Vladimir Putin's reputation has suffered as the coronavirus crisis has buffeted Russia. Those who would like to see Putin leave have seized upon what they see as his performance in the coronavirus crisis and his miserly health care policies that have left Russia ill-equipped to face the challenge. Alexander Zhelenin, a journalist for the popular Rosbalt news outlet believes that the coronavirus crisis will cause the replacement of yesterday's politicians in Russia and other countries. In a column titled "The World After Putin", Zhelenin argues that Putin is increasingly resembling an old style Soviet leader, who laces his appearances with platitudes, dubious production statistics and meaningless exhortations that have no basis in reality. Leaders like Putin cannot effect a 180 degree policy change and devote more resources to healthcare, without changing themselves. And even if Putin wanted to change himself, he would encounter resistance from the rich and powerful, whom he had cultivated in his two decades of rule.
Those like Zhelenin, who believe that the coronavirus crisis may have been a game-changer in terms of the public's appraisal of Putin, could draw some encouragement from a recent survey by the independent Levada Center polling organization. A Levada Center poll conducted in late April showed that the respondents gave better marks to the governors and mayors for their performance during the crisis than they did Putin, and conversely, their level of disapproval for Putin's performance was higher than their dissatisfaction with the governors and mayors. While the margin was not lopsided, it is significant as prior to the crisis, President Putin has heavily outscored the governors and mayors.
Zhelenin's article follows below:
Alexander Zhelenin (Source: Rosbalt.ru)
"Statements that the 'world will be different' following the coronavirus have already become a catch phrase, however, the longer the epidemic lasts, the more we are becoming convinced that it will be so. The world will change. But how it will change is another question. While stating, that “life will be different”, commentators either do not specify in what way it will be different, or assume that it certainly will be worse than before (more state control over citizens, less freedom and so on).
"However, one can imagine another course of events. To do this, just look at what is happening now. Vladimir Putin's last meeting with the governors and ministers, which was broadcast on April 28, was, as usual, primarily addressed to the Russian people. Once again, this meeting should have demonstrated that the president, as always, is vigilant, keeping his finger on the pulse, and has everything under control.
"Whether this message has reached its goal, or whether the electoral base has remained indifferent to it, is the topic for a public opinion study. In this article, I want to say something else, namely, what is behind [the President’s] words.
"Putin’s meeting with ministers, as many veteran viewers noted, was similar to the report of some Soviet Secretary General to the Congress of the CPSU. The president spoke about a steady increase in the production of medical masks (which are still almost impossible to buy in pharmacies), [about an increase in the production of] artificial respiration devices, about the increased hospital bed capacity. He proposed the establishment a professional holiday for ambulance workers, announced the extension of quarantine for another two weeks and about preparation for its phasing out.
"Additionally, Putin recalled that the epidemic does not override other diseases: “It is clear that right now our main medical efforts are focused on countering the coronavirus. But, unfortunately, nobody has the power to eliminate other dangerous diseases like cardiovascular, oncological and other serious and chronic diseases. We cannot abandon people with these diseases either. We cannot just say: wait and be patient. Despite today’s extraordinary situation, people must get all the medical help they need.”
"Then Putin compared the health care system with a mechanism: 'If there is a malfunction somewhere, or not enough personnel, or specialists are overloaded working with patients then people will suffer… Let me repeat that everything must work smoothly; every link must work like a single machine: local therapists, specialized doctors, admission and diagnostics rooms and emergency medical services.”
"Anyways, “tasks are set, goals are defined, get to work, comrades.” Except Putin did not talk about the main thing- where to find these comrades. If there are simply no specialists, then where does one get them?
"If one calls a spade a spade, the epidemic has revealed all the holes in our social policy. If in the course of 20 years [since Putin came to power] you step by step 'optimized' it in such a way that the number of doctors, nurses and orderlies in the country was constantly decreasing. So it is not surprising that there are simply no one to carry out the president's marching orders.
"The principle of reasonable sufficiency in relation to the entire social sphere of modern Russia has long turned into unreasonable insufficiency. In the past, Putin liked to talk about human capital and its value to the country. However, in the Russian Federation during the Putin era, this human capital was squandered in the same way as the country’s natural resources. The authorities' wastefulness in relation to their own people is expressed in a deliberate reduction of resources for the health care and education systems. A constantly aggravating situation in the latter will cause the future degradation of science and culture (including the culture of production standards) but most importantly it will cause a mental degradation of the population. Actually, these processes have been going on for the last 20-30 years, they are just not very noticeable externally.
"As for healthcare, the pandemic only revealed the catastrophic situation in it, which also developed not during the course of the last two months, but over the past decades. Of course, one can still purchase or slightly increase the production of certain equipment for hospitals, buy ambulances (so far there is still money for this). But the main issue – [insufficient] personnel cannot be resolved today with money. Who will work as doctors, paramedics and nurses, if they simply do not exist? It is definitely a sign of desperation when our medical students are being sent to work with the COVID-19 patients.
"By the way, on Tuesday when Putin, as usual, skillfully demonstrated his deep concern over the current situation, he did not mention, that there should be many more doctors and nurses in the country than now. He didn’t admit that a mistake was made and next year the government will double the funding of medical universities and schools in order to drastically increase the number of medical personnel per capita. He didn't say this and he will not say it, for one simple reason. Because in such a situation, he would have to fundamentally review not only his financial policy priorities (which he deems to be perfectly well-balanced), but the basic principles of the country’s development as a whole.
"The president is precisely not ready for this. The problem is that in order to change his policy priorities in the aforementioned spirit, Putin must cease being the Putin that we know. That is, he must cease to be a person, who advocates the interests of the rich and strong, [he needs to stop being] the president who throws to the people only crumbs from the master's table.
"The ruler cannot simply change his policy by 180 degrees. Firstly, because he cannot become another person. He is who he is, both as a person and as a politician. He acts this way not only because he advocates the interests of big capital, but also because it corresponds to his own views and convictions.
"Secondly (and this is the main thing!), even if such a fantastic change would suddenly happen to him, the representatives of those same political and economic elites, this very narrow circle of people, whom he carefully nurtured and cultivated all these 20 years of his reign, won’t understand him to put it mildly.
"So this is not going to happen. Do not fall for illusions, they interfere with thinking and acting. Politicians of the Putin generation, not only in our country, but also in most other states of the world, are yesterday's politicians and they will be unable to change themselves. But reality imperiously requires changes. So if people want to live not only in a more just world, but in a more efficient and more humane one (the coronavirus showed precisely that this world in not only unjust to them but inefficient as well) inefficiency of this world), then people must study, think and act."
 Levada.ru, April 30, 2020.
 Rosbalt.ru, April 29, 2020.
 The author makes reference to the famous concluding words of First Secretary Nikita Khrushchev's report to the XXII Congress of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union in 1962. In 1964, Khrushchev was ousted from his position by his fellow politburo members.