Russian President Putin seeks to soften the blow of a deeply unpopular pension reform package that increases the retirement age. The government argues that increasing life expectancy puts pressure on the pension system.
In a televised address, Putin sought to explain that pension reform "cannot be put off any longer" due to economic and demographic trends. "In the long term, if we hesitate now, it could threaten stability in society and hence national security," said Putin. The pension system "would crack and eventually collapse" if the retirement age were not raised, he said.
90 percent of Russians oppose the reform package increasing the retirement age for women from 55 to 63, and 60 to 65 for men. The proposal is blamed for Putin's popularity rating falling from 80 percent to 67 percent. In recent weeks, there have been rare large-scale protests in opposition to the reform.
Putin said the retirement age for women would rise five years to 60, instead of the original proposal of 63. For men, the retirement age would still increase from 60 to 65. Putin also outlined some potential tax breaks for seniors, an exception for women with many children, increasing unemployment insurance for those close to retirement age and measures to protect older people from employment discrimination.
Many people worry that they will not live to receive their pensions. Life expectancy for men is only 67 compared to 77 for women. Communist Party leader Gennady Zyuganov explained, with Russian men dying in their 60s "they will all get their pension in their coffins." Normally close to Putin's United Russia, the Communist Party has said that it would still not support pension reform with the new changes and is demanding a referendum on the issue.
Russia also faces an impending demographic crisis as a result of low birth rates.
Opposition leader Alexei Navalny has called for renewed protests on September 9.
"Putin is panicking and is trying to sweeten the pill," said Navalny, who was jailed on Monday for 30 days.
Stefan Meister, the head of the Central and Eastern Europe, Russia and Central Asia at the German Council on Foreign Relations, told DW "Ultimately it's about enforcing this reform in one way or another, despite resistance."