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March 29, 2020 Special Dispatch No. 8664

Russia Debates: Is Putin The Best Coronavirus Czar In This Time Of Crisis?

March 29, 2020
Russia | Special Dispatch No. 8664

The coronavirus crisis that has hit Russia as well has already compelled Putin to postpone the vote on the constitutional amendments including the amendment that would give him the option to stay on as president until 2036. It has also prompted a debate over whether the Putin system best serves Russia in the crisis. Pro-regime writers argue that Putin provides stability and confidence to Russia and is a symbol of unity; authoritarian regimes are superior in mobilizing national resources in wartime conditions (and the fight against the coronavirus is a war); Putin is best capable of exploiting the crisis for needed domestic reforms and for improving Russia's position internationally.

Regime critics believe that the regime's endemic corruption, and habitual prevarication will hamper efforts at fighting the virus. They also fear that if matters get worse, critics of the government will be denounced and an attempt will be made to find scapegoats for the government's failures.

Below is a sampling of the arguments from both sides:


Putin in yellow protective clothing (Source: Ria.ru)

Regime Defenders We Need Putin More Than Ever

Coronavirus Is Not The Flu But A War, We Need The Putin System In An Emergency

Alexey Mazur, a moderate critic of the regime wrote in the Siberian Taiga.info outlet that given the situation it was better that Putin was at the helm: "With all the disaffection I have for the state and the government, Putin's system is good at responding to emergency situations like war, an epidemic, but it [Putin's system] is incapable of developing. Putin’s system is all about control. Russia responds to the coronavirus epidemic no better than Asian countries, but better than European ones…

"In principle, I agree with the fact that Putin's legacy should be saved. We, those who consider themselves to be in opposition, should not reject Putin's achievements. The most important things should be saved. "[1]

Sergey Latishev wrote in the ultraconservative Tsargrad.tv that Putin is the ultimate crisis president and Putin had selflessly agreed to stay on as president when he foresaw the upcoming storm. Moreover, he would not let a good crisis go to waste and would strip the elite of their illegal privileges: "The fact, that Moscow is aware of the imminent start of a global crisis, which would be even more destructive than the global economic and financial crisis of 2008-2013, is also indicated by Putin's unexpected consent to reset [the number of] his presidential terms to zero.

"It was no coincidence, of course, that during his speech in the State Duma on March 10, [2020] he mentioned the priority of the supreme power’s stability during convulsions (such as the Great Depression and its consequences for the economy, employment and national living standards). Putin took responsibility for the country…

"The nation and the state are united in Putin's figure. And the more alarming the subsequent situation will be, the greater the chances will be that the Russian elite will finally lose their illegal privileges and Russia will then become invincible."[2]

The conservative columnist Petr Akopov believes that the coronavirus sounds the death knell of globalization and demonstrates the superiority of authoritarianism over liberalism. "It is already clear that globalization (whose crisis has been long recognized not only by it opponents, but also by part of its supporters) can’t manage real threats to the humanity, but only exacerbates them. And I'm not talking only about the speed at which the coronavirus is being spread worldwide by air passengers, but about the fact that no common planetary plan exists to combat it."

"… Globalization's vanguard and author: the Atlantic West is not only internally divided (the United States are closed to Europe), but also places its own integration in question: The European Union disappeared, giving way to national government actions.

"...The majority of Westerners can now reach but one conclusion: only a national state can do something to protect its citizens from harm; all the supranational structures are fictitious and parasitical.

"The second conclusion deriving from the crisis also lies on the surface: the so-called authoritarian systems were more effective than the so-called liberal ones…

"State control, state property, state organization of medicine - these things are what those people will pay attention to (those very people who have had their fill with fairytales about [Adam Smith's] 'invisible hand')."

Naturally, the internal stability (along with a constant development and [economic] growth) will be as has always been the main concern of Vladimir Putin.”

"By electing in 2024 a new president to the office instead of Putin, Russia will deprive herself of a unique advantage – Putin's experience, authority, weight and knowledge (including [the knowledge of] the hidden elements of the global 'game'). [3]

Petr Akopov (Source: Tsargrad.tv)

Putin Protects Russia From Risks

Mikhail Mushkin writing in Vz.ru viewed Putin as a bedrock of certainty and social stability; "Vladimir Putin must maintain his political influence after 2024. Such a request from society was identified by political scientists at a round table in Moscow (devoted to the topic of constitutional amendments). In their opinion, people fear instability, revolutions and want certainty for the future. They associate the feeling of confidence in tomorrow with the current head of state.

