Putin vows to grow Russian population
Moscow - Prime Minister Vladimir Putin on Monday vowed to reverse Russia's demographic decline and boost its population to 154 million, as he ramped up his re-election campaign in the face of protests.
In a new campaign article addressing his core constituency including employees of state companies and blue-collar workers, Putin also promised salary hikes to teachers and doctors and pledged to create a more just state.
Putin reeled off a list of social policies that he said could reverse a demographic decline and boost Russia's current population that has now dwindled to nearly 143 million and which he said risked falling to just 107 million.
"In a global sense we are facing the risk of turning into an 'empty space' whose fate will not be decided by us," Putin said in an article published on his campaign website.
"If we manage to formulate and implement an effective complex people-saving strategy, Russia's population will go up to 154 million," he said.
By contrast, he said, if the authorities do nothing to combat the demographic crisis, the country's population would fall to 107 million by 2050.
"The historic price of the choice between action and inaction is nearly 50 million human lives over the next 40 years," he said in the piece, his fifth campaign article since January.
After serving two consecutive presidential terms between 2000 and 2008 and a term as prime minister, Putin is seeking a third term in the March 4 presidential election.
He is however facing the worst legitimacy crisis of his 12-year rule, with tens of thousands taking to the streets in protests since December.
Russia's future president will have to tackle an acute demographic crisis exacerbated by unhealthy lifestyles, blatant disregard for safety protocols and traffic accidents which all contribute to high death rates.
Upon his widely expected re-election, Putin will have to push through long-delayed pension, utilities and tax reforms whose costs will be partly shouldered by the country's quickly-aging population.
As part of demographic policies, the government will combat widespread alcohol and drug abuse and entice about 300 000 migrants a year to Russia, Putin said, also proposing monthly cash incentives for women to bear more than two children.
"These measures are not enough," said Anatoly Vishnevsky, director of the Moscow-based Demography Institute at the Higher School of Economics.
"It's impossible to imagine how you could boost the population except through massive immigration," he said, adding his latest proposals contradicted his earlier pledge to toughen up immigration legislation.
Putin said that by 2018 the income of university teachers, professors and doctors will stand at 200% of the national average.
"Realisation of this task will call for significant resources - up to 1.5% of gross domestic product year," he said, also promising $167 monthly stipend hikes to students.
One in eight Russians still lives below the poverty line, the prime minister wrote, adding that the gap between the rich and the poor was too wide.
"Every ruble going into the social sphere should 'create justice'," he said. "The just arrangement of our society and economy is the main condition of our sustainable development over the next years."
Putin has written four articles since January on subjects including Russia's politics, economy and illegal immigration, although he has refused to take part in televised debates with other candidates.
"Thank you, I laughed this morning," a reader who identified himself as Denis wrote on the website of mass circulation Komsomolskaya Pravda which also published Putin's article. "Where have you been for the past 12 years?"