Covid-19: what’s really going on in Russia? | The Economist

published on July 2, 2020

if you believe state media Russia has

been more successful in beating

coronavirus than almost any other

country in the world should Watson who

leads up a Coulomb controlling the

country supposedly has one of the lowest

coronavirus death rates relative to its

level of infection in the world but

leading doctors claim the official

figures are lies the handling of the

pandemic has drawn comparisons with the

cover-up following the Chernobyl nuclear

disaster it took the Kremlin leadership

more than two weeks to face up to the

problem members very well was the

collapse of the absolute number one aims

to avoid that scenario mr Putin's

handling of the pandemic has led to the

lowest popularity rating of his

presidency will covert 19 undermine his

grip on power


Russia has the third highest level of

corona virus infection in the world but

according to official figures the number

of people who have died of the virus is

remarkably low the fatality rate in

Russia has Russian officials themselves

trumpet is seven and a half times lower

than the rest of the world but we could

not trust the official figures these

startling images should just hang

overstretched it's health service has

become medics on the ground have long

suspected many more people are dying and

in defiance of the government a group of

doctors has compiled what they're

calling a memory list which names their

colleagues who have died on the

frontline treating patients with covert

19 what does he give me mm longer mr

Whitaker Peter Stormare 30 and she said

I dunno Bertram talks because they touch

too strongly

absolutely Prabhavati

local journalists using the memory list

found the mortality rate among frontline

health care workers in Russia to be 16

times higher than in countries with a

similar infection rate but these deaths

don't show up in official numbers

because they're not being properly

recorded Russia is the biggest country

in the world it spans 11 time zones and

the memory list is now one of the main

indicators that the official figures do

not reflect the scale of the problem

it's even being used by some government

agencies in the absence of reliable

statistics this extraordinary not just

in terms of the window into the official


it's extraordinary in terms of the sense

of a building responsibility in civil

society which works counter to the

authoritarian instincts of the family

it's not just doctors breaking rank to

report the truth

in May in Dagestan in Russia's North

Caucasus the Health Minister told local

media that the number of infections was

four times higher than reported although

at the time only 29 people had

officially died from coronavirus

hundreds more had mysteriously passed

away with pneumonia the minister's

suspected most of these deaths were

caused by covert 19 that produced

immediate reaction from who had to go

vision say okay you know that there is a

serious situation and occasionally this

picture of being in control and

defeating the virus starts breaking out

you see through the cracks that the

figures not real following an outcry in

local independent and foreign press

about the misleading statistics the city

of Moscow also had to admit that the

number of covert related deaths was two

and a half times higher than it had

previously reported in the early days of

the outbreak Putin didn't announce a

nationwide lockdown but declared paid

non-working days which many mistook for

time off next week the entire country

apart from those working Central

Services will effectively have a week of

holiday he left it to regional

authorities to impose restrictions you'd

expect an authoritarian ruler to be very

much the center of the crisis managing

it from it not wanting to be tainted by

it and not wanting to catch the plane

from the lockdown

he's trying to be the crown piece

because the biggest number you care

about is your rating not the rate of


regional leaders were keen to prove they

were controlling the disease and duly

reported low infection rates to the

Kremlin but the numbers didn't add up to

assume that the Kremlin might not know

the real figures and this is the most

dangerous situation where the criminal

itself doesn't get the real data and

therefore its responses and its policy

decisions are going to be wrong because

they're based on the wrong date this

situation reminds some observers of

another dark period in Russian history

Chernobyl has claimed its first victims

from radiation perhaps the worst

accident in the short history of the

world's nuclear power industry we know

that was holding those meetings he

didn't know they didn't know the whole

station wasn't fine the real level of

radiation the local boss is trying to

cover their own bats there is a big

difference that was a man-made disaster

neither then nor now do I think that

people in charge of Russia have reliable

data and are therefore acting and making

the best policy for the interests of the

people based on the best reliable date

the Chernobyl nuclear disaster led to a

shift towards greater transparency in


thanks to Gorbachev's policy of glasnost

or openness hmm was a serving KGB

officer in 1986 he remembers very well

what happened after Chernobyl and what

those reforms have led to

the last thing he would want to do is to

repeat what he concedes too big of a

chores mistake to open up and liberalize

the system Putin is keen to put the

corona virus pandemic behind him while

parts of the country were still in


he scheduled a massive military parade

for June 24th to mark the 75th

anniversary of the Soviet victory over

the Nazis covert 19 meant the original

celebration had to be drastically scaled

back in terms of legitimacy of Putin's

regime that celebration is absolutely

he's been preparing for it for a long

time which is why he was commenting

Putin hopes to rule Russia for the rest

of his life he's already used the

pandemic to increase restrictions on the

press and limit protesters and in July

he will hold a vote on a new

constitution which if passed would allow

him to remain in power until he dies

but his handling of the covert 19 crisis

means his popularity is at an all-time

low my fear is that Putin will try to

compensate the fallen popularity not by

opening up the country and liberalizing

it but by cracking down further right

certainly worrying signs of that already

happening in his bid to shore up his

power there's a risk Putin will become

more repressive and this will have

consequences that could stretch far

beyond the pandemic it will make the

peaceful transfer of power in Russia

more unlikely and leave the country's

future looking more unpredictable and

violent which is a concern not just to

its own citizens but the whole world i'm

arkady ostrovsky and i'm the Russia

editor at The Economist if you'd like to

read more about comet 19 its impact in

the world politics and on Russia in


you can click on the link opposite


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