On Sunday Russia reported nearly 9,000 new coronavirus cases and 134 additional deaths. On Monday the Mayor of Moscow, who is also the leader of Russia’s coronavirus task force, announced that the lock down which had prevented people from going outside except for brief daily exercise or shopping, was being lifted. The Moscow Times points out that while this seems like an odd moment to end the lock down, it makes perfect sense for President Putin:
While Russia isn’t the only country easing coronavirus restrictions as the pandemic begins to ebb among those countries gripped by it early on, it is doing so at a time when its caseload is significantly higher than in others…
“This appears to be a politically motivated decision to create an illusion that everything is safe,” said Vasily Vlassov, an epidemiologist with Moscow’s Higher School of Economics.
The Mayor’s decision to reopen the city wasn’t made without prompting from Putin. On June 1, Russia’s Prime Minister, “ordered an investigation into whether Moscow’s quarantine had violated the rights of its residents.” And suddenly, the mayor had a whole new attitude toward reopening the city.
There’s a clear reason why Putin is pushing for this now despite the large number of new cases still being reported. Back in March, just before the United States began to shut down because of the virus, President Putin introduced plans for a series of changes to the constitution which would allow him to remain in power for life . Now we’ve reached the point where he needs to open things up in order to complete that plan:
On June 24, Russian President Vladimir Putin plans to hold an annual Victory Day military parade on Moscow’s Red Square marking the Soviet defeat of Nazi Germany, having had to postpone it from May 9 due to the coronavirus. The event holds deep significance in Russia and Mr. Putin has frequently used it to extol Russia’s special place in history. The Kremlin has said that it has invited several foreign dignitaries to the event, which will mark the 75th anniversary of the victory.
The parade will be followed on July 1 by a national vote on constitutional changes that could allow Mr. Putin to remain in power until 2036. Originally scheduled for April 22, the poll also was pushed back due to the pandemic.
“It means there is a great need to demonstrate that we’re leading a normal life, that we are ready to support Putin’s ideas, and for that we must have a life that is much closer to normality than if you compare it to recent months,” said Andrei Kolesnikov, an analyst at the Carnegie Moscow Center.
Putin can’t hold a vote that will make him president for life while people are still trapped in their homes. He needs to build up to the vote with a sense of national triumph:
“Everything currently happening has to be looked at through the prism of this vote,” said Konstantin Kalachev, head of the Political Expert Group think tank. “This is all part of the orchestrated drama. First the victory over the coronavirus, then the celebration of the victory over the Nazis, then the culmination.”
The culmination is the vote to end any limits to Putin remaining in office until he is 83 years old. Officially he will still need to run for office and win elections but no one doubts this will be a problem in a country where journalists who are critical of Putin have a habit of dying mysteriously.