By Paul Goble
Over the course of the pandemic, Vladimir Putin has increasingly cast himself as an observer rather than a leader; but with the deteriorating situation, that position, intended to shield him from popular anger over the lack of a Kremlin policy to combat the coronavirus is increasingly unsustainable, Sergey Shelin says.
And so now, instead of coming up with a real set of policy options, the Rosbalt commentator says, Putin is signaling through others that he will finally “fight” the pandemic using the only things he appears willing to rely on, increased coercion and a general tightening of the screws (rosbalt.ru/blogs/2021/11/02/1929275.html).
Shelin argues that the clearest statement of Putin’s intentions is provided by an article in Rossiiskaya gazeta signed by Dmitry Medvedev but undoubtedly prepared by the Presidential Administration and approved by Putin himself (rg.ru/2021/11/01/dmitrij-medvedev-o-proshlom-nastoiashchem-i-budushchem-borby-s-covid-19.html).
This article does not provide “the six lessons from the pandemic” its title promises but instead reflects two of what are clearly Putin’s longstanding habits of mind. On the one hand, it lashes out at the rest of the world for failing to approve his Sputnik vaccine. And on the other, it suggests he will finally make the shots obligatory and crack down on opponents of that step.
That is the best Putin and his team can come up with, Shelin says, giving orders and using their police to crush opposition. That combination may win some temporary respite from the current wave of the pandemic, but together they will ensure that the Russians who will suffer most are those who still think “the bosses see further than they do.”