Why Vladimir Putin Is Reopening, Even as the Coronavirus Crisis Worsens in Russia

By Rogan, Tom | Examiner (Washington, D.C.), The, May 12, 2020 | Go to article overview

Why Vladimir Putin Is Reopening, Even as the Coronavirus Crisis Worsens in Russia


Rogan, Tom, Examiner (Washington, D.C.), The


Russian President Vladimir Putin is relaxing the lockdowns, but the coronavirus situation in Russia is getting worse. The latest figures show the number of infections is jumping by more than 10,000 per day.

And that's just what the official records say. The true extent of infections and deaths is likely much higher than presented. Russia faces particular challenges with the mortality factor here. Its healthcare system is at best creaking and at worst decrepit. Another complication is the relative ill health of many older Russians due to high alcoholism and smoking rates.

But if things are getting worse, why is Putin relaxing the lockdown, even in the hardest-hit area of the province of Moscow?

It's the political economy, stupid.

Although Russia has foreign capital reserves with which it could significantly increase support for Russian businesses and at-need workers, Putin is reluctant to do so for two reasons. First, that is because that greater expenditure would drain his treasure chest for long-term military spending and infrastructure projects. Second, the Russian leader likely fears it would make him appear weak and deferential to the struggles of the people.

That second point might seem odd, but it deserves particular attention. There is a long tradition in Russian politics reaching back to Catherine the Great's son and successor, Paul I, of leaders showing deliberate disregard for their citizens. In simple terms, this impulse centers on encouraging the elites to know who is boss. If elites know that their leader is willing to tolerate significant public suffering, he will surely have no qualms about hurting a few bigwigs. The conclusion being: Stay loyal to the boss, or suffer the consequences.

That understanding formed the foundation of Putin's strategy at the start of this crisis. The Russian leader provided lockdown waivers only for interests linked to top oligarchs, such as the major construction industry. As the excellent Viral Kremlinology team noted last week, this calculation was designed to consolidate at least some of the elites' financial interests amid the growing crisis. …

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