The Kremlin on Monday tried to dismiss a drop in President Vladimir Putin’s sky-high approval ratings after a hugely unpopular government proposal to hike the state pension age.
The Russian government has proposed raising the pension age to 65 for men and 63 for women, which would be the first increase in nearly 90 years.
The measure was unveiled the day the World Cup kicked off in Russia last week.
Even though the move was announced by Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev, state-controlled pollsters registered a rare decline in Putin’s stellar approval numbers.
According to FOM, a state pollster, 69 percent of Russians approved of Putin’s work on June 17, down from 75 percent on June 10, days before the announcement.
Sixty-seven percent of respondents said they trusted Putin, down from 75 percent over the same period.
Another state pollster, VTsIOM, registered a similar decline.
“I would not exaggerate this,” Putin’s spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters.
“Putin treats this rather pragmatically – for him the most important thing is the continuation of his work.”
“And he never acts with regard to ratings in such cases. The interests of people top everything for him,” Peskov added.
A legacy of the USSR, Russia’s retirement age — set at 55 for women and 60 for men since the early 1930s — is currently among the lowest in the world.
Given the country’s demographic decline, the current system represents a growing burden for the federal budget.
Currently 25 percent of Russians are above retirement age, a proportion that has risen every year for the last decade, according to the state statistics agency.
Eighty-two percent of Russians oppose lifting the state pension age, according to the FOM pollster.
As of Monday, more than 2.4 million people had signed a petition against the move, in a rare show of public opposition to a government proposal.
Keen to tap into public anger, Putin’s top critic Alexei Navalny urged Russians to take to the streets in protest on Sunday.