Putin to speak on pension reform in rare TV address

Putin has sought to distance himself from the controversial pension reforms

Russian President Vladimir Putin will deliver Wednesday a rare televised address on controversial pension reforms, with some expecting him to soften the measures to stem the fall in his approval ratings.

The government is planning to gradually raise the state pension age by five years to 65 for men and by eight years 63 for women, in the first such hike in nearly 90 years as the economy struggles amid Western sanctions.

The proposed move -- already approved by parliament's lower house in a first reading last month -- has led to a rare of outburst of public anger, with tens of thousands rallying across Russia in recent weeks.

Putin has sought to distance himself from the controversial reforms and said at a government meeting on Tuesday that any decision concerning the measures should be "just".

"I ask you not to forget that all our decisions will concern the fate of millions of people and should be just," he told top officials in the Siberian city of Omsk.

At the same time, the Russian leader indicated tough measures were unavoidable.

"We must take into account the real situation in economics, the labour market," he said. "We should understand what awaits the country in 10, 20 and even in 30 years."

Some economists and observers expect Putin -- whose address will be broadcast at 0900 GMT -- to soften the reform by proposing to raise the pension age for women to 60 years instead of 63 years and possibly extending the transition period.

Given Russians' low life expectancy, many will not live long enough under the proposed system to receive a state pension but the government says the burden is simply too much for its stretched finances.

Putin, who had previously vowed not to raise the pension age, has seen public trust in his presidency fall to 64 percent last month, down from 80 percent in May, according to VTsIOM state pollster.