Analysis: VE Day and President Putin's pandemic nightmare

Analysis: VE Day and President Putin's pandemic nightmare
Copyright Alexei Nikolsky/Sputnik
By Darren McCaffrey, Political Editor
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Vladimir Putin had hoped 2020 would mark a turning point in his plans to rule Russia, Darren McCaffrey writes. But the pandemic has put Putin's project on hold.


Tomorrow marks 75 years since the guns fell silent across Europe. Nazism had been defeated, the Allies had won, most of the continent lay in ruins. Citizens across the continent will pause to remember, but also celebrate, Victory in Europe day. Those commemorations are, of course, somewhat muted this year since much of Europe remains in lockdown and strong social distancing rules are being practised everywhere. And no more so than in the Russian capital.

Vladimir Putin had hoped 2020 would mark a turning point in his presidency and his plans to rule Russia for many years to come. A massive military parade in Red Square had been planned for Saturday, with thousands of soldiers marching, as bands played and planes performed a spectacular flyover. As Commander in Chief, Putin would have been centre stage, but significantly he would have been flanked by his Chinese and French counterparts, Xi Jinping and Emmanuel Macron.

After a troubling decade for Russia - a decade of sanctions - the parade was supposed to be a reminder that China remained a key ally and France was fighting hard to warm relations with one of Europe’s old superpowers. But the soldiers have been sent back to their barracks, leaders will stay at home - the coronavirus crisis has cancelled President Putin’s big day. Though, being forced to drop his parade might be the least of his worries.

The crisis also led to the postponement of a national ballot at which Mr Putin had hoped on winning widespread public support for constitutional changes that would allow him to extend his rule beyond 2024 when the second of his two terms as president is due to end. Add to this an economic shock; Russia’s lockdown measures are massively damaging the economy. With business grinding to a halt and many job losses, the pandemic - along with a price war - has seen the cost of oil plummet. The black gold is, of course, the country’s financial lifeblood. And it’s not as if Russia started the crisis in great economic health.

As for the actual health of its citizens... Well, COVID-19 is starting to hit hard. Russia recorded more than 10,000 new cases for the fourth day in a row on Wednesday, surpassing Germany to become the country with the sixth-highest number of confirmed infections. It maybe doesn't come as a surprise, then, that Putin’s approval rating has fallen to a six-year low. The Levada Center polling agency found his popularity had fallen four points in April alone, to 59 per cent.

The pandemic is changing our expectations of governments and their leaders all over the world. Support for many of them has, in fact, soared. But, for now, at least COVID-19 is proving a challenge to Russia and Putin’s hold on power. Much like that Moscow parade, 2020 isn't quite turning out to be the success hoped for.

Darren McCaffrey is Euronews' political editor.

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