Putin says shares Russians' pain over economic hardship

April 14th, 2016  |  Source: Reuters

President Vladimir Putin assured ordinary Russians on Thursday that he was trying to relieve the hardships inflicted on them by the slowing economy and the financial knock-on effects of Russia's stand-off with the West.

Putin used a televised phone-in, an annual event when he fields questions from ordinary citizens around the country, to strike a conciliatory tone on foreign policy, saying Russia wanted friendly relations with the rest of the world.

Wrapping up the event after three hours and 40 minutes, Putin said he had heard a lot of impassioned questions from worried citizens. Many of the questions were about issues such as high inflation, poor public services and wage arrears.

"I share your concerns in nearly 100 percent of cases," Putin said. "We'll work together so that your problems are relieved."

Addressing public concerns over the economy is crucial for the Kremlin because Russians vote in a parliamentary election in September.

The phone-in did not feature criticism directed personally at Putin. Executives at state television, which is deferential to the Kremlin, controlled who had the chance to pose questions. His critics say the phone-in is a ritual designed to mask the lack of true democracy.

But the event provided an opportunity for Putin to show he has voters' interests at heart, in part by hauling officials over the coals for failing to protect citizens.

Putin took questions via video link from two women, Tatiana and Yelena, who said they had not been paid for months of work at a fish processing plant on a Pacific island, and that officials ignored their complaints.

The issue is a widespread one since Russia's economy slowed, with businesses that are struggling with falling sales often delaying wages.

The Russian president, live on air, instructed his prosecutor-general to think about firing the local prosecutor for failing to act on the women's complaints.

Read on here: http://www.reuters.com/article/us-russia-putin-idUSKCN0XB12R

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