Putin promises Russians better living conditions ‘within this year’

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President Vladimir Putin promised Russians rapid improvements in their living conditions as he kicked off his annual state of the nation address on Wednesday.

“We cannot wait, the situation must change for the better now,” Putin said. “Within this year (Russians) should feel changes for the better.”

The Russian leader announced several policies that he said would boost living standards, while addressing the country’s declining birth rate.

These included new child benefits and reduced taxes for large families.

“We did and will do everything for the strengthening of family values,” he said.

“The incomes of Russian families should of course rise,” he said.

“The principles should be -- the more children, the less taxes,” Putin said, adding that Russia is going through a “difficult stage” in demography.

Putin addressed both houses of parliament as he faces an unprecedented fall in his approval ratings.

A hugely unpopular reform raising the retirement age that Putin signed into law in October led to a major dip in his support.

A survey by Russia’s independent Levada Center released in January found his approval rating at 64 percent, the lowest since before Moscow’s annexation of Crimea five years ago.