Install

Get the latest updates as we post them — right on your browser

. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Law 122 Is Kremlin's Catch-22

To Our Readers

Has something you've read here startled you? Are you angry, excited, puzzled or pleased? Do you have ideas to improve our coverage?

Then please write to us.

All we ask is that you include your full name, the name of the city from which you are writing and a contact telephone number in case we need to get in touch.

We look forward to hearing from you.

Email the Opinion Page Editor

The Kremlin is trapped in a Catch-22 of its own making. This became deadly evident last week with the nationwide wave of protests against the notorious Law 122, the law that strips millions of poor Russians of the little support they previously received from the state.

Yet the trap was imminent. It has been described on thousands of pages of textbooks that outline the pitfalls of nontransparent, corporate-type regimes with corrupt and closed bureaucracies.

The law was developed and written by bureaucrats barely familiar with everyday life in the nation they believe they govern.

They live in tightly guarded compounds on Rublyovskoye Shosse and in Arkhangelskoye, paid for by the property department of the presidential administration. They dash to their offices in state-provided foreign cars and have no knowledge of Moscow's traffic jams and skyrocketing gasoline prices, let alone the price for the Metro or the bus. They receive free medical care in special well- equipped, Kremlin-run clinics, and in case they get really sick, they are taken to Germany or Switzerland, for which they don't pay out of pocket, either. On top of that, in accordance with the new law on public administration, which was passed at exactly the same time as Law 122, they enjoy salaries at least 20 times the national average. Translated into market prices, the compensation packages of high-ranking bureaucrats come to at least $130,000 and as much as half a million dollars a year, compared to an average income of $6,000 in the nation's most well-to-do city, Moscow.

The same is true of State Duma deputies: Their housing, medical care and transportation are covered by the Kremlin's Property Department. Elected for the most part via party lists, as opposed to a majority vote, they bear no accountability to the people they supposedly represent. Thus, they are neither willing to defend the rights of the deprived, nor are they capable of providing feedback about the growing tensions in the regions . They further contribute to the information asphyxia that has become a key feature of the current regime.

Next come the governors. Before the latest reform of the political system, they had to respond to the demands of their constituencies in the regions at least every fourth year, during election campaigns. Now their well-being and security depend solely on their masters in the Kremlin. Regional leaders knew all too well that their budgets would not be able to cover the costs of the welfare reform. Since 2001, most of the taxes collected in the regions go to the federal authorities. Yet the desire to show their compliance with whatever decisions the Kremlin makes and thus get reappointed made them keep their mouths shut.

Finally, the state-owned media have their share of responsibility in the social tension as well. In the years before the Vladimir Putin administration, the media would have discussed reforms like the elimination of benefits passionately. Reporters would have chewed on each and every line of Law 122 and, by doing so, would have engaged the country in a healthy debate while providing the authorities with information about possible responses to it. State television has done nothing but contribute to an imaginary reality, just exactly the way it did under the Soviet regime, which ended, of course, in bankruptcy.

Suffocating from a lack of information, the Kremlin responded to the protests in the same manner as their Soviet predecessors: by looking for enemies of the state. Some have gone so far as to declare the reform a premeditated coup against the president himself. As always in closed bureaucracies, powerful bureaucratic coalitions have formed and are now at each other's throats, undermining the much-proclaimed stability of the regime. Its collapse seems to be the only way out of the Catch-22 the Kremlin has created. And collapse is now inevitable.

Yevgenia Albats is a professor of political science at the Higher School of Economics in Moscow.