MOSCOW - Russia’s Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev on Thursday said poverty remained a “glaring problem” in the country , where presidential elections are due to be held next year.

“Poverty is, of course, one of the glaring problems of our modern economy,” Medvedev said in an annual end-of-year interview with Russian television channels. “When the economy is weak, it’s impossible for there not to be any poor people,” Medvedev said, adding that the government would “consolidate our efforts to take real steps towards fighting poverty”.

A World Bank report published on Wednesday said that while the Russian economy returned to modest growth in 2017 on the back of global growth, trade and rising oil prices, the level of poverty remained high. “Declining inflation and growing real wages led to a modest decline in Russia’s poverty rate in the first half of 2017, compared to the same period last year,” Andras Horvai, World Bank Country Director for Russia was quoted as saying in the report.

“However, the current poverty rate at 14.4% remains elevated and the share of vulnerable people, who may fall back to poverty , is still on the rise,” he said.

Russia is still struggling to boost its economy as it emerges from the longest recession of President Vladimir Putin’s rule triggered by low oil prices and Western sanctions over Ukraine.

Authorities are seeking to reassure Russians on the economy ahead of next year’s presidential election, in which Putin has yet to announce his candidacy but is widely expected to run and win a fourth term.

This week, Putin announced a raft of measures aimed at boosting birth rates, including new monthly handouts after the birth of a first child that will come into effect from January 1.

“I think it is right to first of all help those who really need it,” the Russian leader said.