At a time when relations between Russia and the West are at such a low ebb, it can be easy to forget exactly how much the two sides agree on. This is especially true in the realm of economic policy, where for years now the Putin government has been implementing its own version of austerity, designed to slim down Russia’s social welfare apparatus still further. The Russian term for it is ‘optimisation’, and the latest stage of the campaign was last summer’s drastic pension reform. The plan was steadily to raise the retirement age for both men and women, from 60 and 55 respectively to 65 and 63. The Kremlin knew this would be an unpopular move, hence the timing: the measure was announced on 14 June, the day the World Cup kicked off in Moscow’s Luzhniki stadium, presumably in the hope that the football would distract the population from what they were doing.
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