As the reason why the Russian authorities refuse to take these measures, Dr. Evgeny Gontmakher refers to Putin's desire to constantly demonstrate his independence when making decisions of this kind.
The coronavirus pandemic has hit Russia and is spreading here along a slightly different pattern than in many other large countries. While the COVID-19 epidemic in the U.S., Italy, Spain, and even the United Kingdom looks like uncontrolled chaos provoked by a late response of the authorities to the risk of contagion, in Russia everything seems to be under control. Even Moscow with its huge percentage from the total number of COVID-19 cases in the country, does not look like the epicenter of the terrible disease. The situation in the Russian capital seems comparatively logical. Still, Moscow is the largest economic and tourist center and a city with the highest incomes in the country, crazy transport interchange and population density.
Authorities are Increasingly Asked to Provide Financial Aid to Russians
However, not all the measures taken by the Russian authorities in terms of the pandemic seem well-considered, logical, effective or at least justified. The issue of tightening of the self-isolation regulations remains questionable. Despite the “explosive” mass clashes in the North Caucasus city of Vladikavkaz last month various arguments could be offered – pros and cons likewise. In other words, these topics are even less ambiguous, and they continue provoking a lot of spirited discussions.
The problem of providing people with state assistance is one of them because it was the government that forced many residents to stay at home and to lose their jobs partly or completely and therefore the corresponding incomes.
An increasing number of experts are directly addressing the federal authorities, Prime Minister Mikhail Mishstin and President Vladimir Putin to consider assistance to the Russians in this difficult situation. In fact, many of them are sounding the alarm and stressing the early prospects for a loss of patience by many people without any state aid. Chances are it will lead to even severer popular unrest than those waves of recent protest actions in Vladikavkaz. Professor Evgeny Gontmakher, a well-known Russian economist, a board member of the Institute of Contemporary Development, a member of the European Dialogue expert group, a member of the Committee of Civil Initiatives and Doctor of Economic Sciences, is one of those who share this viewpoint.
“Putin is Trying to Delay “Giveaway”
In his column on the website of the Echo of Moscow radio station, Dr. Gontmakher says President Putin is taking a serious risk by delaying the relevant assistance to the people. According to him, more and more of his colleagues and associates are addressing the authorities to provide direct financial support to the country’s population. Moreover, all the recent answers by officials describing these proposals as impractical populism could not stand up to any criticism.
“There’s sharp and frightening surge of poverty among the Russians who no longer see the light at the end of the tunnel and who pay attention to the situation [with the coronavirus infection] in many Western countries where the authorities help their citizens and businesses with money,” writes Gontmakher. “All this makes Russia an outsider in the eyes of other representatives of the international community,” underlines Gontmakher. “Russia is the only country from G20 that does not grant direct help to its residents.”
As the reason why the Russian authorities refuse to take these measures, Gontmakher refers to Putin's desire to constantly demonstrate his independence when making decisions of this kind. In addition, he believes that the Russian President is waiting for the moment when the announcement of large-scale state aid to people will bring him the highest political benefit.
“Today, when the epidemic in the country hasn’t reached its peak yet, people’s reaction to these payments is very likely to be positive,” said Gontmakher. “At the same time, much depends on how the whole process will be organized. After all, the Russian authorities have long ago lost their managerial skills which are essential to promptly make clear and simple decisions. Moreover, the All-Russia voting on amendments to the Constitution and the anniversary of the Great Victory in WWII with the desired presence of world leaders at the ceremonial Victory Parade is to be held in the nearest future.
After the end of the pandemic, the most important thing is that many residents who will manage to survive the difficult times of the self-isolation will start asking the authorities very uncomfortable questions about how to live on. Seemingly, it is the reason why Vladimir Putin is making every effort to delay his “giveaway” to the residents. However, this is a rather risky game which he may lose.”