Staunton, October 23 – The Russian finance ministry’s plan to cut spending on the Russian siloviki (windowoneurasia2.blogspot.com/2020/10/draft-russian-budget-cuts-spending-for.html) has forced Vladimir Putin to issue what one could call a non-denial denial, according to Rosbalt commentator Sergey Shelin (rosbalt.ru/blogs/2020/10/23/1869633.html).
On the one hand, the Kremlin leader says that the plan is far from finalized and he hasn’t seen it so no one should get upset (kremlin.ru/events/president/news/64261). But on the other, he indicates that when he does make a decision, he will be guided by “the real situation in the economy,” an indication of the constraints he is under.
Those words in fact vitiate his denial that benefits will be cut, Shelin argues. “The further group of inequality is politically dangerous,” and the Kremlin knows it. Over the last seven years, incomes of people in the private sector have fallen, those in the public sector other than military have risen slightly, but those of the siloviki “have risen by great leaps.”
Moreover, as a result of the pension reform, ordinary people must work about 40 years to retire, while uniformed personnel can do so after 20, with their pensions guaranteed to rise with inflation, something civilian retirees do not have. Putin needs the siloviki as his last line of defense; but he also needs popular anger at them and him to be kept in check.
The Russian system has many aspects of feudalism, but the finance ministry plan as announced does not have anything to do with that. It reflects a broader and deeper understanding, and Putin will likely have to agree with much of that plan, however convenient it is for him politically to deny that reality now.
Many Russians will see the plan’s provisions increasing the need for uniformed personnel to work 25 rather than 20 years, an end to the indexing of siloviki pensions, and a reduction in force where possible as simple justice, however angry those in uniform may be. That too is a reality Putin will be forced to deal with.
The latest government cash crunch caused by the pandemic and falling oil prices gives the Kremlin few choices. There must be cuts, and the population will be the victim. But not cutting the siloviki too is politically unpalatable. And the patience of Russians, “many signs suggests, is close to exhaustion.”
The finance ministry plan doesn’t represent a wholesale attack on the Putin system as some imagine, Shelin argues. It is simply and entirely rational. According to the commentator, this plan may even have been a Putin maneuver to get the military to devote all its attention to the pay and benefits issue and avoid attacking his hopes to prune the military in other ways.
In the immediate future, there aren’t going to me any “real moves” on this chessboard, Shelin continues. But if the budget remains tight, “life itself” is going to force Putin eventually to accept much of what he currently is seeking to deny.
Window on Eurasia — New Series