Putin’s Address: Three Sources, Three Elements

It is unlikely that President Putin’s address to Russian citizens on the occasion of the coronavirus epidemic will be remembered in the same way as the landmark Munich speech that marked the beginning of the end of the unipolar world (with which the US is still unwilling to accept).

Meanwhile, from the point of view of Russia’s domestic policy, it also serves as a watershed of ages. The future will never be like the past (before the address).

It would not be boring of me if I list the main theses of the appeal already voiced by journalists a hundred times. They have already been dealt with in detail and will be dealt with more than once. They will rightly point to the importance and timeliness of the measures taken, unfairly criticise them, declare that there are too few payments, the benefits are insufficient, and not all have benefited, while all suffer. And “he used the virus to tightened the screws” will also be surely said.

In general, everything is as it always was, when the same people in the same message on social networks can claim that the virus was invented to deceive (unknown why) the unfortunate mankind (yes, at the cost of trillion economic losses), and immediately resent the fact that the government “closed the border too late”. And, by the way, this is written by quite normal, sensible and even well-educated people, not schizophrenics for whom the bifurcation of consciousness is the norm.

From my point of view, there are three points in his address that make it a much more important document than just reporting on measures to combat the virus. I will immediately say that the issue of postponing voting on amendments to the Constitution is not among them.

Firstly, the authorities show full confidence in their ability to control the situation. A sharp increase in budget spending against the backdrop of the global crisis, as well as clear attempts to contain the spread of infection without radical measures, can only be authorised if it is certain that resources will be sufficient and that if a sharp outbreak of disease occurs, it can be quickly stopped with cash.

This looks especially evident taking into account certain European countries and the same Ukraine, where the harshest quarantine measures are introduced against the background of relatively small numbers of patients. The authorities panic there when they know that their resource base is limited and they will simply not be able to provide medical care if the number of cases increases dramatically. Self-confidence allows authorities to act more confidently, not to hurry with the introduction of harsh measures, thus minimally wounding society, which is also less affected by panic, seeing the confidence of the authorities and in practice feeling their ability to control the situation. This is important not only in terms of short-term needs, but also in the distant future. The epidemic will end, and the authority of the authorities and the faith of the people in their ability to adequately resolve any critical situation will remain, which is important for maintaining stability in the face of permanent information aggression against Russia. First of all, the enemy always tries to excite the people’s mistrust of the government. If this succeeds, the rest will fall into place.

Secondly, the Russian government is trying to use the safety margin accumulated in recent years to follow a narrow path between hard quarantine and the uncontrolled spread of the virus (like in Italy and the United States). A tight quarantine for a long time leads to economic collapse. There are businesses (mostly small businesses) that will not be able to recover even after two to three weeks of downtime. The longer a hard quarantine lasts, the more areas of the economy it covers, and the more irreparable losses, the harder it is to then recover the entire state.

On the other hand, if the situation with the spread of the virus spirals out of control, the negative effect on the economy and society may be even deeper. Thus, the ideal option is to try to stop the epidemic without strict quarantine measures or to introduce them as late as possible, so that their duration is as short as possible. For this purpose it is necessary to strictly control the situation in order not to miss the moment when in the evening it is too early and in the morning it will be too late.

The confidence of the authorities in their own abilities mentioned in the first paragraph is precisely what is ensured by this most strict control of the situation. It is also not only a solution to pressing problems. Those who survive the epidemic with the least cost will find themselves in a better starting position. Given that the global systemic crisis will not go away with a victory over the virus, the issue of economic dominance and the struggle for markets is far from idle. Whoever is the first to start after the epidemic will get an advantage in this fight. And this advantage can become decisive. It is the one who has shown the greatest efficiency that will now be able to build a wonderful new world in accordance with their project.

Thirdly, what the opposition already calls “twisting the screws while using coronavirus as an excuse” is crucial. Vladimir Putin’s stated intention in the address to strike offshore – where money is withdrawn from Russia, by those businessmen who, even in the last six sanctions years, have not understood anything, have learned nothing and still hope that the “misunderstanding” will end, will be able to reconcile with the West, and that it will be possible to return to the usual pre-sanctions life – is only the cherry on the cake. The laws adopted by the Duma to combat fakes and a general tightening of discipline, as well as the actions of the government, leave no doubt that a comprehensive offensive is unfolding against both the conscious “fifth column” and its “voluntary assistants” from among the “useful idiots”. And this is not the “screw turning” Putin has allegedly always sought, but a forced measure that Russia’s leadership has always sought to avoid.

As early as 2014 I wrote that if the Russian opposition did not realise that the state had entered a special period and a war was actually going on, only a modern war, without bombing, but no less bloody and destructive (remember at least the consequences of the collapse of the USSR), the state would be forced to reluctantly take tough measures against it. Reluctantly, because the public consensus is based on the right of everyone to support or not support the current government. But at the same time it is necessary to observe certain rules of the game. In particular, to carry out political combat honestly. It is no surprise that the West is waging an information war with us using all (including the most impure) means. The West is fighting us, and in war all means are good. But Russian citizens, even if they are in opposition to the current government, are obliged to take into account the priority of the interests of their state rather than their political power.

If the opposition does not understand this, then tough measures must be taken. And the virus has nothing to do with it. It only catalysed all the processes going on all over the world. In times of crisis, governance always gets stricter. And it would be the peak of foolishness to demand from some tourists to self-isolate after returning from a resort, while allowing the opposition to agitate society with fake reports of thousands of allegedly hidden deaths, about allegedly mass contamination, about allegedly empty shelves, etc. A droplet sharpens a stone, and, as was already said, the trust of the people in the authorities during a crisis period is a very valuable resource.

So, self-confidence, the measured and weighed use of radical means, and toughness against destructive opposition are the three pillars that will prop up Russian domestic politics in the coming years, even when the virus has long been forgotten.

Rostislav Ishchenko

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