By Paul Goble
Two contrasting figures were reported this week that raise some intriguing questions about Russian political life at the regional level. On the one hand, the heads of almost half of the country’s federal subjects have avoided talking about the pension plan. But on the other, 61 regional parliaments have expressed grudging support.
The independent television channel Dozhd, citing research by the Petersburg Politics Foundation, reported that the heads of “only 27 of 84” federal subjects have come out in favor of the pension plan, with 41 others either distancing themselves from it and 24 more refusing to respond to queries about it (tvrain.ru/news/vlasti_pochti_poloviny_regionov-467397/).
At the same time, 61 of the federal subject parliaments sent in messages of support, a figure that represents nearly three-quarters of the total, although one that has already sparked complaints in Moscow given that the center expected an even higher figure (polit.ru/article/2018/07/10/pension/ and kommersant.ru/doc/3682003).
Some of this difference may simply be an artefact of timing: governors may yet come out in support as well as additional legislatures. But the fact that the two are not in lock step either with each other or with Moscow is interesting and likely reflects conditions in each of them as well as differences in their status.
The governors, although appointed by Putin, are likely more used to navigating the political wilderness than are members of the parliaments. And consequently, they may see a real need not to get too close to what the Kremlin wants when that is something that is so deeply unpopular while regional deputies may be more inclined simply to go along.
But however that may be, these figures are another indication of just how unpopular Moscow’s pension reform plan is and how dangerous it may prove if the center decides as seems likely to ram in through with only cosmetic change if that.