The coronavirus pandemic has affected us all and has uprooted our lives. It has affected people’s incomes, jobs, and livelihoods. But one person who would be particularly affected by the pandemic situation is none other than Russia’s president Vladimir Putin. Putin, who is one of the most powerful leaders of the world is facing an unprecedented crisis. He had grand plans to celebrate the completion of 75 years since the defeat of Nazi Germany. A quick history lesson would tell you that Nazi Germany’s invasion of Russia was the stumbling block that led to its defeat. The reaction to being able to celebrate the event has been addressed as a ‘powerful blow’.
The Grand Plans
Putin had made grand plans to mark this momentous occasion. He had invited the president of France Emmanuel Macron and the Chinese premier Xi Jinping. They were meant to be a part of the celebrations. Putin was scheduled to oversee a 90-minute grand parade by the Russian Army. Over 15,000 troops along with the latest equipment were going to take part in the parade. The latest hardware was also scheduled to be displayed.
The stellar parade at Moscow’s Red Square was supposed to be a sight to behold as per the Kremlin’s preparations. These were the plans before the pandemic spread and sent everyone covering into their homes. Now, there will be no parade or public gatherings and this indeed is a ‘powerful blow’ for the president.
The Russian air-force planes will thunder over Moscow painting the sky with Russia’s flag. They will release crimson, white, and blue smoke over the quiet streets and buildings of Moscow. There is a Struggle Memorial next to the now deserted Red Square where Putin will lay flowers. This is a muted celebration as compared to the grand plans that were made. Putin is dealing with a crisis apart from the coronavirus pandemic itself.
Coronavirus as the ‘powerful blow’
The Russian economy was already facing issues before coronavirus showed up. The grand parade is not the only casualty of coronavirus. Russia’s financial system is in tatters. The Prime Minister of Russia is hospitalized. Putin’s approval ratings have also taken a severe hit. Russia was also due to vote on some important constitutional reforms. These constitutional reforms would have allowed Vladimir Putin to stay in power until the year 2036. However, the voting on these reforms stands postponed indefinitely. Moreover, since his approval ratings are now lower Putin will find it harder to get the reforms passed.
These months were supposed to be ecstatic for Putin and maybe even for Russia. They were supposed to have a grand celebration and see Putin consolidate his position. However, there is a let-down and now the country is dealing with a raging pandemic and a weakened President.
Approval ratings have taken a severe hit
Initially, only some isolated clusters of coronavirus cases were reported. However, in recent days the number of cases has seen a steady rise. Russia already ranks 5th amongst all nations in terms of the number of COVID-19 cases. Russia’s loss of life due to COVID-19 has been low, especially when compared with the European Nations. European Nations have seen heavy death tolls due to COVID-19 infection.
Some analysts suggest that the low numbers reported could be due to the way Russia calculates COVID-19 deaths. Putin praised the country’s administrative machinery. He said by implementing widespread testing and quarantining Coronavirus cases, the state machinery has kept the spread under control. He also said that a low death rate has been maintained thanks to the effective federal response. Putin said that they had done everything right and many nations were following Russia’s footsteps. Russia was leading by example.
Unfortunately for Putin, many Russians seem to disagree with the aforementioned statements. The approval rating of most leaders battling the crisis has risen during these times. Putin’s approval numbers, however, have fallen drastically. Russia’s financial system was already crippled by Western Sanctions. Now, the threat of the impact of coronavirus looms over the economy. This could worsen the financial system of Russia. This would increase the public resentment against the Kremlin. Putin may now find it harder to stay in power by bringing into force certain constitutional amendments.
The Russian economy has also been severely hit because of the drastic fall in oil prices. As countries have gone into lockdown and the oil demand in the world has fallen drastically. This has led to a drastic fall in oil prices and they even became negative for a bit. Moreover, oil is a key export product of Russia that brings balance to the Russian economy and the currency. Thus, the COVID-19 crisis, unfortunately, is a ‘powerful blow’ Putin wasn’t expecting.
Putin has grown distant
These trying times bring nations and their leaders closer. People come out to support the administration to combat the problem. Putin however, has grown distant from the people. The Russian population believes Putin’s ideas don’t resonate with the ground realities. This has been one of the reasons for the fall in his approval ratings. If the Kremlin under Putin’s leadership is unable to get the economy back on its feet, there will be trouble. The public disdain will grow and it may even spark protests.
Russia has $150 billion worth of sovereign reserves. This can give Putin and the Kremlin some breathing room. Putin can tap into these funds to ride out the storm for the next 18 months. However, some ground-breaking changes are required to win the public support back and stabilize the economy. Putin may successfully bounce back since he has handled several issues during his 20 years of power. He brought the nation out of chaos in the 90s and brought it up to international standards.
While Russia faces the ‘powerful blow’ economically right now, it has also seen the number of coronavirus cases rise steadily. The country is reeling from the economic impact of the lockdown as well. The political system has also weakened. The healthcare system is keeping up as of now but may soon become overburdened if cases continue to rise. It is interesting for watchers all over the world to observe how Russia emerges from the crisis. It also remains to be seen how Putin deals with the crisis and emerges from it.