Putin in pledge to tackle poverty as discontent grows

London Times – 5 January 2020

“President Putin has vowed to tackle widespread poverty and boost living standards amid growing discontent that poses a threat to political stability ahead of next year’s parliamentary elections.
Even official government statistics, which some critics say underestimate the true scale of Russia’s economic woes, make uncomfortable reading for Mr Putin, who marked the 20th anniversary of his ascent to power on New Year’s Eve.
Real disposable incomes have fallen for five out of the past six years as the economy flounders under the weight of western economic sanctions and lower global prices for oil, the country’s main export.
About 12% of the population, 17.5 million people, are living below a poverty level defined as an income of 11,942 roubles a month (£146). One in every four families with two children is officially living in poverty, according to Rosstat, the state statistics service. The figure for families with three children is 52%.
Mr Putin’s trust ratings fell to a 13-year-low of 31% last year, according to Vtsiom, the state pollster, while his ruling United Russia party is so unpopular that its candidates ran as “independents” at recent local elections in Moscow.
“I am very concerned there has been a stagnation in the real incomes of the population,” Mr Putin, 67, told Tass, the state news agency. He said he would announce government plans to raise the incomes of Russia’s poorest at his annual state-of-the-nation address in February.
Mr Putin’s comments came as Russia’s monthly minimum wage of 12,130 roubles fell below that in neighbouring Ukraine for the first time since 2008. Ukraine, which has been at war with Kremlin-backed separatists for almost six years, on Wednesday announced a 13% rise in its minimum wage to 4,723 hryvnias (£152).
Mr Putin will be hoping for an improvement in living standards before next year’s parliamentary elections, which could be crucial for his chances of holding on to power. He is due to step down as president in 2024, but most analysts believe he is seeking for a way to retain control. Among the options available to the ex-KGB officer are a shift to the role of prime minister, a post he held between 2008 and 2012. Vyacheslav Volodin, the parliamentary Speaker, last year proposed boosting the state Duma’s powers.
Only two of Russia’s 86 regions did not witness protests in 2019, despite draconian restrictions on freedom of assembly. In Moscow, demonstrators took the streets for five consecutive weekends in July and August after Kremlin critics were barred from running at city council elections. The protests were the biggest in the Russian capital for almost a decade.
Not everyone is badly off in Mr Putin’s Russia, the world’s largest exporter of oil and gas. Wealth inequality is the highest in the world, according to Credit Suisse, the Swiss investment bank, while the number of billionaires living in the country grew from 74 to 110 between 2018 and 2019. Alexei Kudrin, a former finance minister who now heads the country’s audit chamber, said last year that poverty levels in Russia were a “disgrace”.”

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