Friday, June 30, 2017

Putin’s Maternal Capital Program Not Boosting Birthrates but is Limiting Rise in Poverty

Paul Goble

            Staunton, June 30 – Vladimir Putin’s maternal capital program has done little to boost birthrates in Russia, but that should not have come as a surprise as pro-natalist programs even far better funded in other countries have not succeeded in doing so either.  But the program is valuable, Aleksey Mikhailov says, because it has limited poverty among Russian children.

            International experience shows, the Moscow analyst says, that governments can have an impact on demographic behavior but more on the negative than the positive side. Thus, China’s one-child policy worked, but well-funded European programs to boost birthrates have not (

            Indeed, Mikhaylov says, there are almost no examples of successful programs to boost birthrates. Instead, there are two common trends: “the better people live, the fewer children they have” but at the same time, if people become poorer, they also will have fewer children.  In short, to influence demographic behavior in a positive way is almost impossible.

            But that doesn’t mean that Moscow should, as some are now suggesting, eliminate or severely cut the maternal capital program. Instead, the analyst argues, Russians should see it as helping to address “the traditional tasks of social policy, the reduction of the level of poverty and inequality.”

Indeed, understood in this way, the maternal capital program should be expanded because while it does not do enough, it can prevent many children and their parents from falling into poverty.  That is a noble goal, and it is one that far too few Russian government programs are now focused on.

Putin in Fiscal Bind on Military Pay and Retirement Benefits

Paul Goble

            Staunton, June 30 -- After ignoring the issues of military pay and benefits for both serving and retiring personnel for five years, during the course of which pay and pensions stagnated and medical services were cut, Vladimir Putin last week said he wanted to boost pay and provide more benefits to uniformed personnel and retirees.

            But budgetary stringencies seem certain to get in the way, making it difficult to raise pay or pensions significantly and especially to provide the housing and medical care that soldiers and sailors are promised both while in uniform and after they retire, according to Vladimir Mukhin (

            Increasing the capacity of the military and special services has been a central goal for Putin, but he has focused more on equipment than on personnel. Last week, however, he indicated that improving the siloviki will require “the further improvement of the material and social stimuli” they receive.

            “We will continue to be concerned about he strengthening of social guarantees for military personnel, officers of the law-enforcement organs and special services. We will further guarantee worthy pay, offer housing, and raise the quality of medical services for military personnel and members of their families,” the Kremlin leader said.

            But since last making such declarations five years ago, Putin has done little in this sector. Military pay hasn’t been indexed to inflation even once, housing remains in critically short supply for officers, and having cut the military medical system to the bone, the government now wants to reduce spending on that function as well, the Nezavisimaya gazeta journalist says.

            Putin has begun to focus on these issues not only because he is about to take part in another political campaign but also because he wants to shore up support for himself among the siloviki, Mukhin continues, convinced as he is that the United States is seeking to achieve “regime change” in the Russian Federation.

            But the question arises: Can the Russian budget support such things given the continuing economic crisis?  Neither the 2017 nor the 2018-2019 budgets call for raising pay of soldiers and officers of law enforcement agencies and special services. In fact, the budget calls for cutting back spending on defense overall.

            To boost pay would require shifting funds from somewhere else, and there are too few places where that could happen, the journalist suggests.  At the same time, the uniformed services have many social needs which aren’t now being met and which could be addressed only if more money were directed at them.

            Duma deputies have already expressed concerns that the absence of pay increases and problems with benefits has led many in the uniformed services to leave their positions early, something that adds to training costs and makes it more difficult to maintain unit cohesion and readiness.

            A major problem is medical care. As a result of cutbacks in recent years, there is not a single military medical facility in 47 of the country’s federal subjects “where live more than 350,000 military pensioners.” And the number of hospitals, polyclinics, and other treatment centers for serving military personnel has been cut dramatically.

            The number of military clinics has been reduced from 173 to 41 and the number of military medical personnel has been cut from 13,000 to 2500 in recent years. Obviously something needs to be done, but the finance ministry maintains that spending on military medical needs is still too high.

            “Vladimir Putin has promised ‘to raise the quality of medical services for military personnel and members of their families,’ Mukhin says. But how can he deal with military pensioners in this regard “who also have the right to be treated in military medical facilities?”  The answer to that is “unknown.”

The Worse Things Become, The More Russians Look to the State and to Putin

Paul Goble

            Staunton, June 28 – In most countries when the economic situation deteriorates or the government behaves in ways that fail to help the population out, an increasing number of people turn against the government and its leadership and demand either changes in policies or even changes in the leadership itself.

            But in Russia, the relationships between the economy and the state, on the one hand, and the population, on the other, is very different. There polls and analysts suggest, the worse things become in the economy and in government policy, the more Russians look to the state and especially to the supreme leader for salvation.

            A Gazeta commentary suggests this represents “a paternalistic scheme in action: the worse Russians live – and  a new VTsIOM survey finds 40 percent of them do not have enough money even for food and clothing – the greater the hopes they place in the state” (

            “For officials,” the paper continues, “such a state of affairs is natural: they in general consider the social sphere their undivided possession, while citizens fear rather to lose the little that they still have and believe in a miracle” worked by the state, as a new study by the Higher School of Economics confirms (
            And Russians feel this way even when most Russians think the state is not doing its job because they are certain that any change could end by making things worse.  And that explains the pattern of public activity: 50,000 people in Russia as a whole protest corruption, but 250,000 in Moscow alone pray at Ramadan and almost a million stand in line to see a saint’s relics.

            A Russian blogger, Anatoly Nesmiyan, supplements this observation in a post entitled “Total Poverty in a Stable Putinist Russia” in which he suggests that the authorities are successfully deploying lies to suggest that there are no general problems but only a few specific ones in a few places (

            That was what Putin’s “Direct Line” program was all about: showing that the president could address very specific problems. But that in turn shows that neither he nor his regime intend either to analyze the situation as a whole or to adopt policies designed to ameliorate the impact of it on the population as a whole.

            And what that means, Nesmiyan continues, is that the population is going to become ever poorer even as it listens to the government’s message that everything is somehow getting better and better. When that becomes unsustainable is anyone’s guess, but it is certainly far further in the future in Russia than it would be in other countries.