Several thousand people took to the streets across Russia Sunday to protest a hugely unpopular government decision to hike the pension age that has led to a record slump in Vladimir Putin’s approval ratings.
In a rare show of widespread public opposition to a government proposal, both Kremlin-friendly trade unions and political parties and Putin’s top critic Alexei Navalny organised protest rallies in dozens of cities.
Analysts say that growing popular discontent over the reform amid plunging living standards may present the most serious challenge to Putin during his nearly 20 years in power. “Let’s be honest: the state pension hike masterminded by Putin and (Prime Minister Dmitry) Medvedev is a true crime,” Navalny said on Instagram ahead of the rallies.
“It is common robbery of tens of millions of people under the guise of ‘much-needed reform.’” Earlier Sunday, protesters rallied in the far-eastern cities of Vladivostok, Khabarovsk and Komsomolsk-on-Amur and the Siberian city of Omsk. More protests were expected later in the day.
Navalny said more than 3,000 people protested in Omsk, tweeting a picture of a city square flooded with people. The demonstrations drew people from all sides of the political spectrum including Navalny’s supporters, Communists and radical nationalists.
Rallies will not take place in Moscow and other cities hosting the World Cup where protests are banned.
The authorities have proposed increasing the pension age to 65 for men and 63 for women, which would be the first such increase in nearly 90 years.
Given Russians’ low life expectancy many will not live long enough to receive a state pension. More than 2.5 million people have signed a petition against the hike. To sweeten the pill, the government announced the proposed reform the day the World Cup kicked off in Russia.