Staunton, April 14 – It has become almost a commonplace in Moscow commentaries to suggest that the pandemic constitutes a serious threat to Vladimir Putin’s power vertical, highlighting its limitations and especially its all-too-obvious efforts to shift responsibility from itself to somebody else, including business, governors, and the Russian people.
But the pandemic is starting to have a more direct impact on the powers that be than that. No senior Russian official has yet acknowledged being infected let alone died from the coronavirus, but lower-ranking personnel in the force structures and key branches of the Russian economy have, a development that only adds to the problems the Putin regime faces.
The numbers of COVID-19 infections in the Russian military are still small, but Kommersant reports that commanders are worried, especially if the spring draft goes ahead as planned bringing in 135,000 men who have been in the civilian world where the pandemic is raging (kommersant.ru/doc/4321422).
The Moscow paper says that the high command has already imposed two-week “observation” of any military personnel who have served abroad recently such as doctors who were dispatched to Italy and Serbia and is preparing its hospital system to cope with massive infections either in its own ranks or, if ordered, among civilians.
According to Kommersant, “the ministry has declared that it is devoting ‘particular attention’ to those studying in military higher educational institutions” and other training academies, conducting regular temperature measures, checking for other symptoms, and disinfecting places of common use.
Putin has pointed to the military as a resource in fighting the pandemic, but if these reports are correct, it possibly is already being affected itself. And if it is, it is even more likely that other force structures or key institutions have cases although the state media has not been reporting what would constitute a serious problem.
An exception to that came today, when government media reported that there are currently 39 coronavirus infections among the workers in Rosatom, the Russian government’s atomic energy arm. Reportedly none of them is seriously ill. But again if the illness has spread to this key sector, it is hard to imagine it hasn’t to others (tass.ru/obschestvo/8236253).