Russian President Vladimir Putin speaks during a meeting with local officials in Omsk, Russia, Tuesday, Aug. 28, 2018. (Alexei Druzhinin, Sputnik, Kremlin Pool Photo via AP)

Facing protests, Russia's Putin offers pension concessions

August 29, 2018 - 3:48 am

MOSCOW (AP) — In a rare televised address Wednesday, Russia's President Vladimir Putin offered some concessions to a package of pension reforms that have hit his approval ratings.

Putin said the new retirement age for women will be raised to 60 from the current 55, instead of the 63 previously proposed. However, he did not offer to change the proposed figure for men, which is rising from 60 to 65. The changes are supposed to be raised by one year every year over the course of the next five years.

The government's plan to raise the retirement age for both men and women announced in June has caused widespread discontent. In Russia, the average life expectancy for women is 78 and 67 for men.

Many Russian families, especially in rural areas and small towns, have relied on pensions as an extra income at a time younger people often struggle to find a stable job.

The proposals weighed on Putin's approval ratings, which have dropped below 70 percent — the lowest level since the 2014 annexation of Crimea. Russia's pensioners who have seen their incomes rising steadily under Putin have been one of the president's staunchest supporters.

Putin said the reform was necessary and "cannot be put off any longer." Without increasing the retirement age, Putin said Russia's pension system "would crack and eventually collapse."

"I'm asking you to be understanding of this," he said.

Russia's economy has been hobbled over the past few years by Western sanctions following the annexation of Crimea and lower oil prices.

In addition to lowering the proposed retirement age for women, Putin voiced other suggestions aimed at softening the blow including an idea to keep old-age benefits such as tax breaks for senior citizens even before they reach the retirement age.

Putin is known for his annual marathon call-in TV shows where he talks to ordinary Russia via video-link and takes phone calls. But he rarely addresses the nation on television, which indicates just how contentious the planned reforms are.

Putin's most formidable foe, Alexei Navalny, who was jailed on Monday for 30 days over an unsanctioned protest seven months earlier, has called for nationwide rallies for Sept. 9. to protest against the reforms.