“If Russia’s epidemics develop like the Italian scenario, which is quite possible, there will be no way for him to secure his reputation—the entire responsibility will be on the government,” said Yashin.

If that happens, one can expect even Putin himself to show the iron fist. But for the moment in the nation’s capital that has not yet hammered down. And many Russians, a famously fatalistic people, appear unimpressed with the twin threats of tyranny and pandemic.

On Sunday, most of the Russian capital’s downtown was still open, and public transport as well. Bars were closed, but young people continued to hang out in hidden corners. Skateboarders focused on their kickflips, as if no epidemic mattered. A group of hipsters outside a still-open bookstore listened to a girl read aloud, her face pink in the light of sunset. The poem was one of Joseph Brodsky’s: “They loved to sit together on a hillside…”

Then on Sunday night, Russia slammed its doors a little harder, in a pattern now familiar to countries around the world: governments first try to persuade, and when that fails, as it usually does, they try to enforce the quarantines and distancing. A few hours before midnight Sunday night, authorities finally announced a complete lockdown for the capital and its 11 million residents.