July 9, 2021 MEMRI Daily Brief No. 294

The 'Long COVID': A New Russian Reality

July 9, 2021 | By Dr. Vladislav L. Inozemtsev*
Russia | MEMRI Daily Brief No. 294

Despite the almost perfect summer in Russia, the mood of many Russi­ans appears to be not too bright. An upsurge in COVID-19 cases in June and in early July took the daily new infection numbers back to the worst days of January[1] while mortality figures hit record highs five times in a row between June 29 and July 3.[2] The Russian hospitals are once again overloaded with the sick, and what is this time completely different from what we had seen in 2020 is not only the num­bers of the infected and dead, but their proportions. On July 3, Russian autho­rities reported 24,439 new cases, which was comparable with the UK's 24,885, South Africa's 26,485, Colombia's 26,928, and Indonesia's 27,913 – but the number of de­ceased in Russia (697 per day) was 38.7 times higher than that of the UK (18), four times higher than that of South Africa (175) and just a bit larger than that of Colombia (591) and Indonesia (493), putting a nation dreaming of a status equal to that of the United States on par with the poorest third world countries. [3]

(Source: Twitter)

The Russian Leadership Has Declared A "Final Victory" Over COVID-19 At Least Twice

The current upsurge in coronavirus infections in Russia seems unbelievable because of at least three factors. First, unlike a year ago, these days Russia possesses four registered COVID-19 vaccines,[4] one of which (Sputnik-V) is quite widely used abroad, having little or no negative records or side effects. [5] Sputnik-V, a joint product of state-ow­ned Gamaleya National Research Centre for Epidemiology and Microbiology and Russian Direct Investment Fund, was cleared for nation-wide use on August 11, 2020,[6] while many of my friends got both shots even earlier due to their ties to the Russian elites. But ten months later, most people are still cautious about being vaccinated: The latest available figures suggest that only 12.2 percent of Russians got both shots and 17.1 percent got at least one. [7] There are vaccine shortages only in a few regions, and while there were some lines forming to get vaccinated in January, the vaccination si­tes were completely abandoned by May.

Second, the Russian leadership, which has positioned itself as "strong" and "mi­ghty," suppressing the opposition or the rebellious oligarchs, suddenly appeared to be extremely weak and cautious as it came either to the vaccination campaign or to imposing tight new regulations: As Russian President Vladimir Putin said during his last "di­rect talk" with the nation, he does not support the compulsory vaccination[8] that now is a de facto practice in China[9] and commanded even in several post-Soviet re­pub­lics.[10] Earlier it was announced that government employees as well are not obli­ged to vaccinate.[11] Even that might have been a very good sign for the public, which of course looks to see what the elite is doing. Moreover, Putin him­self made the mistake indicating the type of vaccine he allegedly used[12] – and the two-week long quarantine into which everyone is put before meeting the president causes do­ubts that he ever got one.

Third, I would say that the Russian leadership (including Putin himself) has declared a "final victory" over COVID-19 at least twice – first when it needed to lift the lockdown almost a year ago to facilitate the constitutional amendments vote held on July 1, 2020;[13] and later in March and April as the Kremlin lifted many other restrictions as the overall infection figures started to decline.[14] It's funny eno­ugh that the official macroeconomic forecast for 2021 and 2022 that the M­inistry for Economic Development released last autumn  did not even mention the chance that COVID-19 would still be present in the country this year.[15] Therefore the people on the top have little intention of declaring any kind of state of emergency. Putin con­firmed that now it may be done by the regional authorities,[16] and none of them wants to be the first one who "starts to panic." I would remind the reader here that one of the most renowned Putin loyalists, St. Petersburg Governor Alexander Beglov, authorized a 40,000-strong rally in the city's famous Dvortsovaya Square to celebrate high school graduation day[17] where few participants were masked and there was no social distancing. Since to declare a COVID-linked emergency would be to admit their fault, Russian leaders hesitate to depict the situation as extraordinary.

