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Putin gifts pensioners cash payments ahead of polls

In a meeting with United Russia officials on Sunday, Putin said that pensioners had been hit hardest by this year's soaring inflation. 

Russian President Vladimir Putin on Tuesday ordered pensioners receive $135 in a bid to drum up support ahead of parliamentary elections next month that could see the unpopular ruling United Russia party struggle.

The cash handouts come as part of a litany of social spending sweeteners Putin has proposed ahead of September’s lower house State Duma polls, with United Russia’s ratings dented by rising prices and falling wages.

According to a Kremlin statement, the Russian president ordered a one-off payment of 10,000 rubles ($135) to be handed out in September, effectively doubling the monthly state pension which is roughly the same amount.

In a meeting with United Russia officials on Sunday, Putin said that pensioners had been hit hardest by this year’s soaring inflation. 

Annual inflation has reached 6.5 percent, according to the central bank, which in June hiked its key interest rate to the same figure — its biggest increase since a 2014 currency crisis.

Putin on Sunday also proposed giving 15,000-ruble bonuses to military staff.

In June he promised to spend billions on repairing roads and developing public transport, infrastructure and healthcare.

United Russia’s ratings started falling steeply in 2018 after the government passed a controversial pension reform plan that raised the retirement age. 

The move came as Russia’s economy had been stagnating, battered by waves of Western sanctions after Moscow annexed Crimea in 2014. 

Putin has not been United Russia’s official leader since 2012 and has in the past sought to distance himself from the unpopular party.

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But with the election looming, the Kremlin said Tuesday that Putin remains the party’s de facto leader and “supports” it.

United Russia is a party “that is far from populism”, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said the day the pre-election handouts were ordered.

Ahead of next month’s election, United Russia is polling around 30 percent, according to state-run pollster VTsIOM — a 10-point drop from the last lower house elections in 2016.

The party currently controls 75 percent of seats in the State Duma, with the rest held by parties widely seen as doing the Kremlin’s bidding.

In the run-up to the elections, Russian authorities have waged a crackdown on the opposition and independent voices.

Jailed opposition leader Alexei Navalny has seen his organisations declared “extremist” and banned in the country.

His top allies have fled the country or been placed under house arrest. 

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