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Ladies' Man: Putin Cites 'Caring Attitude' In Pension-Reform Concession

The most notable part of Russian President Vladimir Putin's proposed dilution of controversial pension-reform legislation was an offer to reduce a planned increase in the retirement age for women, who are a key electoral demographic. (file photo)

Russian President Vladimir Putin reserved the weightiest of his cautious concessions on a controversial pension-reform plan for Russian women, who outnumber their male counterparts by 10 million and live -- and vote -- considerably longer.

Citing what he called a "caring" attitude toward women in Russia, Putin on August 29 proposed reducing a planned increase in the retirement age for the country's female population and allowing women with at least three children to retire earlier.

Putin made the announcement in a televised address carried on state television, an unusual response to expressions of civic discontent by the Russian president, who is widely seen as being loath to cave to the type of public pressure that followed the proposed reform’s initial approval by parliament in July.

That legislation, which sought to raise the retirement age by eight years to 63 for women and by five years to 65 for men, triggered protests in Russia, and polls have shown a dent in Putin's popularity since the planned reform was announced.

Putin on August 29 proposed several measures that would dilute the bill passed by lawmakers in its first reading, the most significant of which would reduce the increase in the retirement age for women by three years -- from 63 to 60.

"We have a special, caring attitude toward women in our country," Putin said. "We understand that not only do they go to work, the entire household is typically also on their shoulders -- caring for the family, raising children, taking care of grandchildren."

Putin said it would be "wrong" to raise the retirement age for women by eight years while raising it to five years for men.

Putin also proposed allowing mothers with three children to retire at age 57, those with four children at age 56, and those with five or more -- as the law currently allows -- at age 50.

Russians stomp on a portrait of Putin at a rally against increases in the pension age in Moscow on July 29.
Russians stomp on a portrait of Putin at a rally against increases in the pension age in Moscow on July 29.

Women are a crucial electoral demographic in Russia, making up 54 percent of the population in the country of 146.9 million, according to official government data as of June 14.

They also live significantly longer, with a life expectancy of 77 compared to 66 for men, and are active voters. An exit poll by the state-run VTsIOM pollster found women constituted 55.4 percent of the voters in the March 18 presidential election that handed Putin a fresh six-year term.

"The main takeaway from Putin's speech: Authorities fear women more than men. And they're right to do so, of course," Ivan Davydov, a Russian journalist and political consultant, wrote in an August 29 Facebook post.

Putin's proposals will all but certainly be included in the pension-reform legislation when it comes up for a crucial second reading in parliament, where the the Kremlin-loyal United Russia party controls both houses.

Not Impressed: Russians Respond To Putin's Pension Changes
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The legislation would then have to be approved in a routine third reading and in the upper house of parliament before being sent to the Kremlin for Putin’s signature.

Pro-Kremlin lawmakers on August 29 echoed Putin's portrayal of his proposals for women in the reform bill as a win for fairness.

"What made me happier than anything that the president offered to lower the [proposed] retirement age for women from 63 to 60," Valentina Matviyenko, the speaker of Russia's upper house of parliament, said on state television, the state-run TASS news agency reported. "It is fair and justified."

The government's proposed pension reform sparked widespread anger and undermined Putin’s popularity after the plan was announced in June.
The government's proposed pension reform sparked widespread anger and undermined Putin’s popularity after the plan was announced in June.

Putin's proposal, of course, would still increase the retirement age by five years for both men and women. Russian opposition leader Aleksei Navalny, who is organizing planned September protests against pension reform in numerous cities, said Putin's proposals mean Russians will have "a little bit less stolen" from their pensions.

A poll conducted by the research firm Romir in May found that 92 percent of Russians did not support raising the retirement age for women to 63 and to 65 for men.

Putin, who had kept his public distance from the issue for months, said in his August 29 address that Russia risks catastrophic financial consequences if the retirement age is not raised.

Putin also made his pitch by highlighting several other proposed measures he said were aimed at minimizing the pain under the planned reform, including an extension of various benefits.

But Aleksandr Kynev, a political scientist at Moscow's Higher School of Economics, told RFE/RL that a reduction of the increase in the retirement age for women was the only "substantial" proposal Putin made.

"These measures look very modest," he said in a telephone interview.

Kynev added that he doesn't believe Putin's proposal will do much to assuage public concerns on the issue.

"I don't think people will be satisfied," he said.

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    Carl Schreck

    Carl Schreck is an award-winning investigative journalist who serves as RFE/RL's enterprise editor. He has covered Russia and the former Soviet Union for more than 20 years, including a decade in Moscow. He has led investigations into corruption, cronyism, and disinformation campaigns in Russia and Central Asia, as well as on poisoning attacks against Kremlin opponents and assassinations of Iranian exiles in the West. Schreck joined RFE/RL in 2014.