Posted on Jun 20, 2020
On June 20th, in a scene eerily reminiscent of the 1964 Cold War satire "Dr. Strangelove", and from the safety of his own complete isolation, Russian President Vladimir Putin addressed senior medical officials ahead of Sunday's Medical Workers' Day.
"I want to sincerely congratulate all of you who have gathered for our meeting today and all healthcare professionals in the country on your upcoming professional holiday", he told them.
Empty words indeed for the harassed and poorly equipped doctors and nurses on the front-line of the war against the coronavirus outbreak. The pressure they are under possibly revealed by the doctors committing "suicide" and falling from high windows over recent months, if that is indeed the case.
"Is the Russian government surreptitiously killing people who speak out about the failures of the country’s coronavirus response?" is the question being asked openly now.
Falling from windows is a traditional end for those who dare to reveal the truth. Russian journalists remember Ivan Safronov, who fell to his death after revealing the failures of the Bulava ICBM programme. They should remember him well: his "suicide" was a warning aimed directly at them.
If such conditions of lack of truth, and lack of medical support, exist in Russia, then the situation is even worse in the occupied Donbas.
The Russian authorities and the administrations of the so-called "people's republics" of Donetsk and Luhansk are currently hiding the truth not only about the pandemic, but also about the dire lack of medical treatment available for ordinary people who are caught up in the conflict. Shortages of vital equipment and medicines make it nigh on impossible for the medical workers to do their jobs.
The situation, as if it could not get any worse, is exacerbated by poor sanitary conditions as ageing infrastructure is reduced to rubble by the constant bombing and shelling.
In the Donbas, a region not blessed with abundant water supplies, some 3.7 million people are unable to access safe drinking water supplies, according to a report by UNICEF. Constant ceasefire violations make maintenance and repair a thankless and dangerous task.
At the time of writing, according to the United Nations, 3,350 civilians have died in the ongoing conflict. The exact number of those suffering the injuries of war - men, women and children - is unknown.
The effects of the conflict will have a particularly long-lasting effect on the children of Donbas: last year UNICEF reported that more than 750 educational facilities on both sides of the contact line had been damaged or destroyed due to hostilities
Schoolchildren are bearing long-lasting mental and physical scars of eastern Ukraine’s conflict. Daily life at school is disrupted by shelling and shootings, forcing children to take cover in school basements and underground bomb shelters. Destroyed classrooms surrounded by sandbags to protect children from stray bullets are no place for a child to learn... In many cases, children have become too terrified to learn.
Approximately 135,000 civilians have fled their homes. 70,000 of these are Russian citizens. Putin displays no hesitation in sacrificing his own people in pursuit of his ambitions.
The fighting, the killing, and the dying do not let up. Even as this article was being prepared news came in of overnight attacks.
The Russian people themselves remain as unaware of the human cost of Putin's Ukrainian adventure as they are of the number of deaths in their country from COVID-19, or of the real reasons why the doctors they rely on are falling to their deaths from windows.
Whilst the statistics are unlikely to be completely accurate, the U.S. State Department believes the number of Russian soldiers killed in the fighting in Eastern Ukraine to be around 500. What is known is that the families of these soldiers are paid "hush-money", and are forbidden to speak about it.
In Crimea, illegally annexed by Russia in 2014, whilst there is no open conflict as such, a reign of terror has silenced all opposition to Putin's rule, and in a chilling echo of 1944 is witnessing the ethnic cleansing of the Crimean Tatars.
Russia's own democracy, such as it became after the collapse of the Soviet Union, has come under increasing pressure in recent years, with closure of NGOs and foreign owned media, and the de facto reversion to the Soviet one-party state system.
The European Union has, albeit belatedly, woken up to the levels of pro-Kremlin propaganda, propagated by state-controlled media outlets and what Lenin referred to as "useful idiots", that it has been subjected to.
Sadly, this is not the case for the Russian people: they have for generations been brought up on a narrative that portrays the west as hostile, and jealous of Russia's great achievements. A narrative as empty as it is tired, but one they have, in the absence of truth, come to accept.
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This week Vladimir Putin will present another chapter in the narrative. On June 24th he will preside, somewhat belatedly, over a parade to mark victory in the Great Patriotic War.
In recent days Putin has been much mocked for an article in the U.S. National Interest journal in which he argues that “It is essential to pass on to future generations the memory of the fact that the Nazis were defeated first and foremost by the Soviet people".
He is desperate to deflect attention away from the 1939 Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact in which Josef Stalin and Adolf Hitler agreed to carve up Poland and the Baltic states between them.
On the 24th he will be joined by military veterans who are, for his personal protection, at the time of writing in quarantine.
They are being held in sanatoriums and rest homes in “lovely conditions," according to Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov. “Above all there is a concern for their health, since they will be there together and chatting with one another."
Whether or not those concerns will remain beyond their meeting with Putin is unclear: because of their advanced years they will be highly vulnerable, and susceptible to COVID-19. It is probably safe to assume that they are highly unlikely be returned to Peskov's "lovely conditions".
Having ignored the necessity to prevent large gatherings in order to reduce the risk of the spread of COVID-19 on June 24th, Putin will then throw all caution, and presumably many lives, to the wind. His so-called plebiscite, or referendum, on July 1st is to go ahead.
But this concerns an issue far more important to Putin than is the matter of the lives of his people: this is to lay the legal foundation for him to become president for life.
Image (schoolroom): UNICEF
Image (V. Putin): Kremlin.ru
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