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Only days after the Kremlin assured the Russians that the coronavirus pandemic was under control, Moscow’s Mayor Sergei Sobyanin told Russian President Vladimir Putin that “the momentum is high and a serious situation is unfolding.” Contrary to the previously reported low rate of infection, "the real number of those who are sick is significantly higher,” Sobyanin said. He added that the number of tests conducted to date has been extremely low “and no one on earth knows the real picture.”
On Wednesday, officially released statistics listed 658 coronavirus infections and no deaths. To date, there have been at least 3 known deaths of coronavirus patients in Russia, but they are being attributed to other causes and thereby deceptively omitted from government reports. The official bulletin about the coronavirus, released by Russia’s federal agency Rospotrebnadzor on March 24, states that more than 112,074 people remain under medical supervision.
Concerned Russian doctors sounded the alarm that potential coronavirus cases are being ascribed to pneumonia and seasonal flu without testing. For example, the city of St. Petersburg experienced a sharp jump of SARS (Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome) virus cases. During just one week in March, 63,000 SARS cases and 406 cases of pneumonia have been recorded, according to Interfax. The city’s administration emphasized that the incidence of SARS is at the epidemiological threshold. The Interfax news report did not point out that the official name of the novel coronavirus is SARS-CoV-2.
In light of the Kremlin’s pandemic propensity for lying, the public disregarded initial claims that the government successfully curtailed the spread of the coronavirus. Panic buying ensued, leading to the rising prices of sugar, buckwheat, produce and other food items.
As the coronavirus curve keeps on climbing, President Putin is on a mission to demonstrate his leadership. He postponed a nationwide vote on pending constitutional changes, which are meant to secure his lifelong presidency. The voting may take place later in the year and possibly be conducted by mail. The decision is being left solely to Putin.
In a televised address to the nation Wednesday, Putin announced a sweeping array of measures, which he said were designed to prevent “what is happening today in many Western countries, both in Europe and overseas” from becoming Russia’s future. Starting on March 28, Russians are getting one week of paid leave to stay home, in an attempt to “flatten the curve” of the pandemic. With exception of the Russians trying to return from abroad, Russia stopped all international flights.
Russian pundits and medical experts described the fight against the coronavirus pandemic as a rehearsal for biological warfare. Vladimir Putin has ordered the Russian army to carry out drills designed to increase its readiness to fight the novel coronavirus. The drills will include specialist medical units and nuclear, biological and chemical protection troops.
Discussions are underway as to the potential cancellation of the Victory Day parade in May of this year, but final determination will be made depending on the efforts to curtail the spread of the coronavirus. There is a possibility the parade, commemorating the surrender of the Nazis in WWII, may be held without spectators. U.S. National Security Adviser Robert O’Brien is currently set to attend the event, in lieu of Donald J. Trump.
Kremlin-controlled state TV shows are taking unprecedented measures to protect some of their most cherished assets: the hosts, whose full-throated support of Vladimir Putin is especially important during these challenging times. Popular Russian info-talk show 60 Minutes is now filming its segments without audiences. After the host Olga Skabeeva could be heard coughing during a commercial break, she was separated from her husband and co-host Evgeny Popov. The married couple are now hosting 60 Minutes separately, on different days. Likewise, they are staying apart during the off-work hours, because even if one of them falls ill, the show must go on.
Speaking of performance art, Vladimir Putin embarked on a visit to Moscow’s hospital for monitoring suspected coronavirus patients. Unlike U.S. President Donald J. Trump, who frequently claims that the threat of coronavirus is widely overblown, Vladimir Putin is an old Chekist who believes in science, facts and bio-warfare. Taking no chances, Putin donned a hazmat suit and visited only one patient— Dmitry Garkavi, who is a doctor and a social media influencer. The drop-in was not particularly risky, since Garkavi was hospitalized with pneumonia, and tested negative for coronavirus—twice. In his social media posts, Garkavi remarked that he communicated with Vladimir Putin for all of “10-15 seconds.” After the brief exchange, Putin observed other patients through the glass of the hospital’s control room, was helped out of his outfit and promptly left the building.
The hazmat suit sported by the Russian leader was distinctly different than the protective attire worn by hospital workers. It was purchased for the Russian president by his staff especially for his hospital visit. Putin’s yellow jumpsuit is now in high demand, but is completely sold out at the store where it was bought.
Vladimir Putin’s coronavirus photo op promptly made the rounds on Russian state television. During his show, The Evening with Vladimir Soloviev, the host beamed with pride when he pointed out: “Out of all of the world leaders, only [China’a President] Xi Jinping and [Russian President] Vladimir Putin went to visit the sick.” For contrast, Soloviev introduced a clip of the U.S. President Donald J. Trump rapidly moving away from the White House's coronavirus task force response coordinator, Dr Deborah Birx, as soon as she mentioned her low grade fever.
In spite of Russia’s own issues with coronavirus testing, widespread shortages of medical equipment and protective medical gear, the Kremlin is posturing by offering to help other countries in fighting the coronavirus pandemic. Russian Ambassador to the United States Anatoly Antonov offered to help Washington in the fight against the outbreak of the novel coronavirus and complained about “rude” American media trying to switch the focus to other countries (like Russia).
State TV host Vladimir Soloviev pompously predicted: “I have a feeling that we will end up saving humanity—again, like we’ve done more than once,” an apparent reference to Russia’s sacrifices defeating the Nazis in World War II.
Russian state media are framing the failure by the Trump administration to offer help to its European allies in their fight against the deadly pandemic as the defeat of the United States, the end of NATO, and the virtual nonexistence of transatlantic unity. Russian experts believe that the outcome of the global fight against the coronavirus pandemic will change the entire balance of power in the world. Russian state media outlet Vesti described the course chosen by the administration of the U.S. President Donald J. Trump as “indecisive,” “poorly coordinated” and hesitant to implement the tough measures recommended by the experts in curtailing the deadly pandemic.
Vesti argued that “coronavirus will determine the winner in the rivalry between China and the United States.” But the stakes are much higher. Kremlin-controlled media believe that on a larger scale, “the success or failure of the United States will form a global view of the effectiveness of democracy compared to autocracy. This, in turn, will affect America’s global position, its ability to attract vacillating allies into its orbit from China’s sphere of influence, and possibly determine the global geopolitical leader for years to come.”