Russian Prime Minister Dmitriy Medvedev has whipped up a storm on Russian social media for an off-the-cuff comment he made to a Russian pensioner last month.
Medvedev was caught on camera telling an elderly woman in Crimea, a region annexed by Russia from Ukraine in spring 2014, that there was "no money left" in Russia's budget when he was asked why the state pension of 8,000 Russian rubles a month (around $125 a month) was not higher given the rising cost of living.
"There just isn't any money now. When we find money, we'll make the adjustment," Medvedev replied to her in a video of the incident which was uploaded onto YouTube, before adding a line of encouragement: "But be strong. I wish you all the best. Have a good day and take care!"
The pensioner does not appear in the video on YouTube, which has now been watched over 3.5 million times, but can be heard heckling the prime minister about what she calls the "miniscule" pension.
The comment prompted a flurry of memes on Russian social media sites with some social media users posting various pictures of everyday situations with variations on Medvedev's by-now infamous comments. One posted a tax declaration online daubed with the words: "There is no money. But stay strong!"
"And so I say to them, there's just no money. Hang on in there. All the best, and see you again soon."
Tax declaration with the words: "Sorry there's no money left but you keep well!"
Russian President Vladimir Putin came to the defense of the prime minister, however, reportedly telling news agency RIA Novosti that the remarks were taken out of context.
"I have not seen what Medvedev said about it (but) you can always takesome phrase out of context. I know for sure that the government pays greatattention to the fulfillment of social obligations", he reportedly told the news agency.
Despite the jokes, Russia's economy is in the doldrums and there certainly is little money for Russia to increase the state pension, particularly not in line with inflation which stood at 7.3 percent in May. Ironically, it was Russia's annexation of Crimea in March 2014 – as well as its role in a pro-Russian uprising in east Ukraine that same year – that largely precipitated its economic crisis.
Western nations imposed sanctions on Russia for its actions which prompted capital flight and a sharp selloff in the ruble and rise in consumer prices which left many ordinary Russians struggling.