Is the coronavirus sinking Russia and Vladimir Putin?

Vladimir Putin Russia coronavirus
Photo via Global Panorama/Flickr (CC BY SA 2.0)

Initially during the coronavirus pandemic, Russia was thought to be well in control of the virus. But in the past few weeks, cases and deaths have surged, and according to Politico, the country’s difficulty in containing the outbreak has shrunk public support for Russian President Vladimir Putin. Now, some are beginning to wonder if the coronavirus could be what finally disrupts Putin’s hold on the country

The continued struggle to contain the outbreak has forced a number of Putin’s planned events to be put on hold. The country’s slow approach to containing the coronavirus—many people ignored stay-at-home orders until early May—has its populace confused about the danger the virus presents. 

While the United States still leads the world in coronavirus infections, Russia’s numbers have been on the rise. On June 2, Russia’s confirmed cases had reached more than 423,000, the third-highest in the world, with more than 5,000 deaths. Questions continue to linger about the accuracy of the latter number, however, as Russia’s mortality rate seems inordinately low at 1.2%. Small businesses and individuals are floundering, as government assistance has barely scraped the surface of what citizens need. Putin—whose approval rating has fallen to 59%, his lowest number in 20 years, according to Politico—intends to increase aid to the population at large, but some say it’s not enough. 

Russia’s coronavirus numbers have continued to climb drastically over the last several weeks. Despite this fact, officials have plans to begin reopening businesses and cities. This will almost certainly lead to a further spike in cases, but officials seem unconcerned.

What is perceived as an overall failure by many on the Russian government’s part has led to an abrupt downturn in how the people view Putin, who has been the country’s president or prime minister for the past two decades and who is currently trying to keep himself in power through 2036. In an apparent attempt to ease this dissatisfaction, Putin even promised a bonus to healthcare workers on the front lines.

Many healthcare workers never received these bonuses, however. And when they dared complain, many were promptly investigated by the Russian government.

Despite issues with the government’s approach to the pandemic, experts don’t believe the discontent will become an outright rebellion. Many also don’t see a change in leadership in Russia’s future. At least one expert, quoted by Politico, however, believes this could be the moment Putin loses his grip on Russia. His response to the next stage of COVID-19 will likely determine how the Russian people view him for years to come.

Sources: Politico, Moscow Times, New York Times, Johns Hopkins

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