According to the discussion's participants, there is a growing concern in the society: if Putin steps down from his office, the [chaotic] 1990s or a "Russian Maidan [the Ukrainian color revolution]' could occur.[4]

Regnum.ru republished a Telegram blog from a writer who calls himself Russian Demiurge. The writer believes that Putin would use the aftermath of the crisis to claw back positions that it had lost upon the USSR's collapse.

"In this regard, the coronavirus epidemic allows you to do many of those things that were previously impossible due to the Atlantic vaccine given to the Russian state after the collapse of the USSR. Now Putin is doing a new rewrite to Russia's [BIOS] in line with strategic national-state interests. The nationalization of the elites will be strengthened."

"The main thing is that no one, after our help to Italy, the growing mess and anarchy in Europe and the USA, can say half a word to us. Perhaps we will even express such a 'seditious' thought, the coronavirus epidemic even nullifies some of the obligations that the Yeltsin elites assumed after the USSR's collapse, "writes Russian Demiurge.[5]

Regime Critics: The Putin System Has Made Russia Less Prepared For The Crisis

Sociologist And Philosopher Igor Chubais: The System Had Divided Us

The philosopher and sociologist Igor Chubais believes that Russia is worse off than the West:

"Western society is united, they trust the authorities and support each other. They really and voluntarily help each other.

"Our society is ruined. This is not Italy, no one will sing a hymn here. The people do not trust the authorities. It [Russia] is divided between the corrupt, super-rich - on the one hand, and the destitute, who barely making ends meet - on the other. The persecution of civic activism and Soviet denunciations persisting in the post-USSR are killing Russian solidarity."

What is necessary! Not a tax on the withdrawal of capital, this, by God, is ridiculous! An economic system is needed that does not repel, but attracts finance. A progressive tax system should be introduced where millionaires (in dollars) do not pay the same 13% taxation rate as doctors and teachers, with a salary of 10 thousand rubles.

It is necessary to stop engaging in self-deception and popular deception, it is necessary to stop the war with Ukraine! Withdraw our military from Ukraine and from Syria.

We need 'national salvation', not a perpetuation of power!

Our hearts demand change![6]

Putin, Talk To Us Level With US!

Political consultant Vitali Shklaryov assessed Putin's speech to the nation on the coronavirus. While he found it to be an improvement over the previous silence, it was still deficient compared with other national leaders.

"But. What was said about the most important thing - about the situation in which the country is? Where is the coronavirus, how scary is it? Is our healthcare system coping or not? What should we await while we ;show discipline and responsibility, observe all the recommendations of doctors and, above all, stay at home?' In general, nothing at all.

"Let us compare Putin's speech with the addresses of other world leaders.

"Emmanuel Macron has already spoken three times with the French nation, stating that war is being waged against the coronavirus. That is, in essence: guys, everything is bad, and we can do little, but we can do what we can. And while Macron cited the exact number of sick and dead at that time - the numbers each time are more and more frightening…

"[In Russia by comparison] There is no war, there is no disaster, everything is serene in Russia. This is a catastrophe abroad, and we have switched on the "Russian miracle" mode, which saves us from any deviances from the outside…

"The official position is the same: in Russia there can be no ills. Let us now observe how this will affect the president's rating..."[7]

Rosbalt's Sergey Shelin also believes that the Russian leaders habitually paint a rosy picture and do not want to present the harsh facts to the people. When the situation will deteriorate, they will shirk their responsibility and blame the critics and even the medical profession. He wrote: "If one were to believe the authorities, things are going pretty well in Russia. Almost the same as in South Korea, where 9 thousand people got sick, but the epidemic, as it seems, was stopped by mass testing and immediate isolation of all identified infected people.

"According to official reports, our authorities implement similar measures. However, the number of those who got infected with COVID-19 [in Russia] is growing every day and has already reached the score of five hundred. Moreover, 60% of cases (if you believe official figures) are in Moscow. Evidently the epidemic there is already in full swing. It seems that the [Moscow] mayor Sobyanin is also aware [of this fact]. Today he told President Putin that there are many more infected in the capital than what was [officially] registered.[8]

"… I can't understand why our leader still did not consider it necessary to address the nation on the pandemic [Putin did address the nation soon after the publication of Shelin's article][9].

