Putin has thereby “achieved the impossible, in one moment drawing into politics the broadest masses of Russian citizens, including those who haven’t voted for anti-Putin parties, taken part in political meetings and are indifferent to the arrests of opposition figures, the commentator continues.
Moreover, by taking this poorly thought out action, Putin has told Russians both that “social stability is at an end” and that “the political opponents of Putin have been right in everything.” That is creating a sea change in Russia, but whether this revolutionary situation will lead to a revolution remains unclear.
It is certainly true, Melnikov says, that Russians are asking whether the policy they see being imposed reflects the political and economic system which exists under Putin. “And this is a revolutionary question.” Increasingly, they are drawing that conclusion and coming to see that “this system will be destroyed. Sooner or later.”
Putin and his siloviki may be able to hold things in check for a longer time than one might expect, but in the end, the results will be the same as they were for the Russian Empire and the USSR. Putin is responsible for this, and for that, those who want a better future for Russia and Russians should be grateful, the commentator says.
Melnikov almost certainly overstates his case and underestimates the resources of the Putin autocracy, but three developments this week support his view that the Russian people and their possible leaders have been transformed by what Putin has incautiously done after promising never to do it. They include:
First, polls show that 92 percent of Russians oppose raising the pension age, and nearly two million have signed petitions to the government against that step, a greater unanimity than even Putin himself has ever achieved with all his political technology and repression ().
Second, leaders of the opposition and leaders of the trade unions are being to act like they should, coming out against a government policy that hurts the people. They have organized some demonstrations and have announced more in the coming weeks; and now they may have the people behind them (, and ).
And third, unlike many opposition enterprises in the past, this movement is drawing support not only from the two capitals but from cities and villages across the Russian Federation, something that will present a far greater challenge to the regime than it has faced in the past ().
Moreover, the regime’s response is only making the situation worse. Russian officials have been insisting that pensions for those who get them will go up significantly if they continue to work a few more years. That notion is falling on deaf ears for both demographic and cultural reasons.
On the one hand, many Russians, especially men, won’t live to get any pension. In the Russian Far East, for example, fewer than half will do so if the pension age goes up. In short, they will pay into the system with their taxes but get no benefits at all. The government will thus keep it all.
(For useful discussions on the demographics of pension reform, see , and ,)
And on the other hand, concern about gaining a pension and living for a few years has been embedded in the minds of most Russians as the closet thing to a communist utopia any of them are going to see. Taking that away is a surefire means of infuriating them beyond the point of any explanation.
As one thoughtful analyst puts it, one could raise the pension age in other countries without political fallout, but in Russia, because of its specific Soviet past, doing so, especially in the radical way Moscow has chosen to, will inevitably be not only unpopular but something that will snap the ties between the people and the state ().