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Russian state TV has launched a weekly, hourlong show devoted to giving viewers positive, polished coverage of President Vladimir Putin.
Moscow. Kremlin. Putin, which premiered on state channel Rossiya 1 on Sunday night, is designed to boost the president’s public image at a time when his approval ratings are flagging in the face of widespread opposition to controversial new Kremlin plans to raise the retirement age for men and women.
Although no direct reference was made to the growing public anger over the plans, the show praised Putin for taking “responsibility” for “necessary” reforms.
Putin, who suffers from no shortage of media coverage in a country where television has long been under state control, is frequently seen on television, but — apart from annual live stage-managed Q&A sessions and his traditional New Year’s address — this is the first time a TV series has been dedicated to him.
In Sunday’s first episode, Putin was shown on a recent hiking holiday in Siberia’s remote Tuva region, looking fit and vigorous. The show’s presenters praised the president’s “wonderful” physique and waxed lyrical about his love of children.
“When Putin talks to the mother of a child or looks at a child, it’s clear how much he loves children,” presenter Vladimir Soloviev told viewers.
Structured around an intimate look at Putin’s weekly activities, the show comes at a time when the president’s popularity ratings are at a four-year low: Official figures show they have dipped from 80 percent to around 70 percent, a number low enough to set alarm bells ringing in the Kremlin.
Dmitry Peskov, Putin’s official spokesman, was a guest on Sunday’s first show, where he told viewers that “Putin does not only love children, he loves people in general,” and quipped that even bears respected the president.
Referring to the footage of Putin’s holiday in Siberia, Peskov said: “This is wild nature, there are bears there. Bodyguards are armed, just in case. Although if a bear sees Putin — they aren’t idiots — they will behave themselves.”
The show went on air just hours after the first in a series of nationwide protests against plans to raise the age at which Russians can receive their state pensions from 55 to 63 for women and 60 to 65 for men.
The increases, first announced June 14 on the day the World Cup kicked off in Moscow, have galvanized public opinion, with more than 50 percent of Russians saying they are willing to take to the streets to protest, according to an opinion poll released Monday by Moscow-based independent pollsters the Levada Center.
Opposition to the plans have so rattled the Kremlin that last Wednesday Putin took the rare step of making a public broadcast in which he explained why the country could no longer afford to pay early pensions, before conceding that the increase for women would be limited to shifting from 55 to 60.
Men will still only be able to claim their pensions at 65, when — in a country where the average life expectancy for a man is 67 — many will be dead.
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