Sunday, June 27, 2021

Pandemic is Putin’s Chernobyl, an Event that ‘Changes Everything,’ Pastukhov Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, June 23 – The third wave of the coronavirus pandemic, something no one in Moscow expected, Vladimir Pastukhov says, may turn out to be “Putin’s Chernobyl,” an event which changes the attitude of the population to its rulers completely not because of deaths but because his regime has lied in ways that have failed to protect it.

            The London-based Russian analyst says that his own experience in April 1986 at the time of the Chernobyl accident is suggestive. Before that, he was largely passive in accepting the Soviet regime and its lies; but when he saw that regime’s incapacity before a disaster, he changed his mind (

            He did not become an anti-Soviet activist as a result, Pastukhov continues; but he recognized that what was wrong with the Soviet regime was “not its falseness” but its lack of any ability to respond intelligently, something that was highlighted for him when he saw members of the elite fleeing the Ukrainian capital.

            Chernobyl in short “changed everything,” he says, because it meant that for him and millions of others, “this stae and all its leaders, up to and including Gorbachev himself ceased to exist. I lost my connection with them,” and when fatal challenges to that regime arose, neither he nor others were prepared to do anything to defend the powers that be.

            “Chernobyl’s political role as one of the most important triggers of the destruction of the Soviet regime up to now has remained under-researched and under-rated,” Pastukhov says, perhaps because what it meant about Russia and Russians in the future is not something many are comfortable in talking about.

            The Putin regime still looks stable, relying on nostalgia for imperial statehood, the energy and charisma of Putin himself, and the Weimar syndrome which leads many Russians to follow the Kremlin’s lead. But the third wave of the pandemic shows how quickly the temperature can change in the aquarium where these three “whales” reside.

            It can rise far enough to make it impossible for any of these three to survive or at least to live as they did. Putin and his regime did relatively well in coping with the first and second wave of the pandemic, but they made the perhaps fatal mistake of declaring victory too soon and denouncing Western vaccines too often.

            Both of these are now backfiring, with victory being transformed into a bitter joke as more infections and deaths come and more restrictions are imposed and the attacks on Western vaccines feeding into Russian unwillingness to trust Russian vaccines whose acceptance might have saved the situation.

            The Russian people “believed what it was prepared to believe,” in Russian victory and in the uselessness or harm of vaccines; and now, with the third wave, Russians have discovered that what they wanted to believe simply wasn’t true. The Kremlin played to their desires, but now if it is to fight the pandemic, it must work against them.

            According to Pastukhov, “the threat today is not that people will become angry at the number of deaths but that they will become angry about what they see as forced “insertion of chips” and being driven out of restaurants and stores. In sum, the Kremlin yet again has tripped over the rake that it left in the yard.”

            For more than a year, the Kremlin played to the crowd, telling it what it wanted to hear. But “now the Kremlin has to fight with all this, applying to covid dissidents the very same repressive measures which it is accustomed to applying to political dissidents.” The Russian people can see this and are drawing conclusions.”

            And this means that the Kremlin today is not fighting with the 14 percent of the population it already views as its opponents but with the 86 percent of the “deep” people whom it has traditionally viewed as its social base. As a result, “this is Putin’s ‘Kovidobyl,’ not the thousands of unnecessary deaths but insult” Russians won’t forget “when the time comes.”

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