Politics in Russia is normally tightly scripted by the Kremlin, but every once in a while a bit of reality shines through.
Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev got a dose of that kind of reality during a May 23 visit to the Ukrainian region of Crimea, which was forcibly seized by Russia in 2014.
A video widely shared on social media (above) shows Medvedev being pummeled by relentless questions from irate locals who say their Russian pensions have not been indexed to the rising cost of living.
Initially, Medvedev tries to wave off the interrogation by saying “pensions are a separate topic,” but an angry woman off camera refuses to let him off the hook.
“They are wiping their feet on us,” she shouts, saying that her pension of 8,000 rubles ($120) is “nothing.”
After enduring a bit more haranguing, Medvedev concedes that no one in Russia has had their pensions adjusted for inflation yet for a very simple reason: “There just isn’t any money now. When we find money, we’ll make the adjustment.”
He then beats a hasty retreat, shouting over his dissatisfied interlocutor: “You hang in there. Best wishes! Cheers! Take care!”
And to underscore his “tomorrow, tomorrow, the sun will come out tomorrow” theme, a few hours later Medvedev posted to his Instagram account a lovely photograph of a Crimean rainbow.
When Russia was preparing the ground for the Black Sea peninsula’s annexation, Moscow promised dramatic increases in pensions and salaries for state-sector workers. And the Kremlin has delivered to some extent, bringing those payments in line with those across the rest of Russia.
However, the country’s economy has been sorely hit by a combination of low global energy prices and the effects of international sanctions (and Russian countersanctions) over Russia’s actions in Ukraine. Inflation has also been high in Crimea since Kyiv banned trade between the occupied region and the rest of the country last year. Russia is building a bridge between Crimea and Russia, but it will not be completed until late 2018 at the earliest.
Medvedev’s awkward exchange with the disappointed Crimean pensioner quickly became the stuff of memes on social media. In one angry one, he is shown making a rude gesture over the caption: “Dear Crimeans. There is no money and there isn’t going to be any soon. But you hang in there. Take care!”
In another, he is shown praying before an Orthodox icon that says to him plainly: “There is no money!”
And a third transforms Medvedev’s words into an election slogan for the ruling United Russia party -- which the prime minister heads -- and its campaign for the September State Duma elections: “There is no money. But you hang in there!”