Vladimir Putin: How Covid-19 and 2020 Derailed the Russian President’s Plans

Observers were quick to read the finer details: The constitutional reform is likely to reset the clock at the boundaries of the presidential term Putin’s grip on power extended Until 2036. A referendum was drawn up in April, and Putin appeared to be heading toward a life-long presidency.

What followed was a horrific year for Russia, and perhaps Putin’s most challenging year yet.

When Covid-19 began spreading around the world, Russia briefly seemed to be on top. The country closed its borders with China, and Putin boasted that the virus was “under control”, thanks to what he called strong early measures to stop the spread of the disease.

But this approach was little more than hustle and bustle. Shortly after the government announced a nationwide lockdown that began on March 28, it became clear that the country was in the grip of a major public health crisis.

In April, Moscow recorded a death rate nearly 20% higher than the 10-year average, while authorities in the capital indirectly acknowledged it Reducing Covid-19 deaths.

The government had to postpone the referendum on constitutional changes.

Doubts have grown over how well the Kremlin has handled the pandemic and whether it is on par with the Russian public about the severity of the crisis.

These suspicions only grew when Russian doctors and medical personnel took to social media to raise the alarm about underfunded hospitals. The number of dead They said it is higher than officially recognized. Frontline health care worker reports Falling out of windows And fires are defective Russian-made fans Further erosion of public confidence.

Russia’s economic situation was also poor. The country was mired in a recession caused by the Coronavirus, exacerbated by low global prices for oil, which is one of the main exports.

By the middle of the year, it was The World Bank was expecting That Russia’s GDP growth for 2020 will shrink by 6%, the lowest level in 11 years, accompanied by a rise in unemployment and high levels of poverty.

These deep economic pressures threatened to derail the political program of the ruling United Russia party by exposing the deep weaknesses in the social pact that kept Putin in power for two decades.

Reports of fire in respirators in the intensive care unit of St.George's Hospital in Saint Petersburg in May added to doubts about how the Kremlin would handle the epidemic.

Putin’s political toughness is often attributed to a simple bargain between himself and his countrymen: acceptance of limited political competition in exchange for stability and steady increases in the standard of living. Amid the pandemic, however, that bargain is starting to unravel.

In July, protests erupted in the easternmost city of Khabarovsk, as thousands took to the streets in extremely unusual street demonstrations in support of the region’s governor, Sergei Forgal. Who have been arrested He was charged with organizing the killing of two businessmen in 2004 and 2005. Foregal has denied involvement in the murders. His supporters saw the case as a politically motivated trial of a regional opponent of United Russia.
The street may worry the Kremlin just as much Protests swept neighboring Belarus In August, after incumbent Alexander Lukashenko, who is often described as Europe’s last dictator, declared his victory in an election that observers said was marred by widespread fraud.

Lukashenko, who has ruled the country since 1994, refused to step down and his security forces brutally treat and detain thousands of Belarusians, leaving the Kremlin to face the uncomfortable scenario of citizens in a neighboring country and a close ally that refuses to play side by side with a pseudo-democracy the Russian-style. .

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The Kremlin succeeded in holding a nationwide referendum that led to constitutional changes, aided by a nationwide campaign to obtain votes, a public holiday, and the mobilization of the country’s large state sector, which accounts for a large portion of the workforce.

But Putin’s system of managed democracy encountered a new crisis moment later in August, when Opposition leader Alexei Navalny He became seriously ill during a trip from the Siberian city of Tomsk to Moscow.

Navalny was leading a campaign called “Smart Vote” – an effort to get votes for the local election candidates who had the best chances of defeating the United Russia candidates.

The CNN-Bellingcat investigation identifies the Russian specialists who succeeded Putin's opponent Alexei Navalny before he was poisoned

The Kremlin critic was eventually transferred to Berlin for treatment, after Russian doctors initially insisted that the opposition leader was too sick to make the trip.

The German government later revealed that the tests proved it was Poisoning with a chemical nerve agent From the Novichok group.

The Kremlin has denied any attempt to harm Nafalni, and Russian state television has spun a bunch of conspiracy theories to explain the apparent assassination attempt.

But the Russian government was met with quick criticism from international leaders, as German Chancellor Angela Merkel said: “There are very serious questions now that only the Russian government can answer.”

In mid-December, prof The CNN-Bellingcat investigation uncovered evidence The Russian Federal Security Service (FSB) formed the elite nerve agents team that had succeeded Navalny for years.
During that Marathon Annual Press ConferencePutin’s comments on the Navalny reports were as bragging as they were denial. Who needs it anyway? [Russian agents] They wanted it, maybe they would finish it. ”

In fact, Navalny’s poisoning destroyed much of the goodwill that Russia had sought to build internationally amid the pandemic.

In early April, the Russian government carried out a public relations coup Send fans and protection equipment To New York to help hospitals on the front line of the crisis.
It was more symbolic than substance: the respirators were the same The model caught fire in Russian hospitalsThe US Federal Emergency Management Agency said it was never used.

The Russian government has also thrown its weight behind efforts to develop a vaccine for the Coronavirus, a project that has become a matter of national prestige.

In August, Putin announced with great fanfare that a domestically developed Russian vaccine – called Sputnik V, a name inspired by the Cold War space race – had been approved for public use, although it had not passed through phase III trials. This rush to appear first sparked international suspicion, as did the Kremlin’s subsequent admission of it Putin himself will not take a jab.
This is not surprising: information about Putin’s health is a closely guarded secret, and the presidential administration has taken exceptional measures to protect the head of state from the Coronavirus, including installing a special device.Tunnel disinfectant“For visitors to his residence outside Moscow and in the Kremlin.

The outbreak of war between Armenia and Azerbaijan over the Nagorno-Karabakh region further test the Russian government’s crisis management skills in 2020.

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While the short but severely bloody fighting ended with the deployment of Russian peacekeepers to Nagorno Karabakh, the ceasefire agreement also demonstrated Turkey’s regional influence. Russia is no longer the only indispensable power in the post-Soviet space.

Finally, Putin, Bolsonaro and Amelou congratulated Biden on his victory in the US election

The Kremlin flag is an imprecise one, but as 2020 draws to a close, one wonders if Putin will reconsider those clear plans to stay as president until 2036.

After all, Russian lawmakers devised a potential escape plan for the Kremlin leader, as they approved legislation that would grant former presidents life. Immunity from criminal prosecution.

The bill in no way signifies the Russian president’s imminent departure from office – after all, Putin is a man who likes to keep his options open.

But to some observers, the bill was reminiscent of former Russian President Boris Yeltsin’s sudden handover of power to then prime minister Putin on New Year’s Eve, 1999. One of Putin’s first acts as president was to sign a degree that would grant Yeltsin immunity.

Hence, the tense and difficult end of this year is likely to leave enthusiastic Russian observers watching for any new surprises in the new year from Putin.

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