That is probably what the Kremlin meant. Muscovites are well aware that their corona freedom came about pending a July 1 vote on a new constitution that Putin needed to continue extends its government to 2036 – but there has not been much adversity.
Reports from mass electoral fraud have not sparked public anger and there have been no protests on the scale of last summer’s demonstrations. (In the far east of the country, there is concern about the arrest of a popular governor against the Kremlin, but it has remained local for the time being.)
Instead, Putin is thanked by Muscovites for forcing the mayor of Moscow to lift the closure earlier than planned, and his popularity has soared.
Russians are usually relieved to be free again, even though the country is still taking up more 6,000 new cases every day. International borders may still be closed, but most Russians have flouted caution and have already embraced a future beyond the corona.
Crimea has become the new Ibiza, with smooth Muscovites flocking to the rocky beaches of the disputed peninsula for their late summer vacation. The arrogant attitude towards wearing masks and social distance between most Russians makes a deadlier second wave in the fall – or earlier – even more likely.
But for now, the corona nihilists have the upper hand in Russia: a study by the Moscow Higher School of Economics found that as many as a third of Russians do not believe in the corona virus pandemic and consider the threat exaggerated.
With an official death toll of just over 10,000 deaths for nearly 1 million infections, their arrogant demeanor has some basis in statistics – or government statistics, after all. Even though the New York Times claims the Kremlin has distorted the facts To underestimate the actual death rate, the official numbers have helped quell the initial corona panic.
“I feel sorry for Americans,” a taxi driver recently confessed. “They died over 100,000, while we had far fewer because of our superior medical care.”
In addition to the low official death rate, there is another reason for the local corona cold-bloodedness, and people’s willingness to play Russian roulette with their health.
Perhaps, given their brutal and violent history, Russians are more fatalistic than others, and more likely to shrug their shoulders at chaos, disasters and pandemics than actively change their behavior and take precautions to reduce the dangers.
The Russians even have a word, avos, for their fatalism: it roughly translates into the belief that life is unpredictable and that little can be done to change a person’s fate. Even Putin used the word when he asked the Russians to take the corona threat seriously at the end of March this year and not rely on our good old Russian avos. ‘
So while other countries are lifting restrictions as the infections increase, Russia has started off with a bang. Even strict guidelines on the mandatory wearing of street masks have now been lifted.
Removing corona restrictions so quickly has led to a summer of euphoria as tired Russians regain their freedom. Even though many have become poorer on the other hand, their financial futures more uncertain, that doesn’t stop them from packing up the parks and harassing the nightclubs.
The carefree atmosphere fits perfectly with Putin’s plans. While the Russian feasts and spirits are on the sunny beaches of Crimea, the Kremlin has taken advantage of the vacuum to brutally suppress its critics.
A few days after the vote on the new constitution, former journalist Ivan Safronov was arrested for treasonand police stormed the apartment of Pussy Riot activist Pyotr Verzilov, accusing him of not having declared his Canadian citizenship.
The arrest of Sergei Furgal, a governor of the Kremlin, in the far east of Khaborovsk on charges of murder dating back 15 years has sparks the most serious challenge for Putin’s performance after the referendum, with more than 15,000 demonstrations last weekend. “This is yet another harassment campaign,” tweeted prominent Kremlin critic Alexei Navalny.
Another time, these harsh moves may have sparked street protests in Moscow and St. Petersburg, but most Russians are too busy celebrating to notice. In any case, they gave Putin a run for the summer so that they can finally let their hair down. They may even be willing to give him their permission longer – as long as there is no new closure.
Any conversation about a new round of restrictions in the fall, if things stop after a summer, could end an otherwise happy conversation abruptly. After experiencing the totalitarianism and dark purges of the Stalin era, their freedom once again restrains the Russians more than the corona virus.
Putin understands their mindset and, therefore, despite persistent rumors to the contrary, it is unlikely that the Kremlin will decide to block again, even if things arise. A second quarantine could lead to street protests and further shrink the Russian economy, as expected contract more than 6 percent this year, according to the World Bank.
Unemployed Russians could turn their anger against the Kremlin, and Putin’s carefully crafted plans for eternal rule over Mother Russia could begin to unravel.
It is then more likely that the Kremlin will continue to run statistics to downplay the threat and allow the Russians to enjoy their blissful ignorance. Russia has learned from neighboring Belarus that never ordered lockdowns even during the peak of their corona peaks – it now seems that the Kremlin plans to run the virus uncontrollably until it burns up in the vastness of Russia.
That strategy could be disastrous for Russia’s more vulnerable, especially retirees, but as long as hospitals can handle the wave, Putin should emerge unharmed. Unlike the unpopular former Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev, who turned the country against him by imposing a strict ban in 1985, Putin has no sense in closing the party and jeopardizing his regime.
He knows that as long as Russians are free and happy, he can get away with murder.