Luzhkov, Putin Turn To Veterans

With Victory Day two months away, acting President Vladimir Putin has turned his attention to veterans, promising the government would hand out a holiday bonus three times the size of the minimum pension by April 1.

At a Cabinet meeting Thursday, Putin vowed to "protect all soldiers" who took part in World War II "no matter where they live," referring to his appeals to Latvia government to release a jailed Russian veteran accused of crimes against humanity, Interfax reported.

This year, Victory Day, celebrated May 9, will mark the 55th anniversary of the victory over Nazi Germany.

Putin called for greater attention to the social welfare of the country's 1.8 million vets and promised the government would mobilize its resources to help provide a better standard of living.

Analysts said Putin is continuing to go against the grain of his call last week to "exclude populist measures from election campaigning."

"His promises to raise state wages by 20 percent by April 1 and his latest promises to war veterans are all part of a populist campaign," said Leonid Radzikhovsky, an economics commentator with Segodnya newspaper.

Moscow Mayor Yury Luzhkov has also promised greater attention to the needs of veterans as Victory Day nears.

In a Feb. 29 press release, Luzhkov promised special exhibits, holiday food provisions and the opening of 100 shops intended specially for veterans.

The city government said it will be handing out "one-time material aid" in April to 1,000 disadvantaged veterans in the form of refrigerators, televisions and washing machines.

City Hall said it would lobby to double the minimum pension, which is between 400 rubles and 650 rubles ($14 to $22), and make good on promises to spiff up the city's cemeteries and memorials to World War II veterans. Luzhkov has said the work will be finished by April 30, just in time for the festivities.