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Article

Russian Pension Reform: Why So Little Engagement from Below?

Aasland A., Prisyazhniuk D., Cook L. J.

The article analyses influences on the post-2012 Russian pension reform, focusing on influences ‘from below’. We identify four main controversial issues related to pension reform: changes in individual accumulative accounts, financing of the system, age of pension eligibility, and indexation of pensions to compensate for inflation. The article makes use of an analytical framework on welfare reforms developed by Fløtten that we use to identify four sets of influences on Russian pension reform: from above (high-level decision-makers), inside (state bureaucracy and professionals), outside (international organisations and policy learning) and below (civil society and public opinion). We argue that the reform has been driven by elites from above and inside who have largely protected the interests of current and near-term pensioners. Costs have been imposed mainly on current workers and future pensioners. The core of the paper focuses on influence from below and presents evidence on public opinion toward pension reform, the positions and influence of pensioners’ and other societal organizations, and the near-absence of protest. We argue that maintenance of current pensioners’ incomes, deferral of costs into the distant future, and the complex and often obscure nature of the reforms account for the lack of push-back from below. While Russian civil society remains weak, citizens have protested loss of social rights. Our paper explains the lack of societal engagement or protest in response to this major reform. The article is based on analysis of newspaper articles, civil society organisations’ web-pages, as well as academic and policy documents in Russian and English. The document analysis has been supplemented with 12 semi-structured interviews with a variety of pension reform experts.