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Russia Reform Monitor - No. 2233

Rethinking the Russian Criminal Code;
Russia's vanishing middle class

Edited by Ilan Berman and Margot Van Loon
July 16, 2018

June 16:

President Vladimir Putin appears to be using the World Cup as a distraction to advance a deeply unpopular long-term effort to increase Russia's retirement age.
According to Britain's Express newspaper, a bill signed by Prime Minister Dmitri Medvedev raises the retirement age from 55 to 63 for women and from 60 to 65 for men over the next ten to fifteen years. Medvedev signed the bill just after the Russian team's victory over Saudi Arabia, and hopes to secure a Duma vote on the legislation before the tournament ends on July 15th. Given the Russian public's staunch opposition to any attempted pension reform, the timing seems to be a strategic attempt to neutralize negative reactions during the lull of midsummer and to exploit the heightened World Cup security measures that conveniently ban mass public gatherings.

June 17:

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is pressing his demand that Iranian forces be compelled to exit Syria. In the premier’s most recent statement to his cabinet, Netanyahu confirmed that he had spoken with both Russian President Vladimir Putin and U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo over the weekend about eliminating Iran’s military presence in Syria.
According to the Times of Israel, the weekend calls were the latest in a series of high-level exchanges during which Netanyahu has raised this strategic concern amid the context of other bilateral cooperation on counterterrorism and joint security efforts in the region.

June 18:

In a widely expected move, EU lawmakers have extended the bloc's investment ban on Crimea for an additional year.
According to Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, the EU has voted to extend the ban every year since its imposition in 2014 in response to Russia's illegal annexation of the peninsula. The extensive measures prohibit purchase of property or companies on the peninsula, import of Crimean goods that do not carry Ukrainian certification, and cruise ship visits at Crimean ports. It also bans the export to Crimea of EU transportation, telecommunications, and energy goods and technology.

The Federation of American Scientists (FAS) has confirmed that Russia is engaged in extensive renovations of its nuclear weapons storage bunker in Kaliningrad. FAS first reported the renovations in 2016; now,
The Moscow Times writes that the latest satellite imagery obtained by the Federation's monitoring team shows that the facility has a new roof, multilayered fencing, and an increased number of storage sites – improvements that FAS nuclear information project director Hans Kristensen described as the most dramatic upgrade to the site to date. Despite Russia’s deployment of nuclear-capable missiles to the strategic Kaliningrad exclave earlier in 2018 as a response to the U.S. force build-up in the Baltics, Kristensen emphasized that it remains unclear whether the facility currently contains nuclear warheads.

The State Duma has just authorized an amnesty for some 100,000 current prisoners incarcerated in Russia's penal system.
RBC reports that the new amendment to Russia's Criminal Code, which was unanimously approved by the Duma, would prompt a "recounting" of time served by Russian prisoners - making one day in prison equivalent to one-and-a-half days in a "general" penal colony, and equivalent to two days in a forcible resettlement colony. If the measure is adopted, "about 100,000 people will be released from the places of imprisonment at once, as the terms of their detention will be recounted,"" the news agency reports.

June 19:

The middle class is disappearing in Vladimir Putin's Russia, as incomes stagnate and the savings of ordinary Russians dwindle. "While growing inequality has dogged Russia since the Soviet collapse more than a quarter century ago, enough wealth trickled down during the oil boom years to double the middle class to more than 60 percent of the population and turn consumer demand into the engine of the economy,"
writes journalist Olga Tanas for Bloomberg. "But now only 19 percent consider themselves middle class, meaning they can afford purchases such as furniture and household appliances," available statistics indicate.

The Kremlin is aware of the situation, and working to fix it. "The plight of Russian households has Putin's attention," Tanas notes. "Re-elected in March for a record fourth term in the Kremlin, the president ordered his government to cut poverty in half by 2024 and deliver a 'decisive breakthrough' in living standards." That, however, is likely to be a tall order, because "Russians need to earn at least 60,000 rubles a month -- almost 37 percent more than the average nominal wage in May -- to be considered middle class."

Related Categories: Russia; Democracy & Governance; Israel; Russia and Eurasia Program; Nuclear Proliferation

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