Staunton, October 15 – One of the first rules for any authoritarian leader is to ensure that those with guns on whom one relies to remain power are kept happy lest they turn on those whom they are supposed to obey. For most of his time in office, Vladimir Putin has punctiliously followed that principle. But the draft budget for 2021 shows him departing it.
Apparently because of budgetary stringencies brought on by declining oil prices and the pandemic crisis, the Russian government plans to spend less on military benefits and pensions next year than this, a shift that means those in uniform will not manage to keep up with projected inflation.
In reporting this and providing figures about benefits and pensions compared to inflation for the last eight years and the projected ones for next, Vladimir Mukhin of Nezavisimaya gazeta suggests that the declines are great enough that the Kremlin risks losing its “electorate in shoulder boards” (ng.ru/politics/2020-10-15/1_7991_budget.html).
That is certainly a concern: cutting benefits and pensions for people in uniform is hardly a way to make them enthusiastic about the current regime. But the impact one might expect these cuts to have will likely be limited because at least those in uniform or retired from service are being paid regularly. Many outside the ranks aren’t, and the soldiers can see that.
But anger about the failure of the government to spend more on benefits and pensions is rising among both Duma deputies and organizations of military personnel and military pensioners.
Vladimir Shamanov, head of the Duma defense committee, says that spending on such military needs must be increased over the next three years, especially given that the country plans to increase spending on the defense sector overall. At a minimum, the pension fund must be fully funded lest pensions be cut at some time in the future.
Oleg Shvedkov, head of the All-Russian Union of Military Employees, says that he and those in his organization feel that those in the government making financial decisions “are consciously undermining the prestige of military service for which the leadership of the country has fought over the last eight to ten years.”
And Aleksandr Kanshin, head of MEGAPIR, a union of retired officers, says that Moscow needs ot remember that “if a government doesn’t feed its own army, then it will end by feeding someone else’s.”