Russian doctor accuses Vladimir Putin of lying about coronavirus death

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Poorly paid doctors have resigned en masse, fearing for their lives after being ordered to treat coronavirus patients without adequate protective equipment in a chronically underfunded health system.

Ambulance crews line up for hours to route patients to overcrowded hospitals where medical staff are running low on oxygen – but desperately needed ventilators have been bought by billionaires setting up makeshift clinics in their homes.

The collapse in oil prices has turned the country’s main source of income into a net, as fury rises that his government favors his wealthy buddies rather than small business owners with bailouts.

These are the perilous effects of the pandemic in Russia. Now, analysts and political enemies of President Vladimir Putin are even wondering if his long and brutal reign could be a victim of the crisis.

“The government is lying openly,” said Anastasia Vasilyeva, an ophthalmologist, president of a medical union and an ally of a key opposition leader. She was arrested by police a few days later while traveling to investigate hospital supplies and fined for breaking lock rules

“Putin cares about no loss of life, only loss of power,” said former world chess champion Garry Kasparov, who became a human rights activist.

“Individual dictatorships are dangerous but fragile. If the economic and health crises combine to overcome people’s fear of the police, things could change very quickly.

“Putin’s current allies could take advantage of the opportunity to turn against him for better escape. “

The former man who became president of the KGB, who values ​​stability and poses as a global strongman, suddenly seems weak in the face of a new invisible enemy. Latest figures show 74,588 confirmed cases among 145 million people in Russia, with 681 deaths – although previous figures show a 37% increase in deaths from “pneumonia”, which suggests that State manipulates the data.

“The government is lying openly,” said Anastasia Vasilyeva, an ophthalmologist, president of a medical union and an ally of a key opposition leader. She was arrested by police a few days later while traveling to investigate hospital supplies, and was fined for breaking the lock rules.

“We are used to seeing Putin as the best dog, but he has moved away from unpopular decisions in case they backfire,” said Ben Noble, an expert in Russia at University College London.

Dozens of doctors have left their jobs in at least five cities after being ordered to work with infected patients with inadequate protection. Doctors earn an average of £ 815 per month.

In Moscow, the epicenter of the Russian epidemic, staff have been transferred to intensive care to write letters of resignation after refusing to work without protection. “They want to save lives but they don’t want to die for certain,” said the daughter of a paramedic.

Images of St. Petersburg showed beaten patients lying on bare mattresses in the hallways. “There is no oxygen,” said a health worker.

In another city hospital specializing in infectious diseases, a third of the suspected or confirmed coronavirus cases were medical staff. Many hospital workers were exasperated by Putin’s move to send a shipment of medical supplies to New York – including certain products by a company subject to US sanctions – when they had to buy equipment online.

There has also been anger from small business owners over the rescue efforts – much weaker than in other leading countries – which focus on large companies, many of which are controlled by close oligarchs of the Kremlin. “Why now, when I need help, does my government turn its back on me? Asked Natalia, whose marketing activities in Novosibirsk are collapsing before her eyes.

Mikhail, 58, whose 19 company, Moscow’s building materials company, employed 19 people, accuses “Dwarf” – a derogatory term for Putin – of having destroyed his business during the foreclosure. “It was this idiot who announced that employers were obliged to pay wages in full but did not say where the money would come from. I fired everyone, “he said.

The wealthy admit they bought fans.

The wealthy admit they bought fans. “We have one and we are trying to get two more,” said a billionaire family member with a mansion in Rublyovka, a Moscow suburb favored by the Russian ruling elite.

Russia had a decent health system when communism collapsed in 1991. When the current crisis hit, it had more ventilators per capita than Britain – but most are old and many of them are are found in Moscow and St. Petersburg.

To resolve regional differences, the government distributed emergency funds – but hospitals looking for ventilators discovered that they were being seized by wealthy families who were planning to isolate themselves in their splendor. “We sold everything in our warehouse,” a supplier told the Moscow Times last week.

Another said she had such a long waiting list for the £ 20,000 worth of devices “we had to stop taking orders.”

The wealthy admit they bought fans. “We have one and we are trying to get two more,” said a billionaire family member with a mansion in Rublyovka, a Moscow suburb favored by the Russian ruling elite.

The pandemic could not have come at the worst time for the Kremlin – and for a president who promotes the image that he alone can revive national grandeur while bringing stability to his sprawling nation.

Already, Putin’s popularity had dropped to its lowest level in seven years after raising the retirement age to 65 for men in a country with an average life expectancy for men of 67. the end of the second world war would increase its support by appealing to patriotism but it was postponed. He also had to abandon a plebiscite on constitutional reforms that allow him to stay in power until 2036.

“All of his plans were plunged into chaos by Covid-19,” said James Nixey, of the Chatham House think tank. “This would jeopardize any competent government and the Russian government could never be qualified as competent. “

Nixey said the main objective of the Putin regime was to maintain power. “I don’t see it as the immediate end, but it accelerates its end. “

Mark Galeotti, a Russian security expert, said that while Putin, 67, retains vital support from the security forces, this crisis “is reaching all its weak points because there is no direct threat and it is so unpredictable. ” Putin apparently misses internal problems; a source told me that it had taken the health minister six months to schedule an appointment with the president before the crisis.

At first, the Kremlin moved abruptly when the pandemic broke out in Wuhan, quickly closing the 2,600-mile border with China. But he was slow to respond, as the wealthy Russians brought back the disease from ski resorts and cities in Europe.

Putin told people “everything is under control”. Then he arrived at a Moscow hospital in a yellow hazardous material suit, before shaking hands with the chief doctor, who was diagnosed soon with the virus.

The Russian leader announced a “week of no work” but avoided telling people to stay home. The authorities then hastily closed the hotels and canceled the flights. Typically, Putin backed down and let others make unpopular decisions, ordering a lockdown on March 28.

Work is underway to convert the LenExpo exhibition center in Saint Petersburg into a medical center to treat patients with coronavirus

Work is underway to convert the LenExpo exhibition center in Saint Petersburg into a medical center to treat patients with coronavirus

This gave two other politicians the spotlight: the mayor of Moscow, Sergei Sobyanin, and Mikhail Mishustin, who was previously in charge of the tax office (a place full of useful secrets) and who became prime minister earlier this year. Putin never tolerated the slightest challenge to his authority, but these two technocrats won applause.

“We are used to seeing Putin as the best dog, but he has strayed from unpopular decisions in case they backfire,” said Ben Noble, expert in Russia at University College London. “Now, a move he made to protect himself could bite him again. “

The Kremlin admits that Russia will not experience a peak until mid-May, although there are no signs yet that it is on the verge of smoothing the infection curve. A survey found that 60% of Russians did not trust official information about the virus.

Kremlin spokesman Dmitri Peskov said that “the developments of the coronavirus would not pass through our country without elements of crisis”, but added that Putin thinks “human life is a priority”. How many of its citizens believe this now?

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