Russia protests: Thousands rally against change in pension age despite Putin concession

'Changes are necessary,' says president after his popularity dips

Harriet Agerholm
Sunday 02 September 2018 18:46 BST
Russian communists take part in protest rally against a government proposed pension reform plan in Moscow, Russia
Russian communists take part in protest rally against a government proposed pension reform plan in Moscow, Russia

Thousands of demonstrators have taken to the streets of a number of Russian cities to protest against government plans to raise the pension age, as discontent continues despite a concession made by President Vladimir Putin to the measure.

Around 10,000 people rallied in Moscow, while smaller protests also took place in St Petersburgh, Vladivostock and a number of smaller cities.

The initial proposal was to raise the retirement age from 55 to 63 for women and from 60 to 65 for men.

But after widespread criticism of the policy, Mr Putin said last week that the pension age for women would only be raised to 60 and remain the same for men.

In a televised address, the president took personal responsibility for the reform for the first time, claiming change was urgently needed.

“The conclusion is clear: the active working-age population is decreasing, along with our capability to pay and adjust pensions for inflation,” he said. ”Therefore, changes are necessary.”

He ended his speech by asking the Russian people for their understanding.

Despite his request, protests nonetheless took place.

In Moscow, demonstrators carried the red flags and banners belonging to thE KPRF Communist Party, the principal organiser of the protest.

Some carried a banner reading “We do not trust United Russia”, Mr Putin’s ruling party. It featured a drawing of a red fist punching the white polar bear logo of Mr Putin’s party.

Putin offers concessions to controversial pension reform plan

“Today we are holding an all-Russia protest against this cannibalistic reform,” veteran Communist Party leader Gennady Zyuganov told a crowd.

He went on to list his party’s policies to fix the hole in the state budget, including taxing Russia’s oligarchs, rather than raising the pension age.

Pension reforms have hit the popularity ratings of the premier, who has dominated political life in Russia for 18 years. Mr Putin’s approval rating has rarely dropped far below 80 per cent, but Independent pollster Levada-Centre found in July his rating had fallen to 67 per cent.

Raising the retirement age would allow the government to pay out bigger pensions Mr Putin said, describing their current size as modest. The government said the average monthly pension will be 14,414 roubles (£165) by the end of the year, compared to 13,339 in July.

Last year, a government provision set the average cost of living for pensioners at 8,496 roubles (£97).

In St Petersburg, the Fontanka newspaper said around 1,500 people gathered to protest, while the Interfax News Agency said 1,200 joined a protest in the Siberian city of Novosibirsk and 250 in the major port city of Vladivostok.

In Yekaterinburg in the Ural mountains, around 450 people took part in a demonstration entitled the “Regiment of Shame”, during which protesters held portraits of politicians who have voiced their support for pension reform, local newspaper Nasha Gazeta said.

In Russia’s south, there were protests in the Black Sea port of Novorossiisk, Astrakhan, Rostov-on-Don and in the capitals of the Caucasus republics of Karachay-Cherkessia and Kabardino-Balkaria, according to Interfax.

People also took to the streets in the town of Simferopol in Crimea, the Black Sea peninsula annexed by Russia from Ukraine in 2014, Interfax added.

Another series of protests, this time organised by Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny, is due to take place on September 9. Mr Navalny was jailed for 30 days on Monday for breaking protest laws, a move he said was aimed at stopping him from leading the scheduled rally against pension reform.

Reuters contributed to this report

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