Currently, numerous political processes are either frozen or on the contrary – escalate exploiting the confusion created by the new coronavirus. One thing is certain, COVID-19 will change the world, but it is too early to predict the outcome of it.
One of the requirements to combat any infectious disease is to ensure swift and accurate information exchange between countries. Obscuring the actual data on the spread of the disease in a single country can threaten the attempts to fight the disease in other countries. What is more, if the process of combating diseases begins to be tied to politics, the situation becomes alarmingly dangerous. I believe this is the case in Russia.
I already wrote that the Russian Constitutional Court will not attempt to stop Putin from extending his rule, and that is exactly what happened, so no surprises there. However, we had to wait for the official announcement, and now Putin can open a bottle of champagne and celebrate being reelected. The only thing remaining is to get the public physically to vote, because the result of the vote will adjusted as needed. They have years of experience with this. I argued that disaster is looming for Russia in the form of oil sales, but I didn’t consider the effect of COVID-19. Let’s change that.
On 4 March, Putin announced that according to the FSB, information about the spread of the coronavirus comes from abroad. He added that such news are aimed at sowing panic among the population, and urged to organize the flow of information so that Russian citizens would only receive verified information. The message of this is quite clear – none of the bad and tragic stuff you’ve heard is true. Everything is fine.
On 6 March, journalist Kseniya Sobchak revealed that a journalist had flown from China to meet her son, and at the airport the journalist’s temperature was measured, but was normal. When Sobchak decided that she wants to get tested as well, she was told that it’s not possible, because Russian hospitals do not receive the necessary reagents for such analyses. By 6 March there were six confirmed cases of COVID-19 in Russia.
For years, Russia has been known to not disclose different facts, therefore it is important to look at their actions, instead of words. So what steps have been taken at a time when, according to Russian officials, everything was fine.
Late February saw a rapid increase in demand for long shelf-life products: in the last week of February the demand for tinned food increased by 67%, pasta and similar produce by 55%, vegetables by 25% and frozen produce by 18% compared to the previous year.
On 5 March, the mayor of Moscow issued a decree on implementing increased readiness;
On 5 March, members of the Civic Chamber suggested criminal or at least administrative liability for social network posts containing the number of people infected with COVID-19, as they believed it was fake news.
On 5 March, face masks were sold out in St. Petersburg and other large cities.
I selected this particular period of time for a reason. It turns out the Russian government publicly says one thing, but the simple population are doing something entirely different. Who to believe – the reality seen by simple people or Putin’s statements?
We cannot forget one crucial aspect, i.e. Russia shares quite the stretch of its border with China, has a wide transportation network used by the entire world and serves as a transit hub, and it is no secret that Russia is visited by many tourists and Russians themselves generally like to travel. According to Russian media outlets, in late February there were some 20,000 Russians located in Italy.
After taking all of this into consideration, can we really be certain that there are only 93 cases in Russia? I don’t know, but my gut tells me differently.
Russia, just like its predecessor the USSR, is famous for keeping silent. It attempted to hide Chernobyl, and it attempted to hide Kursk. Are we witnessing something similar?
Who benefits from this silence? First and foremost, Putin. If the spread of coronavirus in Russia proves to be much more severe than officially revealed, the constitutional vote could in fact be canceled, in addition to the worsening welfare of the Russian regular population. In this case, he will be the one to blame, and in such a situation it may be impossible to garner the necessary support for the amendments to the constitution.
The conclusions? We are once again reminded that we have to be careful when listening to Russia’s words. If they say everything is fine, the reality could be entirely different.
Almost all of us have ambitions of power in some shape or form, it is only sad that the ambitions of the leader of the Russian people are so bloated they have no problem stampeding over the health and lives of the nation.
Meanwhile, Russia’s neighbors need to be aware of the nest of infection next to them that may aid in prolonging the global fight against COVID-19.