Putin softens Russia pension changes, in rare bow to public pressure

Even as he announced the changes, President Vladimir Putin of Russia reiterated that demographic changes  - particularly older adults living well past retirement age, while fewer young people are entering the workforce - required some adjustments.
Even as he announced the changes, President Vladimir Putin of Russia reiterated that demographic changes - particularly older adults living well past retirement age, while fewer young people are entering the workforce - required some adjustments. PHOTO: REUTERS

MOSCOW (NYTIMES) - President Vladimir Putin of Russia on Wednesday (Aug 29) took the rare step of softening a government decision in the face of public pressure, diluting some parts of a much-despised pension overhaul that had prompted protests and dented his popularity.

Even as he announced the changes, Mr Putin reiterated that demographic changes in Russia - particularly older adults living well past retirement age, while fewer young people are entering the workforce - required some adjustments.

"I underscore once again that we have to make a difficult, complicated, but necessary decision," Mr Putin said, in a rare televised address broadcast nationwide at midday.

"I ask you to be understanding about this."

Mr Putin warned that mushrooming costs now at US$300 million (S$410 million) per day could bankrupt Russia, and supporters lauded the speech, saying that he had stepped into his role of "father of the nation" to explain the hard facts facing the country.

Critics suggested that if Russia had economic problems, it was because of foreign military operations that the country could ill afford during 18 years of mismanagement while Mr Putin has been in power. The first place he should look to for new revenue streams was among his fabulously wealthy oligarch cronies, opponents said.

It was not clear whether the changes that Mr Putin outlined in his speech would be sufficient to mollify widespread anger and unease.

Although average pensions in Russia are fairly low, amounting to a few hundred dollars per month, many retirees survive once they are past retirement age by continuing to work in jobs like security guards. Now, that extra margin will be largely eliminated.

One significant concession that Mr Putin announced was raising the retirement age for women to 60 from 55, instead of to 63.

The change for men remained at 65 instead of the previous 60.

In addition, Mr Putin outlined a welter of benefits for retirees to try to cushion the blow, including subsidies for those who cannot find work after age 50, tax benefits, lower retirement ages for women with at least three children, and higher pensions in rural areas, where dependence on government retirement funds is particularly high.