state statistics agency Rosstat.

Meanwhile, a report last year by the independent Joseph Rowntree Foundation (JRF), shows that a total of 14 million people in the UK currently live in poverty – more than one in five of the population.

In the UK the Office for National Statistics puts UK life expectancy at 79.4 years for men and 83.1 years for women.

And when Russia’s larger population is placed in the context of its huge landmass, the UK is shown to be much more densely populated.

We’ll call this one a tie — there’s a bit less poverty in the UK but more people in Russia, and they don’t live as long.

GDP and economy

Britain’s GDP per capita is also consistently much higher than Russia’s.

While the UK suffered more acutely in the 2008 financial crisis, it has not suffered the same level of economic downtown as Russia has in recent years, where crashing oil prices led to seven consecutive quarters of contraction that decimated the middle class.

Russia began to buck this trend in 2017 (not shown in the graph below) with the economy crawling towards growth.

The UK wins this round.

Military spending

Russia far outstrips the UK in terms of military presence.

Notably, the number of people in the armed forces and military expenditure as a percentage of GDP has declined steadily over the past decade in the Britain, while Russia shows a serious uptick in both categories since 2014.

In 2014 Russia annexed Crimea, a move which many countries including Britain regard as illegal.

Russia wins this one, and it would appear could comfortably take the UK in a one-on-one war — The US (at least officially) has the UK’s back and that should even the odds.

Military expenditure (% of GDP)