July 20, 2018 / 1:54 PM / a month ago

Russia's Putin pledges unpopular pension reform plan will be reviewed

KALININGRAD, Russia (Reuters) - Russian President Vladimir Putin said on Friday a plan to raise the retirement age would be reviewed, signalling a retreat from a reform that is needed to balance state finances but which has hurt his popularity.

Russia's President Vladimir Putin addresses Russian ambassadors and representatives to international organisations in Moscow, Russia, July 19, 2018. REUTERS/Sergei Karpukhin

Legislation sponsored by Putin’s government has been submitted to parliament to raise the retirement age to 65 from 60 for men, and to 63 from 55 for women. But Putin said that was not the final word on the issue.

“There is no final decision,” he said on a visit to the Russian Baltic Sea exclave of Kaliningrad. “I will need to hear all opinions and points of view on this issue.”

Since the government announced the proposed reform, opinion polls have shown that Putin’s popularity rating has been slipping. There have also been protests around the country against the proposed higher retirement age.

The Russian authorities have been considering ways to soften the proposals, two sources familiar with the discussions told Reuters earlier this month.

Putin, at a Kaliningrad football stadium that hosted matches during the recent football World Cup, said that Russia was not turning its back on the need to reform the pension system.

However, he made clear he did not like the proposal embodied in the current legislation, which was approved by the lower house of parliament on Thursday in the first of three readings.

“When people asked me, and they are asking me now, which of the various options do I like, I said, and I can say it now: none of them,” Putin said in comments broadcast on state television.

“I like none of the ones linked to raising the (retirement) age. And I can assure you that in the government too there are few people, if any at all, who like them either.”

“Why? Because it cannot be pleasing to the overwhelming majority of our citizens,” he said.

Putin made clear though that Russia needed to reform its pension system to take account of the fact that an ageing population was creating a financial burden that, within a decade, would become too great to bear.

“Broadly speaking, you could do nothing for five, six or even 10 years. We are able to maintain the pension system. But what will happen in the medium, and longer-term?”

“Then either the pension system will collapse, or the budget from which we finance the deficit (in the pension system) will collapse.”

Additional reporting by Vladimir Soldatkin and Tom Balmforth; Writing by Christian Lowe; Editing by Andrew Osborn

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