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Thomas F. Remington

The transition in Russia to a partially market-driven economy has failed to produce sustained and broad-based economic growth. The gains of economic growth are concentrated at the top of the income distribution, leaving a sizable part of the population trapped in conditions of low incomes. While abject poverty has largely been eliminated, around 40% of the population struggle to purchase more than basic consumer necessities. Spending on food occupies nearly half of household budgets for the lowest income decile. State social spending, which constitutes an increasing share of total income, is relatively non-progressive. Most is not means-based, but preserves the categorical benefits structure of the Soviet era. A combination of the bureaucratic-authoritarian institutional framework for decision-making and the strongly rent-based relationship between economic and political elites, severely limits policy options.

Linda J. Cook, Jørn Holm-Hansen, Markku Kivinen and Stein Kuhnle

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.

Esuna Dugarova

Social protection is an important strategy to protect people from livelihood risks, develop human capital and promote economic growth. Decent work is a core element of social protection and a critical condition for eradicating poverty. Despite high labor force participation and low unemployment, Russia’s labor market shows several negative trends, including working poverty and growing informality. Both are exacerbated by gender disparities and unfavorable demographic shifts. Over the past decade the Russian government has implemented active labor market interventions, and enhanced targeted social protection aimed at promoting employment and reducing poverty. Based on the analysis of key data and programs, the article finds that the country achieved stability in the labor market, but at the cost of deteriorating living standards caused by low levels of productivity and wages.

Elena Maltseva

The article discusses the changes to the Russian pension system since 2013, focusing specifically on the most recent policy moves. It argues that, despite the apparent instability of the Russian pension system caused by numerous policy shifts that have occurred since 2015, one element has remained constant: since the early 1990s the transformation of the Russian pension system has been driven primarily by neoliberal economic advisers to the Russian government. Passage of the long-delayed decision to raise the retirement age, which provoked large-scale protests, can be understood in light of the current geopolitical and economic risks that complicate the future of Russian economy.

Markus Kainu, Markku Kivinen, Stein Kuhnle and Chunling Li

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.

Daria Prisiazhniuk and Jørn Holm-Hansen

Welfare reforms in contemporary Russia are based on partial redistribution of responsibilities and resources from the state to other actors, including private business and civil society. Reforms in old age pensions, housing and utilities, primary and secondary education have affected wide social groups and have triggered public debates and protests, reflected in the mass media. This article analyses how these reforms are portrayed in three Russian media outlets representing different political positions—Rossiiskaia gazeta (official government media outlet), Novaia gazeta (independent media outlet belonging to the liberal opposition), and Zavtra (patriotic media outlet belonging to the nationalist opposition). The two independent papers have divergent critical perspectives on reforms. These three Federation-wide newspapers represent the range of political positions that are articulated publicly on non-securitized issues in contemporary Russia.

Jørn Holm-Hansen, Mikkel Berg-Nordlie, Aadne Aasland and Linda Cook

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.

Bulgaria’s Foreign Policy and EU Sanctions against Russia

Europeanization, Politicization and Small Country Diplomacy

Jean Crombois

The adoption of the EU sanctions on Russia provides a good case study to assess Bulgarian foreign policy under the conditions imposed by EU membership. This paper emphasizes the limits of both the foreign policy and Europeanization approaches when looking at national foreign policy and EU membership. It underlines the need to develop alternative approaches. These alternative approaches relate, in the first area, to the use of the concept of politicization of EU foreign policy; and in the second, to the conduct of a small country’s foreign policy within the EU framework. Although each of these approaches taken separately accounts poorly for the understanding of how EU membership affects the conduct of national foreign policy, each of them offers potentially interesting insights, without however being entirely conclusive.

Contextualization of the Local

A Predisposition of Former Yugoslav States to Liberal Peace

Nemanja Džuverović

The critical literature on peacebuilding has mainly addressed the local and its agency in the post-conflict phase while the nexus between context occurring prior to the implementation of the liberal peace agenda and subsequent hybridization of the local and the international has largely been overlooked. Accordingly, this text discusses the idea that success of any peacebuilding project is also dependent on political, economic or social circumstances present in a country or region before international intervention. Hence, the article analyses the context in the Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia (sfry) before the conflicts in the 1990s as a decisive factor to understanding successful implementation of the liberal peace in the region.