Friday, June 22, 2018

Putin May Decide to Use Pension Crisis to Oust Liberals in the Government, Martynov Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, June 22 – The overwhelmingly negative reaction to the Russian government’s plan to raise retirement ages has prompted many Moscow commentators to suggest that Putin will “moderate” the reform, blame the government of Dmitry Medvedev, and win back his popular support which has been slipping.

            But Kirill Martynov, the political editor of Novaya gazeta, argues that Putin may have “a Plan B,” one that would involve placing all the blame on Kudrin “and other liberals” and using this crisis as a way for a wholesale removal or purge of these people from his regime (

            For the moment, the commentator says, Putin has been keeping his distance from the debate about the pension system, thus positioning himself to intervene in a timely and carefully calculated fashion to cut back the raising of retirement ages and thus allow the reform itself to go through “in a more or less unchanged form.”

            The pro-Kremlin commentators who of course support the reform fall into two camps. The first consists of television talk show hosts who “are competing with each other to say how profitable and useful raising the pension age will be literally for all Russians” and even that it will by itself promote better lives as people strive to live to pension age and beyond.

            That group’s arguments have clearly been rejected by the population, Martynov says.

                The second group which includes people like Federation Council Speaker Valentina Matviyenko cast their arguments in favor of the reform in “pragmatic” terms.  They acknowledge that while no one is happy about it, the country has no other choice but to raise retirement ages and to do so immediately.

            They point to “objective demographic causes” and to the fact that the decision has been put off for too long, conveniently forgetting that those who put it off are the ones insisting on it now.  They also ignore the fact that the government appears to have no intention of raising the retirement ages of some groups, such as the siloviki.

            “But the chief argument of ‘the pragmatists,’” Martynov continues, “is to rely on authorities. Leading liberal economists like Aleksey Kudrin,” they argue, “for a long time have explained to us that raising the pension age is inevitable. Why then are you disputing that? Perhaps you have more competent specialists?”

            Those making this argument, of course, never mention that liberal economists never have called for pensioners to pay for “’the geopolitical successes’ of the country in Syria and other regions of the planet.” They’ve never called for a speedy approach to reform so that Moscow will have enough money to support its campaign in Ukraine and deal with sanctions.

            “And certainly only in their worse nightmare would they want to cut social guarantees at the very time when the tax burden on the citizenry and business is growing, as is happening now,” the commentator says.  Even the most committed of them must be “bewildered” by the timing of what the Russian government is doing.

            And they must be especially concerned that the government has taken up such an unpopular measure out of the liberal reform agenda and not addressed any of the other problems liberal reformers support, Martynov says.

“Without real reforms and changes in the rules of the game within Russian state capitalism, in particular without the reduction of the appetites of ‘the fat cats’ sitting on their monopolies, all manipulations involving increasing the retirement age will simply disappear in bookkeeping holes in the current budgets,” the Novaya gazeta writer argues.

But none of this can be discussed in the current political environment, he continues. It is simply “too dangerous.”  And one way out of this politically explosive situation is for Putin to save himself and his friends by denouncing Kudrin and the liberals, dispensing with their services, and pushing through a much less radical reform.

Indeed, Martynov implies, this may have been the Kremlin leader’s plan all along. 

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