Last week, Russian authorities recorded for the first time more than 1,000 deaths per day from coronavirus, while new daily cases also reached new records at nearly 34,000. Russia currently ranks fifth among the most affected nations, with 8 million cases and 225,000 deaths, but the real picture is much bleaker.
Russian coronavirus statistics only count fatal cases in which Covid-19 is listed as the “leading cause of death,” and this approach allows many patients who die of other causes while infected to be left out. Moreover, as the health system does not respond to the pandemic, people with chronic diseases cannot get help either (in large provincial cities, emergencies arrive within 24-48 hours if a home call is made). Official Rosstat figures for 2021 show that the number of deaths from January to September is 707,000 more than in the same period of 2019, while the natural decline of the Russian population will exceed one million by the end of the year, which exceeds any other annual figure since World War II.
The general trend, if we rely on official data, shows that during any new “wave” of the Covid-19 pandemic, the ratio of deaths to new cases increases (from about 20 per 10,000 cases in April 2020 to 160 last December and to 300 these days). It seems that the government is unable to persuade people to get vaccinated – with 32.4% of the population fully vaccinated with locally produced vaccines it will take? 188 days to reach the 70% threshold, but the Sputnik-V vaccine produces effect for only 6-8 months, and revaccination has barely begun, so more and more vaccinated people are filling the hospitals. As these cases occur more frequently, confidence in vaccination, already low, evaporates among ordinary people. What is more worrying is another issue: people have become accustomed to the pandemic, and each new wave is accompanied by fewer protective measures.
In the Moscow metro and on public transport in general, about a third of passengers wear masks, while public officials more often appear without them at meetings and assemblies covered by television. It seems that the authorities, who increasingly glorify Soviet history, are acting in the manner of Stalin, who wished to achieve military victories without worrying about the number of troops killed in action: in Putin’s time, this approach takes the form of avoiding further closures and pretending that the pandemic is slowing down to allow the economy to function “as usual.” The latter is a success: the economy is rebounding strongly, with all restaurants and gyms operating at full capacity and GDP growth expected to reach 4.7% this year, but the human cost is high.
The Russian authorities formally promise that they care about the welfare of the people, as President Putin constantly says that his goal is “the preservation of the people” (this phrase is actually a quote from Solzhenitsyn, a famous Soviet and Russian writer), but their policy priorities indicate other goals. Realizing that they are unable to cope with the declining population, the Kremlin rulers accepted a record number of foreigners (563,000 in 2020) as Russian citizens, and recently lifted the ban on 158,000 people from the poor post-Soviet Central Asian republics who had been deported from Russia for various crimes and allowed them to return, as the labor market reveals an unprecedented labor shortage.
It is not known why President Putin authorized another 9% decline in public spending on healthcare by 2022 in the draft budget recently delivered to Parliament, while the state’s monetary reserves are rising, but it appears that Covid-19 in Russia will have far more dramatic demographic consequences than in any of the G20 nations, regardless of the short-term economic results shown by the country.