Society 3 June 2020

Putin plans mass events as coronavirus peak passes

President Vladimir Putin announced Tuesday that Russia has weathered the worst of its coronavirus outbreak. And this was immediately followed by confirmation that two mass events would take place in June: a military parade to mark the end of the Second World War, and a remembrance procession usually attended by millions of people. A constitutional reform referendum will happen at 1st of July.

  • Russia traditionally holds a military parade in Moscow on May 9 to mark the Soviet victory in the Second World War, and this year it was supposed to have been a lavish occasion for the 75th anniversary with 15,000 soldiers and 300,000 pieces of military equipment. But the pandemic forced cancellation of most events, with the exception of fireworks and an air display (during which 500 million rubles ($7.1 million) was spent (Rus) on cloud seeding). ‘Immortal Regiment’ marches – in which relatives take to the streets with portraits of ancestors who fought in the war — did not go ahead. 
  • Few expected Russia would cancel the Victory Day celebrations. The victory over Nazi Germany is a key part of Kremlin ideology, and the only event of the 20th century that unites all Russians — the violence touched every family.   
  • The rescheduled military parade will be held on June 24, likely to be made a national holiday, and the Immortal Regiment will take place on June 26. 

Putin on the parade in 2019

  • The constitutional reform referendum will be held even earlier – on July 1. Putin needs a positive result to allow him to change the constitution to remain president until 2036. While scientists are concerned the Immortal Regiment event could fuel a spike in coronavirus cases, the referendum is seen as safer as Russia recently passed (Rus) a new online voting law. 
  • Russia is currently ranked third worldwide for the number of coronavirus cases, after the U.S. and Brazil. And, even if the infection rate is slowing, there are still more than 8,000 new cases reported every day. Whatever future developments, it looks like Russia will take steps to ensure that the official coronavirus figures drop. The Ministry of Health published recommendations this week altering the criteria for classifying infections — now, people who are asymptomatic but test positive will not be included in the official count. They currently account for (Rus) about 30 percent of total cases in Russia.
  • At the same time, lockdown easing is well underway. Moscow Mayor Sergei Sobyanin announced a loosening of the capital’s lockdown this week in a video call with Putin. From Monday, everything in Moscow will be able to open except theaters, museums, beauty salons and gyms. However, people will only be able to go outside in masks and gloves (previously this was just a requirement in shops). The most important new rule is that Muscovites are allowed to go for walks, but only at certain times. City Hall even published a special map (you click on your apartment building to see at what times you can go outside), but many couldn’t access it. 

Why the world should care 

The state-sanctioned walking schedule prompted a wave of jokes on social media as Muscovites compared themselves to criminals walking in circles around a prison yard. But the truth is that lockdown is being widely flouted, and an online index (Rus) shows there are already many people out on the streets. This isn’t surprising when you remember almost 25 percent of Russians believe coronavirus doesn’t exist. Either way, officials have to create the illusion that the situation in Moscow is under control so Putin can have his military parade. In Russia, politicians construct one reality, and ordinary people exist in an entirely different one.