The pandemic becomes Putin’s biggest enemy

       

The president, who aspired to crown his maneuver to perpetuate himself in power with the historic military parade on Victory Day, has had to postpone his synchronized agenda due to the virus.

Messages flooded the Yandex mapping application. But instead of traffic notes, the Duma grid read “Feed my children and I’ll stay home” or “Putin, resign.” With most Russian regions self-isolating due to the coronavirus, but without declaring a state of emergency that would have guaranteed compensation to citizens and businesses, social unrest has led to a handful of creative virtual protests. The spring that Vladimir Putin waited for sunny, culminating his maneuver to perpetuate himself in power and with the historic parade of Victory Day as the culmination, has become an enormous test. And it faces it with a low level of popularity.

The covid-19 pandemic, which has caused more than 270,000 deaths worldwide, has also completely altered the synchronized political agenda of the Russian president, who has been forced to postpone the expected military parade to commemorate the 75th anniversary of the victory of the Red Army, in which he longed to receive, among others, Emmanuel Macron or Xi Jinping. The controversial visit of the French president to Moscow on a date so marked for Putin, which has made it one of the cornerstones of his nationalist and patriotic speech, would have been a good blow to his intentions to push for the EU to lift sanctions on Russia for annexing the Ukrainian Crimean peninsula six years ago. The arrival of the Chinese leader would have finished consolidating in the eyes of the world the good harmony between Beijing and Moscow.

All this in a spectacular setting, with the parade of thousands of soldiers and dozens of tanks and planes in Moscow’s Red Square. But the coronavirus has taken it all ahead, leaving the streets of Moscow and other Russian cities strewn with replicas of the red flag that was planted at the Reichstag in Berlin in 1945 and commemorative panels with patriotic messages for Victory Day. . A trail of calm instead of rehearsals and celebrations. The threat of covid-19 has also led to postponement of the citizen consultation on the constitutional reform sine die that would allow the Russian leader to overcome the legal limitation and remain in his position in the Kremlin until 2036.

With 190,000 infected, Russia is already the fifth country in the world in number of confirmed positives. And although its death rate is, with 1,800 deaths, among the lowest, according to questioned official figures, the Eurasian country presents one of the fastest growing scenarios for infections in the world: 10,000 new infected daily. With a healthcare system weakened by years of lack of reform and chronic underfunding, the public health crisis is putting the Russian Administration on the ropes and revealing deep management cracks.

Furthermore, Putin’s recipe for decreeing “paid non-working days” to send people home and not have to declare a state of emergency – which would have legally assumed that companies and citizens could claim the Administration for the losses derived from the pandemic— has actually translated into the fact that the earnings of 39% of workers have decreased “significantly”, according to the Romir analysis agency.

The Russian economy has been in hibernation for almost seven weeks due to confinement. And the halt, as well as the fall in oil prices as a result of disagreement with Saudi Arabia and OPEC and the low demand for the pandemic, will also have a great impact on the Russian economy, in which hydrocarbons represent a third of the national budget.

The International Monetary Fund forecasts that Russia’s gross domestic product will contract 5.5% this year, the biggest drop since 2009. The unemployment rate could double to 10%, according to data cited by the government newspaper Rossiiskaya Gazeta. The ruble has lost more than a fifth of its value against the dollar this year. All this with an already deteriorated situation: today, the real income of the Russians is 7.5% lower than six years ago – before the sanctions; and they will fall 5% again in 2020, according to Alfa-Bank forecasts.

A string of bad prospects that, together with the fatigue of citizens, have taken their toll. In a country like Russia, where Putin has no opposition, his presidency is not at risk, analysts say, but he is being subjected to a powerful stress test.

Absent in the early stages of the health crisis, when the Kremlin insisted that the situation was under control and that it left unpopular decisions about confinement to its regional governors, Putin now seems interested in showing that he is at the helm on the run. economic support measures and calls to responsibility.

In recent weeks, state television has shown him in videoconference meetings with his Cabinet – in which there are at least three members with coronaviruses, including his prime minister, Mikhail Mishustin – or with regional governors. But he has been seen as boring. “Disconnected,” says analyst Tatiana Stanovaya, a collaborator with the Carnegie Center in Moscow. “It is out of place, does not understand what to do. This is not like other crises, but at the same time you cannot stand idly by because it would look weird, ”says Yulia Galiámina, Moscow municipal deputy (independent).

Support for Putin has fallen to 59% in April from 63% the previous month, according to the latest survey by the independent Centro Levada. The lowest figure since he came to power in 2000, although a change in the methodology of statistics makes it difficult to determine if it is indeed the worst historical figure.

“Putin is accumulating a series of political failures,” says political scientist Alexánder Morózov, from the Borís Nemtsov academic center at the Carolina University in Prague. This is his most serious crisis after 2014, stemming from the consequences of the annexation of Crimea and the involvement of the Kremlin in the war in eastern Ukraine, he believes. The unpopular pension reform, the Russians’ poor perception of their drifts in foreign policy, the inaction to launch the promised investment projects. Everything has created the current breeding ground. “Putin’s power regime is aging along with him. He is no longer a successful poker player with weak cards, his popularity drops, “says Morózov.

His levels, however, remain enviable and almost unthinkable for Western politicians, but they show him touched. Asked by state pollster VTsIOM about which politicians they trusted, only 28% named Putin. “The collapse has to do fundamentally with economic uncertainty. The rating will not drop much more, it is maintained due to the feeling of lack of alternatives; but neither does it have any sign of going up because the economy is not going to improve ”, points out the sociologist and deputy director of the Levada Center Denís Vólkov.

In addition, it will not have the trick that the parade gave it and the great commemorative events planned for this Saturday. A hard blow to Putin, who has made gestures, scenery and symbolism a fundamental part of his presidency. Most tributes on a day of immense symbolic importance to Russians will be online, as were the creative virtual protests. In Moscow there is only a scheduled air show and fireworks that the mayor, Sergey Sobianin, has encouraged to follow from the windows and balconies; without going outside. Meanwhile, instead of the emotional march of the Immortal Regiment and its thousands of people parading with the photographs and medals of their relatives, fallen in the Great Patriotic War, or the military marches, the police cars travel the streets of the Russian capital. issuing at full volume a message: “Respected citizens, we ask that you do not leave the house unnecessarily. Take care of your health and do not allow others to become infected. ”

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