JRL NEWSWATCH: “Russia’s Confusing COVID-19 Response” – Foreign Policy Research Institute/ Fabrice Deprez

Kremlin and River

“The Moscow lockdown … is an unprecedented event in Russia’s post-Soviet history, as are the similar measures introduced across the country to slow the spread of COVID-19. Yet, the way that Russia has responded to the outbreak so far has followed an unusual pattern: early, swift action was followed by several weeks of uneasy lethargy, and then, as the number of cases picked up, a new surge of activity outsourced from the Kremlin to the regions. The crisis reached the country just as the Kremlin sought to focus its political energies on the push for constitutional amendments that would allow Vladimir Putin to stay in power after 2024. And as cases picked up in the Russian capital, the Kremlin hesitated. But tensions in Russia’s political system and a belief at the top that the worst had been avoided muddled the Kremlin’s response. Compared to Western countries, Russia’s response to the coronavirus outbreak in China was quick and large-scale since the country’s 2,615 mile-long border with China made the threat of the virus more tangible. … It is … likely that that the Kremlin is looking to shield Putin from the crisis. … While the decision to trust governors to handle such a sensitive crisis has little precedent, the logic behind it could be far more common: governors have, in the Putin years, regularly been used as lightning rods for popular discontent, diverting criticism away from the Kremlin and allowing Putin to be seen as the ultimate recourse rather than the source of problems. This time, however, putting them on the frontline of the pandemic means giving them increasing authority just as polls have recorded a rise in governors’ popularity. …”

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