Staunton, February 20 – Rising poverty and unemployment have the potential to spark new waves of protests, the Federal Financial Monitoring Service has told Vladimir Putin, a warning that takes on particular urgency given reports that unemployment may jump by as much as 10 million Russians with the end of pandemic-related subsidies now set to end on March 1.
Yesterday, for the first time since 2012, the Service warned the Kremlin leader that declining incomes, something that some Russians are trying to compensate for with get-rich schemes that will lead to even more problems, may become yet another reason to expect new protests (ura.news/articles/1036281950).
Typically, declining incomes if they occur over time seldom spark protests. People have to tighten their belts and may become angry about their situation, especially if they see that their situaiton reflects machinations by fraudulent companies or the failure of the government to respond to their plight.
But if there is a sudden economic shock, people are more likely to take to the streets. And Russia faces the prospect of just such a shock in about two weeks. On March 1, the system of subsidies to companies that the Russian government put in place to combat the impact of the pandemic ends, and as many as ten million Russians may find themselves without work.
That is the message Aleksandr Kalinin, head of the All-Russian Public Organization of Small and Mid-Sized Entrepreneurs, has for the government. If its subsidies do end, firms will have little choice but to lay off many workers and possibly even close, harming the economy and adding to social tensions (opora.ru/news/opora-rossii-ne-isklyuchaet-sokrashcheniya-personala-v-biznese-posle-spisaniya-kreditov-pod-2.html and svpressa.ru/economy/article/290458/).
Part of the reason such threats are being highlighted is that those making them believe that that is the only way to force the Kremlin to act rather than being an indication of what anyone really thinks will happen. But the risks are sufficient that the powers that be are considering how to respond, especially if the subsidies do end and unemployment goes up.
One step the Kremlin has already taken is to push for the federalization of unemployment centers so that there is both a common approach to registration and an improvement in the sharing of information about jobs among people in different regions. But if the projected figures are right, that step alone will likely be insufficient.
And there is another danger for the Kremlin as well: Parties on the left, and especially the KPRF, are likely to play up the unemployment issue as the country goes into the Duma election campaign, something that will make it even more difficult for United Russia to maintain its position without even more massive falsifications, a tactic that carries with it its own risks.