The need for such an address is so great that when you type in a browser the phrase "Putin addressed the Russians on the coronavirus," a lot of links pop up. But they all only lead to a meeting with members of the government on Tuesday last week:

"… before we start discussing these serious, nationally important issues, I would like to wish a happy birthday to Andrei Belousov. It is his birthday today. He enjoys alpine tourism, rock climbing. I would like to give you a book.." – [said Vladimir Putin].

"After the rejoicing over the birthday boy, the participants moved on to the coronavirus issue, and informed the leader that things were not easy, but proceeding in the right direction. After that, the head of state delivered a brief instruction to each of them and also found some encouraging words for ordinary people ('Our solidarity, concentration, responsibility, discipline and willingness to support each other are simply irreplaceable.') and switched to the second item on the agenda. Here you have it, the "address" to the nation...

"A significant part of the rhetoric of the Prime Minister Mishustin, who's our 'coronavirus boss' ... is devoted to the image of repressions that will befall violators [of quarantine]. And obviously not only quarantine violators:

"Denunciations rained down on the head of the "Alliance of Doctors" Anastasia Vasilyeva, when she in a video address to her colleagues said that, in her opinion, 'people feel that the information is being kept from them; sooner or later, the authorities will become entangled in their own lies, and we, the doctors, will be blamed for it…'

"If the system does not consider the worst, and is unprepared to turn to harsh measures but instead continues to assume that it has 'everything under control', then this is bad news for all of us.[10]

Dmitry Popov wrote a whimsical article about the coronavirus. However, he interlaced the article with examples of deception and corruption by Russian high officialdom and the influence wielded by the oligarchs. These people, Popov seems to infer, are hardly the ones to see Russia through the crisis. Popov wrote: "The fear of god is not caused by god's punishing [us], but due to the fact that we cannot succeed in lying to him. But we trained hard [at lying], judging by the events of the past week. We deceived ourselves out of fear, the officials deceived themselves out of habit (or perhaps by their very nature). All this for the sake of a comfort zone. But the walls of this zone, built of toilet paper rolls and packs of buckwheat [that the Russians are hoarding], are not that reliable.


(Image: Aleksei Merinov in Mk.ru)

"The divine sense of humor, could be observed down below. In the Stavropol region, the first suspected coronavirus patient was the region's chief infectious disease specialist, Irina Sannikova. Which is already quite absurd. But it gets better. What did Mrs Sannikova fear upon returning from Madrid on March 11? Quarantine. Isolation. What did she get? Quarantine and isolation. And potentially - an even longer isolation in hardly the most hygienic conditions. At least, the police have compiled a report on the possible criminal evidence of her actions. police.

Now let us recall how this whole coronavirus began. People wanted to eat disgusting things - bats. What is the result? People are fearfully stocking up on pasta in industrial quantities.... And from this macaroni of yours, by the way, the tummy gets constipated and grows larger (Soviet children remember)…

"So, Vladimir Vladimirovich [Putin] claims that 'it is methodologically proven' that more than 70% of the population falls into the middle class. A joke has already appeared: 'A middle class representative comes up to me and says: When you finish drinking, do not throw the bottle away ...' And the Accounts Chamber reports this week: In Russia, more than 12 million people live without running water, more than 11 million are without quality drinking water. Who drank the middle class' water…?

"The same Accounts Chamber recently estimated the total amount of financial irregularities in the public sector over the past year at 884.6 billion rubles. And they managed to restore 4.52 billion rubles to the budget of Russia and the states of the federal union. And where then did the [remaining] 880 billion camp out?

"Even Vladimir Vladimirovich [Putin] this week was surprised by things that are absolutely familiar to all of us – namely that gas prices are rising in Russia? "Look 92 octane gasoline increased in price by 10.44%. How do you assess this? Now I'm not saying that prices fell by half on crude oil ...", he asked the officials ingratiatingly. 'We have heard, we keep taps on it,' the officials answered rather defiantly. But Putin didn't like it, he still didn't understand: 'How can this be?'

"But do you understand? Understand how this could be? And who is deceiving whom on camera? And what fear motivates them, they also probably understood. And [meanwhile] the oligarchs who cling to the subsoil resources stolen from us wipe their mouths greasy from oil.

"One happy note- then they [the oligarchs] run to the store of one famous TV presenter and buy themselves virus masks 10 times more expensive than in a pharmacy. There, in the upper world, they have their own bookkeeping system that is inaccessible to the rest of us.

