Staunton, March 25 – “Any struggle with an epidemic is at least in part political,” Aleksey Shaburov says; and after a slow start, Vladimir Putin with a much-ballyhooed visit to a hospital and a speech has demonstrated that he does not intend to share “the laurels of victory over the coronavirus” with anyone.
Until the last two days, the Kremlin leader had been relatively inactive, a posture that allowed both Moscow Mayor Sergey Sobyanin and Prime Minister Mikhail Mishustin to occupy the leading roles, something that boosts their status even if it does not present any direct challenge to Putin’s power.
But the struggle against the coronavirus is going to last for some time, and in order to prevent either of them or potentially others from capitalizing on it in ways that undercut Putin’s self-image as the savior of the people, the Kremlin leader has decided to assume a much higher profile (politsovet.ru/65892-putin-ne-podelitsya-lavrami-pobeditelya-koronavirusa.html).
Putin’s visit to the hospital will have few practical consequences for the fight against the pandemic, but the fact that he made it suggests that he recognizes “the political potential which is part of the epidemic” and wants to ensure that he and no one else benefits from that, the Politsovet editor says.
The role of rulers in the fight against plagues has been central since the Middle Ages, Shaburov continues. Then, the kings of England and France not only did penance to have God save their peoples but they took steps that gave rise to the state in which it now exists, “a system of control for the movement of people, police measures, and the isolation” of the sick.
“Therefore,” h e continues, “any struggle with an epidemic is always in part political” because “the victor over the disease will be politician number one.” In that regard little has changed in the last 500 years. And today, leaders who position themselves as the chief combatants against the plague gain in popularity.
That has been true for Donald Trump in the US and Boris Johnson in the UK, and Russia is no exception, Shaburov says. But it is a mark of the nature of the Russian political system that all it took was a single visit to a hospital in a yellow costume, a color that recalls the car in which he appeared before he returned to the presidency earlier.
But as the pandemic continues, it is also likely that the politics of the virus will intensify in Russia and elsewhere (windowoneurasia2.blogspot.com/2020/03/coronavirus-intensifies-political.html). In that event, some Russians will begin to laugh at or even be dismissive of Putin for his transparently political “concern” (themoscowtimes.com/2020/03/25/putins-yellow-coronavirus-suit-the-suit-that-launched-1000-memes-a69742).