As coronavirus cases spike in Russia, this is a dangerous moment for Putin

"I don't remember anything like that," he said, adding that the decline in world oil prices – a primary source of Russian government revenue – had given a "double hit" to the country's economy.

It adds up to a dangerous political moment too Russian President Vladimir Putin. In a new poll published by independent pollster Levada-Center, less than half of those polled – 46% – said the Russian government had responded adequately to the crisis.

The pandemic has even taken Putin's usually soaring approval ratings. In March, when the authorities recognized the spread of coronavirus in Russia, the Levada Center found Putin's approval rating had dropped to 63%. It may sound loud, but it is a level that has not been seen since 2013, before Russia's annexation of Crimea received public support for the president.

Coronavirus has hit Moscow, the country's political center of gravity, especially hard. According to official statistics, the capital accounts for about half of the country's cases. Prior to the pandemic, Muscovites were politically active and mobilized, for example in massive street demonstrations that followed the country's flawed legislative elections in 2011.
While lockdown measures mean new street protests are out of date, Russians have taken their displeasure online: A live debate last week earned over 67,000 views on YouTube.
Russia's crushed opposition has seized the coronavirus crisis to bolster its criticism of the president, especially over the Kremlin's economic response to the crisis. Opposition leader Alexey Navalny, for example, has asked to drop the National Welfare Fund, a $ 165 billion a pot of money created by previously high energy prices to help individuals and small businesses recover. While Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov dismissed Navalny's idea as "populist" and "superficial," three online requests for Navalny's proposal have amassed over 1 million signatures.

It is important to say in advance that coronavirus is not yet an existential threat to Putin. The Russian president likes flattering coverage on state television, which has thrown him off as a bullet-headed and competent leader in response to the crisis.

Kremlin-controlled airwaves have Putin routinely steer clear of meetings from his residence in Novo-Ogaryovo, outside Moscow. In a meeting last week, he hailed top government officials about the need to provide "tangible results" for Russians struggling with the financial downfall of coronavirus.

"What about the special insurance for medical professionals who are now helping these patients and risking their lives and health?" Sa Putin. "What about the extra monthly payments of 5000 rubles [$67] for a child up to three years for families who are entitled to maternity leave? Let me remind you that these payments are due in April, May and June. "


The President added: "I want you to report on the implementation of these measures and whether this support is visible to the people."

Doctors at the intensive care unit at a Moscow hospital.
Workers clean a street in the center of Moscow on May 2.
The Kremlin, it seems, has been awakened too late by the danger Russia's burgeoning middle class of shop owners, restaurateurs and gym contractors are facing from the coronavirus. On Monday, the Russian government launched a web portal for citizens and businesses seeking government assistance. The website is meant to be a one-stop shop that shows state action available to various sectors of the economy.
Whether the site changes public opinion is another matter. Putin has already postponed a nationwide vote that could pave the way for him to stay in power after his current term is over, potentially to 2036. And as the lockdown continues and the coronavirus spreads, the Kremlin is likely to face several questions about whether ordinary Russians can expect the same kind of comprehensive economic intervention as seen in the United States and Europe.

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