A New Threat to the Kremlin: Russians’ Incomes Not Keeping Pace with Their Expectations

Diverse Paper Currency, Coins, Line Graph

(Paul Goble – Window on Eurasia – Staunton, May 25, 2017)

In every federal district except the Far East, Russians say they need more money for “a normal life” than their current incomes, a situation that reflects stagnating wages and salaries and rising prices and one, the editors of Nezavisimaya Gazeta say, that represents an increasingly serious political threat to the Kremlin.

According to a new Romir survey, the editors says, Russians estimate that a family of three needs a monthly income of 83,600 rubles (1700 US dollars), 10,900 rubles (200 US dollars) more than a year ago and greater than the incomes of such families everywhere but in the Far Eastern FD (ng.ru/editorial/2017-05-25/2_6995_red.html).

Russians have had to get accustomed to “‘a new normal,'” the editors say, “but the not yet forgotten life of the recent past remains the guide” to their judgments about what they in fact need. In most countries, the emergence of a gap between the two leads to demands for reform, a change in government policy or even the replacement of those in power.

But while the Russian authorities were only too happy to promote a rising standard of living in the first decade of this century, they “have not created or preserved conditions in which the political realization of dissatisfaction is possible and legal.” And that means the powers that be now face a problem that to a certain extent is of their own making.

Many speak about a contract between the population and the powers that be in the early 2000s, one in which the ruling elite guaranteed a rising standard of living in exchange for being free to pursue its own goals. “There wasn’t any such contract, of course,” the editors point out. But the general pattern was clear. It no longer holds on either side.

“It is possible to call the privatization of institutions and the restriction of the political field instinctual behavior” on the part of elites, the editors say. Any elite wants to extend its rule and weaken those who oppose it. Thus, “the logic of this process is universal and doesn’t affect only Russia.”

But other elites recognize more than Russian ones do that “any economic success of any policy is a stick with two ends: it creates a group of beneficiaries of the policy of the ruling elite, the quality of life of which has been improved by the reforms.” And such beneficiaries may be on the left or right.

Then, however, “a crisis arises. The powers that be can’t spend more, and yet the growth in prices, inflation, and the increasing cost of living require this. Or the powers can’t after one successful round of reforms agree on a second and thus purchase social trust again.” And those who benefitted earlier are now suffering.

“The special feature of the Russian situation,” the editors of the Moscow paper say, is that no political force wins points on the basis of the gap between possibilities and needs.” And that is why the powers that be prefer to talk about “Trump, Ukraine, pensions or suicide groups on the Internet.”

How long that can work remains very much an open question.

[Article also appeared at windowoneurasia2.blogspot.com/2017/05/a-new-threat-to-kremlin-russians.html]