Staunton, June 23 – Vladimir Putin has conceded that the coronavirus pandemic is far from over and some regions are still in bad shape. In response, he has promised to provide regions with as much as 100 billion rubles (1.5 billion US dollars) in assistance (vedomosti.ru/society/articles/2020/06/23/833261-epidemiya-ne-zakonchilas, mbk-news.appspot.com/suzhet/zastryavshie-na-plato/ and club-rf.ru/news/57437).
But Russian economist Vladislav Inozemtsev says that Putin’s latest burst of activity does not reflect a strategy larger than simply trying to wait out the pandemic, hoping that Russians will not become so impoverished that they will revolt, and expecting that oil prices will somehow rise and rescue his regime (ridl.io/ru/glavnaja-zhertva-covid-19/).
Over the past 24 hours, Russian officials say there have been 7425 new cases, bringing the cumulative total to just under 600,000, and 153 more deaths, raising that total to 8359 (t.me/COVID2019_official/867). These increases mean that today, 28.2 percent of Russians say they know someone who has been infected, up from 16.6 percent at the end of May (rbc.ru/society/23/06/2020/5ef06be09a794786f801aa38).
The actual numbers of victims of the pandemic almost certainly is greater than the official statistics suggest. An independent study in St. Petersburg, for example, finds that the number of residents of the northern capital who have been infected is 200,000, more than nine times the official figure of 22,600 (gorod-812.ru/200-tysyach-perebolevshih/).
Rosstat director Pavel Malkov has not addressed that but did say in an interview that differences between his agency’s figures and those provided by the government on a daily basis reflect lags in diagnoses. Russians may not be diagnosed until as much as 45 days after testing, he says (rbc.ru/interview/economics/23/06/2020/5eeca0b09a7947c6ff6cdec5?from=newsfeed).
Perhaps the most prominent impact of the pandemic this week is the cancellation of Victory Day parades. “No fewer than 40” regional governments, in response to the epidemiological situation, have cancelled their parades or ordered that they take place without spectators. (ehorussia.com/new/node/21039).
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peshkov has expressed “understanding” of their actions, but these cancellations and restrictions mean that many of the 47 cities Moscow had said were supposed to stage parades won’t be doing so, thereby undercutting what the center clearly hoped would be an inspiring country-wide action.
Russian regions and central officials continue to struggle with reopening and in a few cases closing back down because of a deteriorating situation. Rules for the reopening of libraries, for example, are being developed in anticipation of their resumption of activities next month (tass.ru/obschestvo/8794177).
Tuvan officials where there has been a recent spike in the number of cases, one highlighted by the death of the republic’s supreme Buddhist leader (facebook.com/sholban.karaool/posts/1359047484299949) have closed down public transport to keep it from spreading (mkyzyl.ru/upload/iblock/8e2/8e2e60f4eb76a576028189ccaaef869d.pdf).
And a curious and disturbing problem has emerged in Moscow: Some residents, who were found to have the virus and ordered into quarantine, have not been signed out after the 14 days of isolation, leaving them in legal limbo (newizv.ru/news/city/23-06-2020/lichnyy-opyt-kak-zabolevshie-kovidom-moskvichi-stanovyatsya-uznikami-rospotrebnadzora).
The pandemic, along with falling oil and gas prices, has thrown the Russian economy back to where it was prior to the annexation of Ukraine’s Crimea, according to the IMF (ehorussia.com/new/node/21043). The current crisis is not only deeper but different than earlier Russian ones with incomes falling less but unemployment increasing more, analysts say (krizis-kopilka.ru/archives/77549).
And prospects for recovery are far less rosy than Putin is suggesting: A study by the Higher School of Economics suggests that any growth will being “only from 2022” and that recovery will take some years, not months (iq.hse.ru/news/374628895.html).
The Kremlin did get one good piece of news today: the interior ministry says that the wearing of protective masks will not interfere with its facial recognition technology systems and so they can continue to be used by the authorities without concern about that (tass.ru/obschestvo/8792511).
Meanwhile, in other pandemic-related news from Russia,
· Coronavirus infections are reportedly spreading like wildfire at the plant where Russia builds its nuclear submarines (vk.com/covid_arkhreg) and at the construction site of the Kursk atomic power plant (tass.ru/obschestvo/8791829).
· Calls to a hotline by Russian women who are victims of home violence have surged by nearly a third since February, forcing the service to operate around the clock (facebook.com/anna.center.ru/photos/a.1664330950461995/2797625720465840/?type=3&theater).
· An icon in one Moscow church now features the Virgin and Child wearing masks, something that has disturbed parishioners who see it as a sign of an approaching apocalypse (dailystorm.ru/kultura/v-moskovskom-hrame-uvideli-bogorodicu-v-chernoy-maske).
· And McDonalds has announced that its restaurants are beginning to reopen in Russian cities (mcdonalds.ru/articles/news/mcdonald-s-opened-for-visitors-after-quarantine-in-russia/).
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