Russian President Vladimir Putin signed three new decrees into law that will slash government salaries—including his own and that of Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev—by 10 percent starting on May 1 of this year. The government has also announced plans to cut the number of government officials by 5 percent to 20 percent.
The measures are part of the government’s emergency plan to address collapsing revenues due to the fall in global oil prices and economic sanctions imposed on the country. Crude oil is trading at about $60 a barrel, but the federal budget was based on oil prices of $100 a barrel, leaving a big black hole in the state’s finances that needs to be plugged.
Putin is unlikely to be fazed by the erosion of his take-home pay. As he told members of the press during his annual Q&A session in December: “Frankly, I don’t even know my own salary — they just give it to me, and I put it away in my account.”
Others in his administration, however, may be less sanguine about the cuts. Especially as they could represent the beginning of a wider program to scale back the country’s public-sector workforce in response to the country’s economic woes.
The news comes a week after Russian finance minister Anton Siluanov asked parliament to approve spending 3.2 trillion rubles (£34 billion, $51 billion) from the Reserve Fund, one of Russia’s sovereign wealth funds, as part of his so-called anti-crisis plan. That figure is more than half of the value of the fund and well in excess of the 500 billion rubles that the government had initially planned to draw down.
The moves suggest the state is still struggling under the weight of sanctions and low oil prices. Inflation in the country rose to 16.7 percent in February, a rate of price increases not seen for over a decade, as the weaker ruble and self-imposed sanctions on Western imports continued to drive up consumer prices. Russians are expected to have to spend half of their salaries just on food in 2015.
The International Monetary Fund forecasts that Russia’s economy is set to contract by 3 percent this year and 1 percent in 2016. Many of these forecasts, however, relied on the assumption that sanctions over Russia’s involvement in the ongoing Ukraine crisis would be eased off over the next few months—a prospect that is far from guaranteed.
Yet as the Russian government waits to see whether the latest cease-fire agreement between Kiev and pro-Russian separatists in eastern Ukraine holds, the country’s domestic economy continues to suffer. On Friday, Gazprom Neft, the oil arm of the state-owned gas behemoth, asked the government for 198 billion rubles in financial aid following similar requests from Rosneft, the country’s largest oil company.
Siluanov warned that the pain these companies were suffering may worsen before improving. He told the government that the oil price could still drop, according to The Wall Street Journal.
“It is worth noting the remaining risks on the oil market,” he said, “where supply keeps on exceeding demand and oil inventories are growing fast.”