Staunton, May 14 – Over the last decade, in order to maintain its power, the Kremlin has worked consistently to destroy Russia’s emerging middle class, an action Vladimir Putin believes allows him to retain power but one that is putting the entire country “on the brink of a social explosion,” Russian analyst Dmitry Milin says.
It has long been common ground that a large middle class whose incomes are not dependent on the state is the basis for political stability, he points out. That is confirmed indirectly by the fact that as globalization has intensified income inequality and reduced the size of the middle class in many countries, they have become more populist and unstable.
“But only in Russia has the state itself begun the destruction” of the middle class that economic growth in the first decade of this century gave rise to, a middle class whose protests against election falsifications in 2011 so frightened Putin that he adopted a course directed at its destruction (kasparov.ru/material.php?id=5EBCDC1E21589).
“Putin’s fears for his power led to a chain of political mistakes which have led Russia to its present situation,” Milin continues. He could have adopted a different tack, presented himself as the leader of the middle class as well as the entire country, and even involved opposition figures one way or another in the government.
Instead, the Kremlin leader sought to destroy the creative class which he and his administration viewed as a threat, driving some into emigration, marginalizing others but radicalizing yet a third group. His desire to eliminate the middle class was a major factor in its re-statification of the economy which led to the stagnation of the last decade.
But it also explains his attack on pensions and his increase in taxes, both of which were intended to leave less space for the middle class and make those who had been part of it dependent and fearful government employees. The lower reaches of the middle class were thus pushed into poverty, and only its top strata remained middle class worthy of the name.
The result is that now, under conditions of the pandemic and the economic crisis, Milin says, “our government finds itself in a situation in which it does not have a majority of the population that can survive for two or three months without income” and at the same time has no wish to support this group financially.
The upshot is that by defeating the middle class, the Kremlin has achieved exactly the opposite outcome it hoped for: it faces the prospect of a social explosion this summer, one that may be broad enough to seriously challenge its policies if not yet its personnel.