Sunday, June 17, 2018

Is Putin Simply Evading Responsibility on the Pension Issue – or Is He Making Medvedev the Fall Guy?

Paul Goble

            Staunton, June 16 – Again and again, Aleksey Melnikov says, Putin’s system is “based on delegating responsibility” to others and denying one is involved unless there is something positive to be gained by doing so.  That is what appears to be the case with the proposed increase in retirement ages that Putin’s spokesman says the Kremlin leader had nothing to do with.

            “Why does Russia need such a president?” if he isn’t involved in the tough decisions, the Moscow commentator asks rhetorically; but it also raises another possibility Melnikov doesn’t consider: is Putin placing the blame on Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev so that he can fire him and look the hero? (

            That appears particularly likely given reports the Kremlin is thinking about “retreating” on proposed pension ages if Russians protest against them, as they are already doing via public demonstrations and a petition drive with already nearly a million signatures (

            In his Kasparov commentary, Melnikov notes that Putin’s press secretary has declared that “Putin hasn’t participated in the discussion of raising the pension age. This supposedly is the task of the government.” But that raises the question, he says, “in just what then does Putin ‘participate’?”

            “Only in what he likes? Only in what he wants? In the opening of a football competition? In awards? In a night hockey league? In greetings? In motorcycle rides? … In photosessions with a gun and a naked torso? In fabricated elections?”  Why does Putin get a choice given how many problems Russia has?

            “Why for example,” Melnikov continues, “doesn’t Putin go to meet the caskets of Russian soldiers who have gone to the war in Syria which he has gotten Russia involved in? A war which supposedly is finished and from which Russia has withdrawn its forces twice but in which Russian soldiers are dying?”

            According to the Russian commentator, “the Yeltsin-Putin political system is based on the delegation of responsibility. When the person on top controls everything,” as now, he is in a position to redirect any anger to those below him even though he personally bears responsibility for what they are doing because he alone decides whether they will be in office.

                “Three things distinguish the senior Russian leadership” under Putin, he continues: cowardice when its members get caught and have to lie about what they have done, boldness when they know that those opposing them are too weak to matter, and fear when they think that those they control and exploit may soon not be.

            That last point makes a story in Vedomosti by Andrey Gordeyev especially worthy of note.  The journalist says that “the Kremlin is worried about protests because of the raising of the pension age,” is closely monitoring the situation, and in the words of one Kremlin source, may soften the reform by reducing the increases in retirement ages.

            Such a retreat, of course, would make Putin look the hero in a situation in which he clearly is not; but it would also completely undercut his prime minister who would become damaged goods not just as an electoral prospect in 2024 but right now.  And that raises a larger question.

            Is it really unthinkable that Putin has planned for exactly that outcome in order to oust Medvedev and even his government to recover his own position with the population and set things on a new course, one that could be even more repressive but that would at first at least be rated as a concession to the population?

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