From the good news. Motivational posters appeared on the construction site of the new infectious diseases hospital. For example, such: "We will bury the virus with the crown" and "Have you gotten tired and given up?” May way for real fighters!" And even a person who looks like the mayor of Moscow is on the poster. This inspired hope. We remember from childhood. If the slogan appeared: "Peace to the world!", Then that is the way things will be…

"But in general, there is some humiliating irony in the fact that toilet paper has become a symbol of global calamity…Where did 'it is dignified to be a man' go to? Buried under thousands of toilet paper rolls. And now a rusty bunker is what freedom is all about.

So look at it from every dimension and think: "Burn, Lord!" After all, he burned the dinosaurs like a dead end branch of evolution."[11]


Dmitry Popov (Source: Mk.ru)

Mikhail Rostovsky: All Disputes Should Be Set Aside To Beat The Coronavirus, The Crisis Will Test Putinism's Value To Russia

Mikhail Rostovsky, MK.ru's "observer", believes that the debates over the constitution and Putin's system have become irrelevant and should be deferred until the crisis has passed. In any case, during an emergency situation the issue of personal freedoms has become immaterial. The Putin dominated system is what Russia has, and it is now facing its acid test. Rostovsky wrote:[12]


Mikhail Rostovsky (Source: Mk.ru

"Some time ago, I came up with, a very successful (as it seemed to me back then) beginning of a text on a political topic: We all propose, and Putin disposes. But time goes on and what seemed yesterday to be the pinnacle of analytic excellence, today can be seen as a clumsy attempt to jest. In this “Brave New World” which is being born before our very eyes…in a frightening new reality, everything is subordinated to the need drive away the hated coronavirus from our threshold as far as possible. On the one hand, the role of politics and politicians in our life has suddenly decreased, But, on the other hand, it, to the contrary, has increased a hundredfold. The size of the losses that Russia, and, indeed, the rest of the world, will endure during a crisis that envelops the planet, depends, first of all, on the quality of political leadership: on the ability of our managers not to panic, not to blindly imitate their colleagues in other countries, but to make optimal decisions in each specific situation.

"There is a wise saying: 'You can be a feminist, until the first worthy husband [comes along]. You can be a communist, until the first personal assets. You can be an atheist until the first bumpy flight.' The first thing that went down the drain during the era of the raging coronavirus are the habitual civil liberties (which are ordinarily not even perceived as such). What could be more natural than the option to go outside at any time, to take a stroll in a park, go to the cinema, restaurant or shop? These are not even inalienable human rights; this is the natural state of things. The state that, even if not immediately, but still quite rapidly ceases to be natural during the period of the epidemic. During an emergency of universal scale, the authority of the official power structures increases in a phenomenal way. If we discard political correctness and call a spade a spade, then we are talking about a real dictatorship. This has already happened in Europe and the USA. And this will inevitably happen in Russia if the situation with the virus develops according to the same scenario as in other countries…

"…a very high level of managerial effort and political skill is required to maintain a functioning country. The darkest instincts always awaken in people at times when the usual way of life collapses. The task of the authorities is to prevent these instincts from raging, to prevent panic from flaring up, to preserve order and prevent malfunctioning of life support systems (I don't even mention the tasks of fighting the virus and of saving people who got ill). The way how Putin’s vertical [of power] will cope with all these challenges will determine both her fate and political reputation.

"Constitutional reform, the resetting of presidential terms to zero- all these things are very important and interesting. But they will be of future interest; the future that will arrive after victory over the coronavirus. In the meantime, the task at hand and that is the most basic one for any living creature – is the task of survival (preferably with the minimal expended cost). In each individual case, the volume of these costs will depend on many things and circumstances: on the reasonableness of the decisions made by each of us, on our capabilities, on our good or bad luck. And also it [the size of the costs] will depend on Putin and the power vertical created by him. VVP[13] has always assured us that on the day of trial, we will definitely appreciate the power vertical's value for the country. This day of trial appears to have arrived…"

 

 

[1] Tayga.info, March 18, 2020.

[2] Tsargrad.tv, March 14, 2020.

[3] Vz.ru, March 17, 2020.

[4] Vz.ru, March 12, 2020.

[5] Regnum.ru, March 25, 2020.

[6] Echo.msk.ru, March 25, 2020.

[7] Novayagazeta.ru, March 25, 2020.

[8] Kremlin.ru, March 24, 2020.

[9] Kremlin.ru, March 25, 2020.

[10] Rosbalt.ru, March 24, 2020.

[11] Mk.ru, March 22, 2020.

[12] Mk.ru, March 17, 2020.

[13] Vladimir Vladimirovich Putin

 

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