MOSCOW, Feb 5 (Reuters) - Russia's inflation hit 15 percent in January, official data showed on Thursday, underscoring the growing economic pain from sliding oil prices and Western sanctions linked to the Ukraine conflict.
Inflation has been shooting up in recent months as a result of a slide in the rouble, pushing up import prices, and restrictions on many Western food imports in retaliation for the sanctions.
The inflation surge is embarrassing for the central bank, coming just days after it unexpectedly cut its main lending rate - to the concern of many analysts who warned that it was taking risks with inflation.
It also comes just two days after the bank's governor Elvira Nabiuillina defended the recent rate cut by saying that real interest rates - the difference between nominal rates and inflation - remained positive.
With the bank's main lending rate now 15 percent, the same as inflation, the claim has been quickly proved wrong.
Russian officials have forecast that inflation would reach 15-17 percent in the coming months, but the speed of the increase comes as a surprise. A month earlier, inflation was running at 11.4 percent.
Analysts polled by Reuters at the end of last month predicted that inflation would reach 13.3 percent in January, with an increase of 2.6 percent month-month. (Reporting By Jason Bush; Editing by Lidia Kelly)