Putin on a perilous rodeo ride of connected crises

Putin on a perilous rodeo ride of connected crises, by Paul Dibb.

Russia is experiencing a triple ­crisis that threatens to undermine the authoritarian leadership of President Vladimir Putin. The coronavirus is starting to hit ­Russia very hard indeed, world oil prices have collapsed and the ­Russian economy has stagnated for six years.

Any one of these would be a serious matter. Taken together, the question is whether Putin can survive. Last month, he told Russians the coronavirus was under control. Last week, however, he warned that the country was facing “perhaps the most intense stage in the fight against the epidemic”. The country is now registering the second highest spread of infection in the world with more than 10,000 new cases daily, bringing the official tally to more than 170,000 with 1500 deaths. This reported death rate must be seriously questioned.

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Russia’s health service is a shambles with Soviet-era hospitals suffering from a shortage of doctors, leading to long waiting times. Its badly underfunded national health system is at risk of being overwhelmed. Putin now acknowledges that the situation inside the country “remains very difficult”. …

While other states have offered their populations emergency aid packages amounting to as much as 10 per cent to 12 per cent of gross domestic product, the Kremlin has been prepared to spend only 2.8 per cent of GDP, with most of it going to state-owned industries, including companies with close ties to the Kremlin. …

All this comes on top of a broader economic crisis over the past six years. Russia’s economy has been facing tumbling growth rates and declining living standards since Western sanctions were imposed in 2014 in response to the invasion of Crimea and the occupation of eastern Ukraine. At the end of last month, 54 per ­cent of respondents to a poll complained about falling incomes, while a quarter had no income at all. …

Reports suggest the public mood is shifting from shock to anger. None of this is to argue that Putin is about to be overthrown. But for a man who paints himself as having personally led the ­Russian people out of “a time of troubles” into an era in which Russian greatness is being restored, the future now looks grim.