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.
Systematic theoretical work on Russian and Chinese social policy seems to be lacking. While previous research establishes how democratic systems produce welfare, it is unclear what kind of welfare such transitional systems provide. Our analysis adheres to structuration based theoretical explanations, taking into account both agency and structure as factors needed to explain these regimes’ welfare policy. Hybrid regimes are eager to adopt global liberally oriented welfare policies, which tend to ignore popular demands. Western analysis of Russian and Chinese social policy emphasizes the dualistic influence of liberal versus statist social policy. This dualistic conceptualization fails to take into account the contradictions between ideological frames and hybrid regimes’ vulnerability to popular pressures. Widespread corruption undermines formal procedures and underlies growth of informal practices. Both Russia and China have considerable welfare achievements and vast problems. In conditions of economic growth, both have experienced huge increases in inequality and individualization of risk.