This Special Issue is devoted to Russia’s welfare state during the years of economic stagnation that began in 2013. Twelve experts assess social conditions and reforms in poverty, labor market, pension, housing and education policies. They show that social mobility has stagnated in conditions of deep inequality and just-above-poverty incomes for many. Innovative labor market and anti-poverty policies are hampered by low productivity and wages, both features of an oligarchic economic model that blocks competition and development. Welfare commitments heavily burden the state budget, producing reforms that transfer costs to users. The authors find that popular protests have forced government to partially mitigate these reforms. Putin’s government appears trapped between oligarchic economic interests and popular expectations for welfare. The final article compares China’s comparatively successful welfare trajectories with those of Russia, and proposes an agenda for further research.
Meeting popular expectations for social welfare delivery is one of the pillars upon which the current Russian regime bases its legitimacy. At the same time, the authorities try to transfer responsibility and costs to citizens and transfer service delivery to commercial actors. This article addresses the relationship between welfare reform and political stability in Russia. The discussion is based upon case studies of three large-scale reforms of pension, education and housing policies in 2014–2019. The reforms are analyzed in the light of mechanisms often referred to as “neo-liberal”: public budgets are relieved by making citizens pay more out of their own pockets, and tasks that used to be public are transferred to non-state actors or people’s self-organizing. The article identifies how the population reacts to the introduction of such mechanisms. It discusses the extent to which core reform mechanisms are challenged and original reforms modified in response to resistance.