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Crimean pensioners turn on Medvedev

"Dengi net!" There is "no money," according to Russia’s Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev, to index pensions - but when they find it they will, he says. Well, let the hunt begin, writes Fiona Clark.

I don't think the Russian prime minister will be chalking this up as his best week in politics. In fact he's probably ruing the day Russia annexed Crimea after a trip to the region saw him make an admission about the country's finances that went viral faster than an oligarch's money transfer to an off-shore bank account.

The prime minister's first mistake was to get out of the car and have a stroll among the locals. The second was to open his mouth. An angry pensioner decided to berate Medvedev over the lack of indexation of pensions. When Russia took control of the region it promised to raise living standards and take care of the population that had voted so overwhelmingly (96.77 percent) to re-join the motherland.

And it did bring the pensions in line with those across the rest of Russia. But two years later things aren't looking quite as rosy as the residents expected. The combination of sanctions resulting from the annexation and the falling oil price have meant step rises in the cost of living across the country and a reduction in real wages, not to mention pensions.

In 2015 the inflation rate hovered around 15 percent and is now around 7 percent, making it difficult for pensioners on 8,000 rubles a month or 266 rubles a day (that's about 3.65 euros or $4.08 a day) to make ends meet. Let's put it this way, in Moscow half a liter of milk, a loaf of bread, 10 eggs and 2.5 kg of potatoes will set you back about 177 rubles, or $2.71. That doesn't leave a lot of disposable income, as the vocal pensioner was quick to point out.

'Wiping its feet'

old woman eating copyright: Iliya Pitalev/RIA Novosti

Not much to laugh about

The government is "wiping its feet on us," she screamed at Medvedev. And she went on claiming that "prices are crazy" and we have "nothing" to live on. Medvedev's response was astounding. "There's no money," he replied calmly. "There's simply no money … When we find the money we'll do the indexing." He then told them to "hang in there" and wished them "good luck and good health until we meet again," and walked away.

It's a big admission from the leader of the government. Normally you'd expect something along the lines of an acknowledgement of the pain and suffering and a pledge to look into it, but the sheer brutal honesty - a statement of fact that the country can't afford to raise pensions - was unexpected to say the least and its delivery perceived as callous and out of touch - and he's paid the high price in social media. Memes range from him laughing about the incident while recounting it to President Putin to his face on an official 'United Russia' bill-board, saying "no money, but hang in there."

He said the government was looking for the money and one meme suggests an appeal to a higher power is a good place to start, but alas, the icon Medvedev's head is resting on doesn't appear to be forthcoming, stating it too is broke.

Controversial wealth

But maybe there are other places the government could look, such as Patriarch Kirill himself.

At one stage it was estimated he was worth between $1.5 and $4 billion, and he's said to own some sizable and impressive pieces of property including a luxury yacht, a country estate and an apartment in Moscow (that in 2012 was the focus of a suit filed by the occupant, a friend of the Patriarch's called Ms Leonova). She filed a suit for what was then the equivalent of just under $700,000 because a neighbor's renovations had left sand in the Patriarch's library, rendering the apartment unlivable. Clearly unable to use a vacuum cleaner, the only option was to file for compensation and an award of $480,000 was made. Why she was living in the flat is another issue - but the Patriarch with his "now you see it, now you don't" 30,000- euro watch that a church employee tried to airbrush out of a photo but forgot about the reflection in the table, isn't immune to controversy.

two men talking copyright: YANA LAPIKOVA/AFP/Getty Images

Where did you get your watch from?

So, dividing up his assets might go some way to addressing the pensioners' plight. But he's not the only one with wealth to spare. If the Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov sold the £400,000 (524,000 euros) watch he sports he'd be able to give all of Russia's 40 million pensioners 95 kopeks. True, there's not a lot they could buy for that, but it might get them a carrot to go with their potatoes.

The real honey pot though is President Putin's friend, the cellist Sergei Roldugin, godfather to Putin's children and philanthropist to the music community. According to the Panama Papers, Roldugin is estimated to be worth about $2 billion. Putin said his friend had spent the money on musical instruments for students, but if the state sold those and got the money back it could give every pensioner $50. It's a short-term fix, to be fair, but I'm sure these aren't the only places the government could look.

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