Still, the lack of discipline shown by the Russian society, at least in cities, with regard to initial lockdown instructions seems far removed from so-called "Asian values". One would be tempted to paraphrase a saying by François Mitterrand that "Putin looks to the East; Russian civil society looks to the West". Recent polls by the Levada Institute show that the image of the West, and particularly Europe, is rising in Russian public opinion, in spite of the regime's propaganda.
Will this chiasm between the authorities and part of the population, somewhat more palpable with recent events, worsen as the shock wave of the pandemic spreads through the country in terms of health, economic and social issues? It was recalled that the population has grown more and more dissatisfied with the government for months, and one can certainly expect an upcoming crisis of the Russian social system. The coronavirus is therefore an unprecedented test of the Russian social contract of renunciation of freedoms in exchange for stability and improved living standards. It is possible that good management of the crisis could "re-legitimise" the regime in power, or more simply, as has often been seen throughout Russian history, from Prince Rurik to Stalin, Ivan the Terrible or Peter the Great, a dark period will provoke a rallying around the figure of the Kremlin’s master. In such a case, the referendum on the new constitution would be easily won. But the Kremlin must assume its role as a "pole of stability", which is not presently the case with President Putin.
Let us propose another scenario. Internal difficulties could further isolate the regime, with urban elites shocked by an unvarnished prolongation of Vladimir Putin's dictatorship, and with a large part of the population suffering from a collapse in their living conditions. In such a scenario, the way out for the system would likely be a hardening of the Russian authoritarian model, rather than the softening that liberals were still hoping for when Putin was re-elected in 2018. On the external front, would Russia then be doomed to move even further away from Europe? Would the risk of "foreign adventure" not become greater?
1On the other hand, Russian authorities have had no qualms playing up conspiracy theories of the coronavirus being of American origin.
2In his speech, we find this phrase, not unlike similar phrases from Trump, Johnson and Bolsonaro, before they backtracked: "it is important to maintain jobs and economic activity".
Copyright: Alexey DRUZHININ / AFP