June 15, 2021

Coronavirus: How the pandemic is helping Putin steer Russia down a more ideological path

June 24, 2020

This is not the 75th anniversary Victory Day parade that President Vladimir Putin had hoped for.

Delayed six weeks because of the coronavirus pandemic and held despite Russia still being the third most infected country in the world with 600,000 cases, most world leaders declined the invitation.

In the stands, veterans - elderly pensioners - who have spent the last two weeks in self-isolation in a sanatorium outside of Moscow so they can attend safely.

More than a dozen other cities across Russia have postponed their parades because of fears of COVID-19's spread. It feels rushed.

Yes, this is the actual day in 1945 that the first Victory Day parade was held. But the pandemic continues to batter both the economy and Mr Putin's own approval ratings and that trend only looks set to worsen.

That is why Russia's president has chosen to celebrate now rather than later. The parade provides a patriotic boost which he hopes will colour people's voting choices as they head to the polls over the next seven days.

This, and the unexpected decision to ease lockdown restrictions in Moscow two weeks ago, are transparently populist ploys. Lift the people's spirits, get them on side.

Then ask them to make their decision on amendments to the constitution which profess to address a range of social issues but in fact set Russia on a more reactionary, ideological path and pave the way for this president to stay in power beyond the expiration of his current term in 2024.

There's no picking and choosing of which amendments make sense. It's a yes or no vote. The amended constitution is already available in print, although the president insists that he will only make the changes if the people say yes.

The parliament and the constitutional court already have. This is a foregone conclusion, the people's approval a way of making them feel on board with changes the Kremlin could and most probably would have pushed through anyway.

When the results are out, President Putin can always say that it was the people's choice that he stay on.

If there was a mood to protest, there is not a vehicle for doing so.

Coronavirus stops the opposition from calling for it when even single picketers, the only form of protest allowed, are being hauled in by law enforcement.

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If these heady few post-lockdown weeks of sunshine do lead to a second wave, which they very likely could, a second lockdown would crush any possible whisperings of dissent.

As he so often does, despite this pandemic, President Putin seems to have the people exactly where he wants them.

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