Vladimir Putin has announced the easing of Russia’s lockdown requirements, ending a six-week period during which non-essential workers were required to remain at home to stem the spread of the disease. This is done at a time when covid-19 cases are on a dramatic upswing in the country. The Moscow Times reported 10,899 new infections on Tuesday, bringing the total to 232,243. Their medical facilities are overburdened, as demonstrated by a hospital fire; multiple ventilators running simultaneously are blamed for a St. George Hospital fire in St. Petersburg which killed five patients. Dmitry Peskov, Putin’s Press Secretary, has become the latest high-profile case for the country. Russia has gone from having one of the lowest covid-19 infection rates per million to one of the highest (below only the United States) in less than two months.
According to the magazine Science, Russia had only seven cases on March 10 and only 840 cases as of March 26. They imposed their lockdown on March 30. Their lockdown was severe, with armed police monitoring the streets for violators. Similar tactics used in other countries have not always stopped the growth rate of new cases, but no other nation has seen such a widespread dispersal of the disease while under quarantine. The question becomes: why did Russia’s lockdown work so poorly, when the same action worked to curb cases in other countries?
The answer is simple: Russia lies.
Russian media is strictly monitored and carefully controlled by the government. The information which is released is only that which they want released, or which they feel they cannot reasonably hide. This is nothing new; the same thing happened during the Soviet era, when even the Chernobyl disaster was denied for days until the presence of large radioactive clouds and external monitoring made a nuclear failure evident. Russia continues to deny that they poisoned agents on British soil, despite using methods available only to a handful of large countries. They deny invading the Ukraine. They deny interfering in American elections.
There is solid evidence of the lockdown being imposed on Russian citizenry. Recognizing that, one of three possibilities has occurred: either the lockdown didn’t work, Russia lied about how many cases they had before restrictions were put into place, or both. The first option runs counter to the experience in all other countries which had strict lockdown procedures, so I suggest it be discounted. If, in fact, the Russian effort was fairly ineffective, that would be because the cases were far more widespread than initially reported and people were not taking proper precautions on the occasions they did have to contact others, such as during store trips or at laundromats. Given the established pattern of Russian dishonesty both to its populace and abroad, it is probable that Russian cases were already spreading uncontrollably through the community prior to restrictions going into place.
At issue for America is the fact that the Trump administration continues to trust Putin, the man in charge of the Russian government. Flights into America from Russia continued through April, when Russia shut down most outbound international air travel. Trump continues to defend Russia as an innocent victim slandered by a shadowy Democrat plot targeting the Trump administration, insisting they are innocent of election interference… in direct contrast to what has been repeatedly stated not just by all domestic intelligence agencies but what has been reported in the UK, other EU nations, the Ukraine, and even African and South American nations. He insists they should be reinstated in the G-8, even as the United States under Trump has indicated a diminished interest in strong ties to other G-7 countries.
The beatification of Russia has continued unabated by Trump throughout his Presidency, even as occasional deviation from directly working on Russia’s behalf has prompted his followers to declare him, nonsensically, the “toughest ever” President against Russia. In reality, the Russian government is an enemy to the international community and, as the covid-19 crisis makes clear, its own people.
We should be working to counter the expansionist policy of Putin. Instead, we promote him. This was the case during Obama’s Presidency, when he showed that his public words of strength were far more conciliatory as soon as he believed the microphone was off. At the time, there was complaint from the Republicans. Now Trump has shifted from being weak toward Russia to being a compliant toady for them, and the Republicans cheer.
The whitewashing of Russian efforts on Trump’s behalf serves the Republican narrative right now. It is used as cover for the Senate Republican’s blocking of legislation designed to tighten our security against foreign election interference and it is used as an excuse to effectively pardon criminals who otherwise might reveal damaging information about the President during a campaign season. This position is helpful to the Republicans, but further undermines our international reputation and places us in a position where large swaths of our populace can again be manipulated by our enemies… not merely Russia, but China, Iran, North Korea and others.
Putin must be recognized as a dishonest adversary by both parties. Until that happens, Russia will have little incentive to move away from the repression which has returned under his rule, and America will continue to be at risk.