Russia: Coronavirus’ critical condition is a test of Putin’s power

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Russia: Coronavirus' critical condition is a test of Putin's power

In Russia workers in the face of the mask sprinkle nuts and berries on buns and put chocolate on paper, but only a few are left working the production line and their creations are for cash now.

The closure of the coronavirus has forced the company to close its lucrative shares in the family, leaving the business struggling to keep up. But the owner says the country is not making a living.

So when Anastasia Tatulova met face-to-face with the Russian president, she didn’t hold back.

“I will try to ask for your help without crying, but this is actually a disaster,” he told Vladimir Putin last month, informing him that “support mechanisms” would not work.

When the boundaries of COVID-19 began to kick in and companies laid off workers, Ms. Tatulova found herself at the forefront of a meeting between businessman and president. His enthusiastic 12-minute drag was shown live on state television.

“At that point, I just needed him to hear me,” said the businessman, explaining that he was sleeping a little now – incorporating new ways of survival.

“I thought you understood it. But there have been no results, and government measures are not enough. We just have to handle it, ourselves.”

As the International Monetary Fund forecasts the worst economic recession since the 1930s Great Depression, Russia’s economy has been unstoppable.

And there are politicians, including President Putin. He has built an image over his long reign as a leader who pulled Russia out of the post-Soviet chaos to bring peace and prosperity.

Mr Putin had planned to play on that “strong” symbol this week by winning national votes to change the constitution and clear his way of staying on the other two terms. But the vote was reluctantly postponed, condemned as a serious threat to the epidemic.

Now, there are some issues ahead for the president. The “Russian state” cannot fulfill its promises. It can’t help people, it can’t help business, “said Andrei Kolesnikov of the Moses Carnegie Center.

The bulk of state aid and administration refers to big business: the extra staff, the most critical of the Russian economy – and the displeasure of its president.

It has left others feeling abandoned.

“I cannot predict the fate of this regime [but] it is a great challenge for Putin,” Mr Kolesnikov said, pointing out that the Kremlin has no new alliance to interrupt people in their plight. “The epidemic is very effective, comparing it to political opponents and protesters.”

There are already signs that frustration is spreading in Russian regions, such as the virus itself.

On Monday, hundreds of people in the southern city of Vladikavkaz went out to protest against the closed area. The state government provides just 3,000 rubles ($ 32; $ 40) to pay extra to those who lost their jobs.

There have been widespread protests using online map programs, where people gather outside government buildings to send messages “demanding” extra help.

“It looks like a major failure of the government right now,” Nastya Mikhailova told the BBC from Novosibirsk in Siberia.

The 29-year-old woman recently lost her job at event management and has a few weeks’ worth of savings. It is estimated that the coronavirus will cancel nearly eight million jobs in Russia, before it can be done.

“I don’t feel like thinking about how they think to make people happy; we’re just worried,” Nastya said.

President Putin has ordered an increase in unemployment benefits, but only at the food level.

As for subsidies for companies, Russia promises to cover about 12,000 rubles a month – a much lower share than most governments in Europe. It only works when a company reaches 90% of its workforce, which many small companies can’t.

In a bid to pay tribute to his club, the owner of many clubs in Yekaterinburg issued an outrageous letter, writing to internet operators.

Alexei Romanov blames Vladimir Putin for being “fixated” on his constitutional reform project rather than the coronavirus crisis. He described the Russian political class as “completely lost”.

“Government actions are not going anywhere, they are not going to save us,” the businessman told the BBC. “I think they are showing ignorance … We can only trust ourselves.”

A Kremlin spokesman raised a question about the potential political impact of any dissatisfaction, saying he disagreed with the idea.

He stressed that Vladimir Putin, “has been working every day to take steps to reduce the negative impact” of the disease.

How long that may last is not clear. In one of the Anastasia Tatulova restaurants, the tables are still lined with salt and pepper and there are big bears stuffed in some chairs.

But the doors are tightly closed, and the epicenter is yet to be seen. Whatever the case, Ms. Tatulova will no longer say how successful businesses are: she was removed from the government advisory group following her exchange with the undocumented president.

“They may be worried about what I will say next,” he told us, smiling. “I don’t think there is anything I am worried about though. That’s all everybody wanted to tell him.”

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