Russian citizens face two deadly threats right now.
On the one hand, there is the COVID-19 coronavirus that’s causing the global pandemic. As of right now, there are over 1.3 million confirmed cases worldwide. Almost 73,000 people have died. No one is sure how many cases there REALLY are in Russia.
On the other hand, there is the Russian government, which may resort to brutal containment methods when the numbers grow too large to ignore.Chechen strongman and Vladimir Putin protege’ Ramzan Kadyrov has this to say about anyone who violates the country’s quarantine lockdown:
“You should find abandoned cells used to punish prisoners, cold ones with no food in them, lock them up there. Throw them in a big hole, bury them, let them die in it.”
What’s the Coronavirus Situation in Russia?
As of April 6th, there were 6,343 cases reported throughout the country, with Moscow as the epicenter. More telling, nearly a thousand of those cases were reported within the last 24 hours. 591 of those new cases were in Moscow.
To date, 47 people have died of coronavirus complications across the country.
All of these numbers sound suspiciously-low for a country with a population of 146 million people. And when you consider that Russia shares a 2,615 mile border with China, that suspicion becomes a seeming impossibility. That border wasn’t closed until late January, after nearly 8,000 people were already infected in China.
Manipulating the Numbers
Part of the skepticism comes from Russia’s own statistics. While the coronavirus numbers seem low, the rates of “pneumonia” have skyrocketed. In January, the number of Moscow residents reporting pneumonia was 37% higher than the year before.
Dr. Anastasia Vasilyeva, who heads the independent Doctors Alliance trade union, said, “It’s impossible to know the real situation, but one thing we know for sure: the state is ready to manipulate medical statistics for political purposes.”
Dr. Vasilyeva has a point.
In 2015, President Putin announced a public campaign to reduce the country’s death rate from cardiovascular disease. Very soon, Russian hospitals suddenly reported a year-over-year decline in deaths due heart-related illnesses.
Simultaneously, a nearly-identical increase in deaths from rare or unclassifiable diseases manifested.
This sort of misrepresentation may be happening right now in Russia. Consider the March 19th pneumonia death of a 79-year-old professor in Moscow. Originally attributed to the coronavirus, the cause of death was later changed to “blood clot”.
As Dr. Vasilyeva says, “We’ll never know the truth. We can only assume.”
Sergei Sobyanin, the Mayor of Moscow and head of Russia’s coronavirus task force, says “The fact is testing volume is very low, and no one on Earth knows the real picture…a serious situation is unfolding.”
Containing the Coronavirus in Russia
The measures that Russian authorities are taking to prevent the spread are evolving. What started as mere suggestions aimed at promoting social distancing soon became orders for a general lockdown when it became evident that people weren’t listening.
Right now, residents are ordered to self-quarantine inside their homes. The only exceptions are for essential workers and for short trips to the nearest grocery store, pharmacy, or hospital. Even when walking their pets, residents are told not to venture more than 100 yards from their homes.
There are also proposals being floated by Russian lawmakers to impose severe penalties on “quarantine dodgers”. Anyone violator whose actions result in the death of another person can be jailed up to five years. If two or more people die from an intentional transmission of a coronavirus infection, then the penalty is seven years.
One problem with the Russian containment measures is that there is no central set of guidelines. In most cases, regional governors make the decisions as to which steps to take. This lends a degree of vagueness to the entire situation.
For example, the Republic of Chechnya announced it would close its borders with Russia when it still had only a dozen confirmed cases. But the city of Murmansk only restricts travel to certain parts of the city.
This sets up the possibility of human right abuses. Already, President Kadyrov has said, “If you ask me, anyone who creates this problem for himself should be killed. Not only does he get sick, (but so do) his family, his sisters, brothers, neighbors.”