Wednesday, April 22, 2020

Russian Officials Reacting to Pandemic for Three Reasons Other than Public Health, Luzin Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, April 12 – Many assume that the primary motivation of Russian officials is to respond to the coronavirus pandemic in ways that will protect public health, Perm political analyst Pavel Luzin says. But in fact, there are three more powerful motivating factors that explain much that has been going on.

            First, he says, officials in the central government for all their criticism of the West have been swept up in the same panic that is affecting Western capitals. If testing or self-isolation is what the West is doing, then, the Russian officials without acknowledgement decide they must do the same (

            Many of the ideas from the West are good ones, but they are all too often being applied without much reflection as to how Russian realities require that they be adapted. Luzin points out that Siberia and the Far East have had long experience in coping with epidemics of pneumonia and other diseases in low population density areas. But that experience has been largely ignored.

            Second, while most commentators suggest that governors have raced to take action because the Kremlin hasn’t provided guidance, they have forgotten the sad reality that many heads of the regions are less concerned with ensuring the health of their populations than they are with calling attention to themselves.

            If many are acting “like Moscow,” others are trying to prove that they in fact took steps before the capital and that Moscow is “copying them.” Those who seek attention are also seeking preferment not from below as many who talk about coronavirus federalism suggest but rather from above, as they have traditionally done.

            And third, all too many officials in both Moscow and the regions are only too pleased to use the pandemic as a convenient excuse to cover up all the mistakes they have made or to test out repressive measures they would like to use in the future. On the one hand, few officials have been prepared to take responsibility for mistakes. Blaming the pandemic for them is thus a godsend.

            On the other – and this certainly seems to be the case with Kremlin but not exclusively with it – many officials are also pleased to use what can be presented as a fight against the pandemic as a testing ground for new control mechanisms or even as a means of introducing them for nominally noble ends.

            It would be wonderful if Russian officials at all levels were animated solely by a desire to take care of the population and defend it against the ravages of the coronavirus. But unfortunately, that is not the case; and those who want to understand what is actually happening in Russia must recognize that unfortunate fact. 

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