On 2 June 2020, Russian President Vladimir Putin signed the decree No. 355 on the “main principles of state policy on nuclear deterrence”.1
The decree stipulates that: Russia can employ nuclear weapons if: credible information has been received that a ballistic missile has been launched against Russia or its allies; nuclear weapons or other weapons of mass destruction (WMD) are being used against Russia or its allies; an attack has been launched against critical infrastructure objects, the destruction of which can affect response measures; and in case of conventional aggression against Russia if the existence of the state is threatened.
At first glance, it may seem that Putin has once again taken some sort of a novel and unprecedented step to demonstrate his power, but if we look into the past we can see that it is nothing more than plagiarism. Why do I say something like this about an issue so serious? It’s quite simple: on 5 February 2010, president at that time Dmitry Medvedev signed Russia’s military doctrine.2 Another document was signed along with the doctrine – a decree on the “main principles of state policy on the use of nuclear weapons until the year 2020”.3
The military doctrine of 2020 already contained the principles stipulated in Putin’s fresh decree. In reality, Putin has signed an identical decree to the 2010 version signed by Medvedev, the only difference is that the latter features the year 2020, while Putin’s decree does not mention any particular year. If we think about it, Putin didn’t really have a choice because Medvedev’s decree expires in 2020. The only question is why did Putin issue this decree now and not later – this is an entirely different story, but it most likely has to do with the fact that it’s about time for Putin to improve his rating in the eyes of Russian citizens.
With this I mean that Putin’s actions and rhetoric must be viewed in the context of the upcoming constitutional vote. In order for the vote to turn out as Putin wishes, he is left with no choice but to pretend that he “cares” about the safety and welfare of Russian citizens, when in reality we know that this is far from being true.
There is no doubt that the “good dad Putin” has already lost his appeal in the eyes of regular Russians. The ongoing international sanctions have proven that Russia is unable to satisfy its necessity for technologies: Russia is unable to even build its own aircraft, because many parts were procured abroad.
COVID-19 has also shed light on the fact that the Russian government is unable to take care of its citizens, because the healthcare system in Russia is utterly dysfunctional. Moreover, COVID-19 has led to a drop in prices of energy resources, which were Russia’s main source of income, resulting in decreased budget revenue. Even before the outbreak of COVID-19 Putin had his historically lowest ratings, but we can be certain that his handling of the COVID-19 crisis has decreased them even further.
You have to agree that this isn’t the best situation for Putin to try to achieve his goals, and this means he is forced to do something. The classic recipe is to create the impression of superiority over other countries, to find an external enemy or to show that others are doing even worse. But the most effective way is to combine all of these. This reminds me of an anecdote about the Chukchi, the beginning of which sounded something like this: “The Chukchi is no fool” (Чукча не дурак). I believe Putin too thought that “Putin is no fool” and began acting in full force to try and salvage what can still be salvaged.
The recipe is quite straightforward:
First, to create for the Russian public an illusion that COVID-19 has not done any significant damage to Russia. Yes, there are cases of infection, but the number of deaths is low. What is more, the number of confirmed cases is so high because the testing is so widespread.
Ok, we will try to believe this, but:
How do you explain that on 3 June 2020 there were 440,358 cases of infection in Russia with only 5,376 deaths? There are 281,270 confirmed cases in the UK and the death toll there is 39,811; Spain has 240,326 cases and 27,128 deaths; there are 233,836 cases of infection in Italy with 33,601 deaths. One could argue that Russia has better healthcare and healthier people. I could believe the part about the people, but we all are well aware of the healthcare situation in Russia.
Data on 19 May 2020 showed that 186 health workers had died from COVID-19 in Russia, which amounts to 7% of the total number of deaths. The same figure is 0.5% in the UK, 0.27% in Spain and 0.65% in Italy.4
If we look at the number of cases and the death toll we could, as I already said, assume that Russia has a better healthcare system, but if we look at the proportion of deaths among health workers, the picture suddenly turns upside down. The data is undeniably controversial. So, which data is more credible? I would argue that definitely not the data presented by Russia. We have to remember that in the initial stages of the pandemic Putin even attempted to present COVID-19 as something that has been “made up” abroad.
Next, let us look at the promises made by Putin concerning COVID-19. He publicly and proudly announced that doctors working with COVID-19 patients will receive additional 80,000 rubles (1,045 euros), while junior medical workers will receive 25,000 rubles (326 euros).5 But reality presented itself when a letter addressed to Putin signed by junior medical staff at the Komunarka hospital (the hospital treats COVID-19 patients, and the letter was signed by some 100 junior medical workers) was leaked revealing that none of them received any kind of additional payments.6
Once again, what Putin says and what actually happens are two entirely different things.
Next, let’s look at Russia’s attempts to prove that other countries are doing much worse. This won’t be anything new, and a detailed article on the topic was already published by the news website Tvnet titled “Why is Latvia being called a failed state?”7 I can only add that Russia is actively publishing articles saying how bad the EU, NATO and other countries are. Interesting – if Russia believes that everything elsewhere is so bad, why are Russian politicians and oligarchs close to the Kremlin purchasing property and sending their children to schools in these very bad countries?
For instance, the daughter of Putin’s press secretary lives in Paris; the grandson of Vladimir Zhirinovsky is attending school in Switzerland; the daughter of Russia’s foreign minister Sergey Lavrov was born in New York and graduated college in the US.8 And at least 26 State Duma deputies have property abroad.9 And this only includes property registered with their names. How many politicians own property that has been registered with other names – no one knows for a fact, but definitely more than a few.
Despite Russia’s poor economic situation (we have to keep in mind that the sanctions imposed against Russia have also played a significant role), the falling prices of energy resources which have resulted in Russia being unable to provide the welfare of its citizens and the increasing number of COVID-19 cases, on 29 May Putin still decided to sign a decree on rescheduling the 9 May parade and holding it on 24 June. How much will the parade cost for Russia? We do not know for certain, but the 2017 parade cost 509 million rubles and in 2018 this number had already grown to 615 million rubles.
Once again, this brings us to the conclusion that Putin is coldly indifferent about Russian citizens and the only thing he truly cares about is maintain power. Putin even isn’t ashamed of exploiting veterans for his own ends, but this is a topic for another article.