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In the Coronavirus, Putin May Have Met His Match

The Russian leader still wants to make himself president for life. But COVID-19 is fomenting new distrust in the state he built.

But while the official response has begun to view the spread of coronavirus as a more serious threat, measures taken by the government appear to reflect political priorities over public health and safety concerns. Putin did not use his speech last week delaying the April vote to impose a full-scale quarantine on Russia. Instead the Russian leader announced a week of paid holiday, introduced smaller-scale measures to boost the country’s economy, and insisted that Russians take the spread of the virus more seriously.

“It looks like Putin is not fighting against the virus, but against his decreasing ratings,” said Tatiana Stanovaya, the founder of the political consultancy R.Politik and a scholar at the Carnegie Moscow Center. “The problem of the Russian authorities is that they are afraid to be seen as weak. They think stricter measures will make it look like the state is losing control and can’t manage the situation.”

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