I would say that even though there is no sign of panic on the streets of Moscow or St. Petersburg, the situation looks grim, as no one knows what to do. A new lockdown seems to be a quite reasonable move (the new Delta variant recently appeared in Australia and New Zealand and, though the overall number of new cases there is small, governments fear its spread),[18] but it is out of the question as the economic rebound is hardly visible, and the government has no intention of spending its reserves to support ordinary people and small businesses. Also it should be noted that the authorities change their minds so fast that fewer and fewer people are serious at all about their intentions (the mayor of Moscow says one day that sitting on benches in public parks is prohibited, but the next day issues a decree allowing it; [19] the Krasnodar governor declares that from August 1 only fully vacci­nated people are allowed to vacation in Sochi and other coastal resorts,[20] but after Putin's "direct talk" the rules were softened,[21] etc.). Some other regulations – like the one that requires QR codes proving a person has been vaccinated or got her or his PCR test less than three days before visiting indoor restaurants and cafes in Moscow – are mostly ignored since the codes are difficult to get (also I should mention that there are many offers for buying fake QR codes for around 11,000 rubles [$150] be­ing registered at the government's portal of state and municipal services [22] Everyone recognizes these days that there is no strategy for moving forward – and it seems that this is taken as a "new normal."

The Kremlin Has Been Trapped By Its Own Paradigms

What are the main reasons for the current COVID-related developments in Rus­sia? I would point out five among them that I believe are the most crucial.

First, the Russian leadership fell into its own trap. For years, it tried not to influence the Russian people to make them ready to advance towards certain goals, but rather acted according to their own wishes, mores, and myths. The Russians have been predominantly anti-Western and anti-imperialistic, so the Kremlin used these feelings in its policies, simply exacerbating them. The people seek paternalistic approaches and Putin pushed the share of different subsidies and welfare payments in national income further up, increasing taxes on business. Russians were cautious toward same-sex relationships, and the government readily ado­pted laws against homosexuals. In the COVID-19 case, Russia has become home to the most grotesque conspiracy theories, with vast parts of the public believing the virus was created by Americans to enable Bill Gates to push vaccines that will make people manageable by some "shadow world government" – and the official press reiterated these accusations. In its attempts to advertise Sputnik-V, the Kremlin ordered its bloggers to disseminate fake news about "unreliable" Western vaccines without any understanding that both practices undermined trust in vaccination in general. And now, with Putin's approval rating at multi-year lows and parliamentary elections approaching, the elites have no will to press the people hard and to announce universal vaccination. The Kremlin wants to be lo­ved by its subjects, and even if a million of them die due to the pandemic, national approval is more important than demographics – and therefore there is no chance either for full vaccination or for new lockdowns.

Second, the Russian authorities talked so much about their "victories" over COVID-19 that the people started to believe that it is really over. Each time they beca­me more and more accustomed to the disease. So while in April 2020, thousands actually decided to self-isolate ("self-isolation" was a Russian nickname for quarantine because the latter needed a state of emergency to be declared, which invokes a lot of responsibilities on the government's side)[23] in their homes for weeks, during winter 2020-2021 when the highest daily figures for new cases were recorded, almost nobody followed the rules. Today, travelling on the Moscow or St. Petersburg underground, I witness that less than half of people wear masks in a proper way while the carriages are almost full of passengers (being vaccinated by both Sputnik-V and Pfizer, getting two doses in each case, I feel that I am relatively safe the­se days). An old Russian proverb says that "until the thunder breaks out, a man will not cross himself" – and very few realize how great the danger is before they or their loved ones become ill. Today it is much more difficult to ma­nage the pandemic than it was a year or so ago as it has become a part of the daily life, and few seriously care about it.

Third, there are strong economic reasons for ignoring the real risk brought by COVID-19. While in the United States or other developed countries the governm­ents spent trillions of dollars to support businesses and households, the Rus­sian government reduced the economic assistance only to several payments to families with children limited to 10,000 rubles ($150) per child. The small and medium businesses actually got nothing except for postponements in tax pay­ments they owed the state. With around 60 percent of adults possessing no savings at all,[24] up to 13 percent of people living below the poverty rate of 11,600 rubles ($160) per month,[25] and inflation reaching six percent at an annualized rate in June,[26] not many people can survive without a regular job. So even while the authorities are trying to keep the restaurants and cafes closed or are serving limited custo­mers,[27] these efforts cannot be too successful since service workers need their jobs to survive. The loss of lives means not much compared to economic sustainability – I have even compared this approach to one that Soviet commanders used in WWII.[28] Those commanders preferred to get one or another city captured at a precise time regardless of how many lives were lost as a result, and so Kiev was liberated on November 7, 1943, and Berlin was ordered to be taken by May 1, 1945. People's lives do not matter today more than they did then.

