The discussion about Russia’s role in the “Covid” and “post-Covid” world needs to be recalibrated to ensure that it is guided by evidence, not ideology
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“Formerly man had only a body and a soul. Now he needs a passport as well, for without it he will not be treated like a human being” — so observed a Russian exile to Austrian novelist Stefan Zweig some 100 years ago.
What would this nameless refugee say if he saw his country today?
In Sevastopol, restaurants, gyms and cultural venues are off-limits to those who cannot show proof of vaccination or prior infection, or produce a negative PCR test. Some parts of Russia are preventing unaccompanied minors from entering shopping centers; in other regions, the unjabbed elderly are allowed outside only to buy groceries, receive urgent medical care, take out the trash or walk their dog — provided they don’t wander more than 100 meters from their place of residence. Starting on November 1, the Republic of Karelia will deny routine medical care to the unvaccinated and those who cannot show that they are not “infected.”
Over the past two weeks, around one-third of Russia’s 85 federal subjects have announced that proof of vaccination, or Covid-negative status, will be required to gain entry to public institutions, venues and businesses. Such controls have been introduced by Kabardino-Balkaria, Chechnya, Perm Territory, Bashkiria, Udmurtia, Chuvashia, Tatarstan, Mordovia, Karelia, Komi, and Sevastopol, as well as by the regions of Nizhny Novgorod, Ulyanovsk, Samara, Kaliningrad, Chelyabinsk, Sverdlovsk, Vologda, Smolensk, Amur, Pskov, Novgorod, Novosibirsk, Ivanovsk, Volgograd, Voronezh, Arkhangelsk, Kursk and Leningrad.
In the capital, workers in sectors such as education, entertainment, health care, transport and hospitality can be suspended indefinitely without pay if they decline the jab — a rule that has been in place since mid-June. Moscow authorities recently started mass-testing schoolchildren, and the city’s mayor, Sergey Sobyanin, is reportedly mulling the reintroduction of QR codes for restaurants. Digital passes had previously been imposed at the end of June but were dropped three weeks later after nearly 200 businesses went belly up.
Close to half of Russia's regions now have compulsory inoculation policies for workers in public and private sectors. Their ranks seem to grow larger with each passing day.
It’s not difficult to imagine where this strategy of gradualism could lead. The Leningrad region, which in June called for 80% vaccination across various sectors, recently announced that all employees of public and private organizations would need to get the shot. Those who refuse must present a negative PCR test every 72 hours. Proof of prior infection is also accepted but is only valid for six months.
The Kremlin appears to be fully supportive of what’s happening. Presidential spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters on October 7 that “any measures that can encourage more people to get vaccinated are good.” A week later, Peskov lectured the 65% of Russians who remain unvaccinated, accusing the majority of the country of making an “irresponsible” choice that “kills.”
Many people are unaware of the Russian government’s position and incorrectly believe that inoculation remains entirely voluntary in Russia. We cannot fault them. The “alternative media” have either been completely silent on this subject or worse, have misreported what is actually happening here. Many outlets and analysts have gleefully relayed that Vladimir Putin opposes mandatory inoculation, or “declared” that the jab was voluntary. It’s true that the Russian president said that he doesn’t think anyone should be forced to get the shot, but this opinion has had no effect on actual policy; in fact, for months the Kremlin has been talking out of both sides of its mouth.
On June 17, one day after Moscow announced its mandatory inoculation regime, Peskov explained that the “principle” of non-obligatory vaccination “generally remains,” but Russians are not proactive enough about getting the shot.
A day later, Anna Popova, the head of Russia’s consumer rights protection and human wellbeing agency (Rospotrebnadzor), described compulsory immunization as a “new tool” that can be utilized as the government sees fit.
There is certainly a persuasive case to be made that a Russian living in the outskirts of Moscow will fare better than a New Yorker in the coming years, but the widely held belief that the Russian government is acting as a bulwark against the radical measures and controls being imposed worldwide should be carefully re-examined. Proper treatment of this question requires further investigation into a number of variables, including the vaccines themselves.
But we must start with understanding what is actually happening in Russia. It is concerning that analysis on this topic is so completely lacking in depth, when all available evidence suggests that Russians are being subjected to a slow boil. The policies embraced by the Russian government may seem benign when compared to the violent and unapologetic crackdowns in countries such as Australia, but this is hardly a consolation if the end result — the implementation of a digital ID that dictates all aspects of life — is the same.
The discussion about Russia’s role in the “Covid” and “post-Covid” world needs to be recalibrated to ensure that it is guided by evidence, not ideology. There is no excuse for weaving elaborate theories when the Russian government has been surprisingly upfront about how it sees events unfolding.
In all countries of the world, including Russia, life will become “less convenient” for the unvaccinated, the Kremlin’s spokesman predicted on September 30.
On this matter, we see no reason why we shouldn’t take the Russian government at its word.
Riley Waggaman is a Moscow-based writer. He writes for Russian Faith, Anti-Empire.com, and recently started a Substack that will be dedicated to covering underreported developments in Russia. He previously worked as a Moscow correspondent for Press TV and as a writer and editor for RT.com and Russia Insider.
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