Russian President Vladimir Putin has awarded his old St Petersburg associate and head of gas monopoly Gazprom Alexei Miller the country’s prestigious Hero of Labour medal.
The Hero of Labour medal is a relic of the Soviet Union and comes with privileges that seem strangely archaic, considering the wealth that Miller enjoys.
The benefits include provision of state paid medicines, dental care and vouchers to priority healthcare services. A Hero of Labour is also entitled to free public transport.
The award, made earlier this month, tweaked the humour of Russians, who have been increasingly turning to social networks for a little comic relief and political satire.
Some jokers quipped that St Petersburg residents will now have the opportunity to voice their grievances about high gas bills to Miller while he takes his free tram ride to Gazprom's headquarters.
They also wondered whether Miller will be aware about of the size of such bills, given that the Hero of Labour award exempts him and members of his family from paying any communal charges or gas and electricity bills on his huge top floor penthouse on the Neva River embankment.
Some of the jokes tapped into resentment that the award has been made to the man who worked for Putin’s mayoral administration in St Petersburg City Hall in the early 1990s and was appointed to head Gazprom 20 years ago despite lacking any background in the oil and gas industry.
Sensitive to criticism, the Kremlin subsequently made an effort to celebrate Miller’s achievements more openly and, on its website, posted Putin’s birthday greeting card to Miller — who turned 60 at the end of January — saying he “is rightfully considered a true professional in his field” and describing him as a worthy representative of the Russian business community.
“You always demonstrate outstanding organisational and leadership qualities, deep knowledge of the problems of the energy complex and the economy as a whole”, Putin wrote in his message to Miller.
The government recently extended Miller’s employment contract with Gazprom to 2026.