In the past few days, the Russian facade has begun to crack. Reports of overloaded hospitals are emerging, Moscow’s mayor said the official numbers were wrong, and Putin made one of his ritual photo-ops at a hospital in full protective gear, finally acknowledging the crisis. If the Trump administration’s example is anything to go by, months of ignoring and distorting reality will almost certainly make the consequences in Russia far worse.
It is remarkable that anyone ever took Russia’s coronavirus numbers at face value. Like most dictatorships, Putin’s regime lies constantly, even when it doesn’t have to. Authoritarian regimes are obsessed with information control, especially when there is news that could make them look weak. No appearance of vulnerability can be permitted, otherwise the people might start getting dangerous ideas.
Then there is Putin’s track record in the specific realm of health and epidemics. HIV officially barely exists in Russia, where it is still wrongly considered a “gay disease,” and where the LGBTQ community is a persecuted minority. Activist groups trying to track HIV and educate about it are harassed and shut down. Unsurprisingly, Russia is one of the few places where HIV cases are increasing.