Saturday, May 23, 2020

Will the Pandemic End Up Strengthening Putin? Some Think So

Paul Goble

            Staunton, May 21 – There is near universal agreement that the world after the pandemic passes will be different than the one that existed before it, and many Russian commentators argue that the coronavirus will not only undermine Vladimir Putin because of the weaknesses in his system it has revealed but even threaten the territorial integrity of the Russian Federation.

            But not everyone believes that. St. Petersburg commentator Marina Shapovalova is one of them, and she argues that the Russians as a result of their fears will turn even more to Putin and thus he will find himself in an even stronger position after the coronavirus than he did before (

            Given Russian traditions, she says, it is only necessary to frighten the population enough and it will agree to any extraordinary measures, a tightening of the screws, and an increasing role for the police. “The objective character of the threat is not important: what is important is how the population evaluates it” and to whom it gives credit for its survival.

            “In a large state of an imperial type,” Shapovalova continues, “people in the provinces in fact live as it were without powers.” They look only to Putin for their salvation because “the local authorities in the eyes of the people are not the powers: they aren’t real, don’t control any means, and nothing depends on them.”

            “The local leaders are Putin’s slaves.” Putin is for them all that matters.  “The population up to now needs the distant Kremlin as a force that can discipline local authorities and not its own rights of self-organization which in the end are viewed as the personal responsibility of each” rather than being part of what local officials can deal with.

            As a result, she concludes, “the alternative in the eyes of the ordinary Russia looks to be the following: either the preservation of ‘the status quo’ – that is the eternal Putin in the distant Kremlin – or what? Collapse? Anarchy? The arbitrary actions of local elites who are everywhere suspect? The disintegration of Russia?”

            The number of those infected with the coronavirus and the number of deaths from it continue to rise, although many Russians now say that both figures are being kept low by officials who intimidate doctors into not identifying infections and cause of death properly (,

            As regional governments struggle to decide how to reopen, Russian experts are wrestling with what the metrics should be to determine what and when stores, firms, churches and other public activities can be restored to normal functioning safely ( and

            Complicating these decisions is increasing evidence that the authorities aren’t functioning well, aren’t serving the interests of the population but rather allowing ambulances to avoid coming to places where they suspect infections are and forcing doctors to work without protection and thus increasingly dying as a result (,, andкомментарий-российские-врачи-спасители-людей-или-заложники-власти/a-53525141).

            The economic impact of the pandemic is also increasing. Russians have doubled the number of title loans on their cars to try to make ends meet, an indication of just how tough things are for many ( Eighty percent say the government hasn’t done enough, but nearly 40 percent don’t expect it will (

            Looking further out, while many Russian firms are now allowing people to work from home, only four percent of them say that they expect to make a complete transition from working on site to working at home, according to a survey of 500 major companies ( That figure is far lower than in most other countries.

            Faced with both the pandemic and a growing economic crisis, attitudes in the population about many things are changing. Large numbers of Russians are now ignoring government self-isolation orders, “the first in post-Soviet Russian history mass campaign of  civic disobedience,” according to one commentator (

            Increasingly, sociologists say, Russians are concluding that things will never be the same again either economically or politically ( and are expressing concerns about the violation of their rights, although less their political ones than their right to medical care (

            In the Federal Assembly, some members are talking about the need to legalize the steps the government has taken to fight the pandemic, implicitly admitting that many things that have been done were violations of existing law and the constitution (, and two senators have called for laying the groundwork to end countersanctions that have hurt Russians more than foreigners (

o   Meanwhile, among other pandemic-related developments in Russia, there were the following today:

·         Chechen head Ramzan Kadyrov has been hospitalized in Moscow with what doctors say appears to be a coronavirus infection (

·         Like other world leaders, Vladimir Putin is turning to the military to deal with the collapse of health care arrangements. He has deployed the military in Daghestan and that is likely to serve as a model for his actions elsewhere (

·         Some may flee the big cities to the countryside because of the pandemic, but others and likely more will leave the regions to go to the megalopolises which will receive more help from the government and thus will recover more quickly, experts say (

·         The Russian government faced the tricky task of reporting that a jet from the US containing 50 artificial ventilators had arrived from the US given that this aid from abroad highlights the shortcomings of  Russia’s medical equipment industry and of the Kremlin’s anti-Western stance (

·         Russian Rail has announced plans to put in place automatic temperature measuring devices in major stations (

·         A Russian psychologist who gives advice to celebrities says that divorces are spreading among such people and will spread to other Russians as the pandemic continues (

·         Shamans in the Altai Republic have assembled to ask the spirits to block the spread of the coronavirus in their republic (

·         And a millennial cult in Siberia welcomes the pandemic because its leaders see the infection as a confirmation of their apocalyptic predictions (

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