Comrade Putin’s Sexennial Plan

Every May since 2012, Vladimir Putin has issued an ukase that serves as a directive for all Russian civil servants. Many of the clauses in his ukases go unheeded, but the president continues to issue orders that serve as a guide for the nation’s government workers. This year, at the start of his new six-year term, Putin has gone one step further. The decree bears a pompous name: “National development goals for the Russian Federation up to 2030, with a view to 2036.”

Reading this 13-page document, it is hard not to be reminded of the Soviet five-year plans inaugurated by Stalin in 1929. But Stalin did not link the objectives of these five-year plans to the length of his mandates: he was master of the country for life, for 29 years. Putin, who continues to play the electoral game while holding all the power, will surpass Stalin in terms of political longevity. At the end of this new term, he will have ruled for 31 years, and if he stays alive long enough, he will go on to 37 years in power.

As Putin links the fate of the country to his own — “Without Putin, there is no Russia”, said Vyacheslav Volodin, Chairman of the State Duma — he is now introducing a six-year plan, to be implemented during his current six-year term, with a view to the following six-year term. What promises is he making to the Russian people?

Let us take a look at a few of them. First, the birth rate, which has been at half-mast for years. Since 2015, the Russian population, despite the influx of migrants, has contracted by 3.5m, and the war is not going to help matters. The current birth rate is 1.4 children per woman of childbearing age. In six years, Putin has ordered this rate to rise to 1.6, and in 12 years, to 1.8. No developed country can boast such a feat despite substantial assistance for children, whereas in Russia this assistance is infinitely more modest.

The same reveries characterize Putin’s orders on increasing life expectancy. At present, Russia is ranked 100th in the world, with a life expectancy of just 71 years, with great disparity between men and women. But the boss orders without batting an eyelid that this rate should reach 78 by 2030, and 81 by 2036. How on earth? By way of comparison, this would represent an increase at least three times faster than in France over recent decades.

In terms of care for people with disabilities, Putin’s forecasts are more realistic. By 2030, the number of invalids receiving state-paid care is expected to reach 500,000. There are 11m disabled people in Russia, including over 1.4m who cannot look after themselves. These people are currently cared for by tutors or carers who are entitled to 10,000 rubles (€100) a month in government aid for a child with a disability, and 1,200 rubles (a mere €12) for an adult. We can assume that the 500,000 disabled people who will be taken care of — meagerly — are mainly service men and women wounded at the front (the figure has probably already been reached), but what about all the others?

Vladimir Putin is also concerned with raising the standard of living of the poor. Here too, the criteria are drastic. Between 9% and 11% of the Russian population live below the poverty line, set at 11,950 rubles (€119) and Putin is aiming to reduce this percentage to 7% by 2030 and to 5% by 2036. To achieve this, he proposes to raise the minimum wage from 19,242 rubles (€190 gross) to 35,000 rubles (€350 gross). Quite apart from the fact that this is a very low wage, with what money will he do this, when the main budgetary effort goes to the war?

“Why is your reality at odds with our factuality?” Question during the “direct line” with Putin on December 14, 2023 // Screenshot

One of the most comical objectives is that concerning housing standards for citizens. “Provision of housing for citizens with the minimum standard of 33 square meters per person by 2030, and 38 square meters per person by 2036”, orders the Russian president. We are, of course, talking about the social housing stock managed by local councils. This stock is notoriously inadequate. In St Petersburg, for example, you can qualify for social housing (often one room in a communal apartment) if you live in an apartment with under 9 square meters per person. But the federal minimum is much more modest: 6 square meters per person. What is more, 27% of Russian citizens have no access to gas (their town or village has no gas connection), and 22.6% live without access to pipes and have to do with a good old cesspit, or even without one. We are lost in conjecture as to the scope of these presidential wishes.

Finally, and let us stop there, Putin promises to renovate all schools and nurseries recognized as dilapidated by January 1, 2025. Is this vast undertaking feasible, when Russia lacks 900,000 school places, when children are often forced to attend classes in two and sometimes even three shifts — one in the morning, one in the afternoon, even one in the evening?

Even more than the five-year plans, these comet plans remind me above all of Khrushchev’s program for building communism within 20 years, launched in 1961 at the 22nd Congress of the Communist Party, better known for its thunderous revelations about Stalinist crimes. “The Party solemnly proclaims that the present generation of Soviets will live under Communism”, announced Khrushchev. What was the aim of this absurd program? Was it to offer the prospect of a radiant future to a people bled dry by war and repression, who were just beginning to breathe?

One gets the impression that, for Putin in any case, the papier-mâché rosy future he promises is designed to reassure the population of his country at war — a war he himself launched and which he is stubbornly waging, despite sanctions, loss of life, the decline in living standards, the loss of international prestige, and so on. The only realistic project in the presidential decree is purely ideological: “By 2030, create the conditions necessary for the education of a harmoniously developed, patriotic and socially responsible individual, based on Russia’s spiritual, moral, cultural and historical values.” To put it plainly, we are talking about the reinforcement of patriotic education and censorship, the persecution of all opponents, and the militarization and fascization of Russian society.

However, we should not despair. Three years after announcing his grandiose, unachievable program, Khrushchev was dismissed for “adventurism” and “voluntarism.” It will be more complicated with Putin, who cannot be legally removed from office by any authority, even though he was fraudulently “elected.” But the Russian president is no less “voluntarist” or “adventurist” than Khrushchev, for he has dragged his society into a war of aggression that is destroying not only Ukraine, but the entire living fabric of Russian society. Admittedly, Russian society is resilient, and much of it is totally impregnated by propaganda. However, sooner or later, and sooner rather than later, Putin is likely to find himself confronted with the discontent of his population and that of the governing elites, as the promised paradise will necessarily turn into a debacle. Let us not forget that even in Soviet times, there were riots, like the one in Novocherkassk in 1961, which was put down with considerable bloodshed. Putin knows this, and he is playing for keeps. He promises his people pipe dreams, while dooming them to misery and dishonor.

Born in Moscow, she has been living in France since 1984. After 25 years of working at RFI, she now devotes herself to writing. Her latest works include: Le Régiment immortel. La Guerre sacrée de Poutine, Premier Parallèle 2019; Traverser Tchernobyl Premier Parallèle, 2016.

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