MOSCOW (AP) _ Russian President Vladimir Putin gave a small May Day present on Monday to hard-pressed retirees by raising the average monthly pension about 42 percent to $25, news reports said.

Putin promised to raise pensions in the recent presidential campaign, appropriating one of the issues of his Communist opponent Gennady Zyuganov.

Government pensions, which had been around $17.50, had been set to rise to the equivalent of $25 by the end of the year, but Putin ordered the increase to take effect now, according to the ITAR-Tass news agency. The order envisions raising average pensions further, to $35, in the first quarter of next year.

Many retirees, including World War II veterans, get small supplements worth between $3.5 and $7.

Higher oil prices have helped the government budget in Russia, a major oil exporter, allowing it to increase pensions and pay off pension and wage debts.

State pensions are the only income for nearly all elderly Russians, and the pensions are below the official poverty line.