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The retirement age in Russia is 60 for men and 55 for women. Vladimir Putin wants to raise both by five years, and Russians are upset. Over the weekend, there were dozens of protests across the country with activists reporting more than a thousand arrests. NPR's Lucian Kim reports from Moscow.
LUCIAN KIM, BYLINE: Russia's vast wealth is concentrated in Moscow with the best paying jobs and best health care concentrated here. But even in the rich Russian capital, anxiety is growing at a time of tightening economic sanctions and a falling currency. On Sunday, hundreds of Muscovites took to the streets to protest the government's pension plan.
(SOUNDBITE OF PROTEST)
UNIDENTIFIED PROTESTERS: (Chanting in Russian).
KIM: Putin's a thief, they shouted. The government plans to raise the retirement age for women from 55 to 60 and for men from 60 to 65. The plan is proving highly unpopular. In a recent poll, almost 80 percent of respondents said they would vote against the changes - if only they could.
DENIS YEFIMOCHKIN: (Speaking Russian).
KIM: Forty-eight-year-old Denis Yefimochkin says the plan is unfair. It makes exceptions for civil servants, and in some regions, the male life expectancy is lower than the new pension age. Yefimochkin is a sales manager, sitting in one of downtown Moscow's manicured parks with his wife Svetlana and their 2-year-old granddaughter. As working Russians, the Yefimochkins make a monthly contribution to the pension fund, just like Americans pay into Social Security. The difference is they don't have any other retirement plan.
SVETLANA YEFIMOCHKIN: (Speaking Russian).
KIM: Svetlana, who's 49 and runs her own business, says she's angry she'll now have to wait twice as long to get her pension. Many Russians keep working long after reaching the retirement age. They need the extra income to pad their state pensions, which average about $200 a month. For millions of Russians living on the poverty line, those meager checks are a lifeline and the very least they've come to expect from their government. Even one of the government's own polling agencies found only 38 percent of Russians trust President Putin. That's down from highs around 70 percent when he annexed Crimea four years ago.
(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)
PRESIDENT VLADIMIR PUTIN: (Speaking Russian).
KIM: In August in a rare television address to the nation, Putin tried to explain why raising the retirement age was unavoidable.
(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)
PUTIN: (Speaking Russian).
KIM: Putin said the purpose of the change was to preserve the stability of the current pension system into the future. As a concession, he reduced the increase in age for women by three years. Because of a demographic dip after the fall of the Soviet Union, Putin said, soon there won't be enough young workers to support the nation's pensioners. Money from the federal budget is already being used to subsidize the pension fund.
NIKOLAI PETROV: (Speaking Russian).
KIM: Nikolai Petrov, a political analyst, says the government didn't actually have much choice in trimming budget expenditures. The government's mistake, he says, is that the change was presented as a fait accompli. For many people, Putin's explanation last month was too little too late. Out in Moscow's parks, it's hard to find anyone who feels comforted by Putin's words.
MASHA CHABROVA: (Speaking Russian).
KIM: Masha Chabrova, a graduate student, says Russia doesn't need a pension reform. It needs its entire system of government to be changed from the top down. But she isn't too worried about when she'll see her pension. She's just 26, and when she graduates, she plans to move away and live in a different country. Lucian Kim, NPR News, Moscow. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.