Fourth, the Russian authorities fell victim to what they used to call "import subs­titution." In recent years, in response to Western sanctions, Russia has banned the import of foodstuffs and many other goods from dozens of countries, and tried to substitute French cheeses, Norwegian salmon, Polish apples, and dairy products from the Baltic states by the locally made and grown supplies. As a result, beef be­came several times more expensive and the cheese was pushed out by what is called "cheese-containing product," fabricated mostly from palm oil. Since the start of the pandemic, the Russian government used the same tactics in vaccination: all non-Russian-made vaccines are outlawed in the country (the Hadassah medical center at Skolkovo, Moscow,[29] tried to offer the Pfizer vaccine in January, 2021,[30] but was immediately told that it would lose its license).[31] So many people do not trust the Russian vaccine in the same way that they dislike Russian cheese – and while I think that the authorization and import of Western vaccines could ener­gize the vacci­nation process, no one in the Kremlin even discussed the possibility. Here we have once again arrived where we started: The authorities cannot seduce pe­ople to get vac­cinated but are afraid of forcing them to do so.

The fifth and final point I wish to make here arises from the overall distinctions between "us" and "them" that are quite common for Russians. Since the start of the pandemic, Russian authorities have emphasized that the situation in Russia is better than it is in the Western countries – and did their best in falsifying the statistical data to ensure the people in their assumptions. Even after the Federal State Statistics Service (Rosstat) relea­sed the numbers suggesting the overall mortality in Russia in 2020 was higher by 323,000 cases than in 2019, [32] the official statistic still claims that "only" 138,000 people have died from COVID-19 since it first arrived in Russia. [33] The presumption that Russia's case is not the worst one once again makes Russians decide against vaccination and in favor of reckless behavior in their everyday life.


To summarize, I would argue that COVID-19's "third wave" in Russia proves in a perfect way an alarming ineffectiveness of Russian public management. I would say that the Kremlin in this case has been trapped by its own paradigms: It is ve­ry weak in changing people's traditional attitudes (the new Russia's National Se­curity Strategy, released at the beginning of July, [34] mentions "traditional values" more than 20 times,[35] but how can one expect to merge traditionalism with modern science?), so it cannot force them to vaccinate. It has created and supported conspiracy theories for years, so no one else is to be blamed for people's ignorance and suspicion. It de­cided not to "waste" money for supporting both businesses and households, so why should one expect people to be in favor of economic restrictions and lock­downs? I cannot see any effective way forward from the current conundrum – and therefore Russia's perspective looks like the "long COVID," a condition di­a­gnosed by both the British and Americans that is marked by many symptoms pre­sent after the acute COVID-19 has been cured.[36] In Russia, it is the fate not of several people, but of the entire nation – and no one knows how and when it will fully recover.

*Dr. Vladislav L. Inozemtsev, Ph.D. in Economics, is a Special Advisor to MEMRI's Russian Media Studies Project.


[1] Cтопкоронавирус.рф/information, accessed July 7, 2021.

[2], July 3, 2021.

[3], accessed July 7, 2021.


covid-19, May 6, 2021.

[5], accessed July 7, 2021.


19, August 11, 2020.

[7], accessed July 7, 2021.

[8], June 30, 2021.


ebabc9e6e9561, June 3, 2021.

[10], July 3, 2021.


otkaz-ot-vaktcinatcii, June 29, 2021.

[12], June 30, 2021.

[13], June 21, 2021.

[14], April 26, 2021.

[15], September 26, 2020.

[16], June 30, 2021.

[17], June 28, 2021.


lockdown, June 26, 2021.

[19], June 16, 2021.


773419, June 24, 2021.


885681a, June 30, 2021.

[22], June 29, 2021.

[23], April 9, 2020.


c1e66, March 31, 2020.


pochti-50percent-naseleniya-1030249605, March 26, 2021.

[26], July 2, 2021.

[27], July 2, 2021.


-spasli-lyudey-ne-poshhadili.html, May 30, 2021.



at-skolkovo.aspx,September 6, 2018.

[30], January 14, 2021.

[31], January 24, 2021.

[32], February 8, 2021.

[33] Cтопкоронавирус.рф/information, accessed July 7, 2021.

[34], July 2, 2021.


30001, July 3, 2021.

[36], June 30, 2021.

Share this Report: