Coronavirus Crisis Tests Putin’s Grip On Power In Russia

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Coronavirus Crisis Tests Putin’s Grip On Power In Russia

They’re still baking at the Factory of Happiness.

Staff in face masks sprinkle nuts and berries on to buns and pipe chocolate into pastries, but only a handful are left working the production line and their creations are for takeaway only now.

The coronavirus lockdown has forced the firm to close its chain of family-friendly cafes, leaving the business struggling to stay afloat. But its owner says the state isn’t holding out any lifelines.

So when Anastasia Tatulova came face-to-face with Russia’s president, she didn’t hold back.

“I’ll try to beg for your help without crying, but this really is a tragedy,” she told Vladimir Putin last month, informing him that “half-measures” of support would not work.

As Covid-19 restrictions began kicking in and companies shed staff, Ms Tatulova found herself in the front row at a meeting between entrepreneurs and the president. Her passionate 12-minute takedown was shown live on state television.

“At that moment, I just needed him to hear me,” the businesswoman explained recently, saying she was barely sleeping now – constantly conjuring up new ways to survive.

“I thought he understood. But there’ve been no results, and the government’s measures are not enough. We just have to manage, ourselves.”

With the International Monetary Fund predicting the worst global recession since the 1930s Great Depression, Russia’s economy is clearly not immune.

Neither are its politicians, including President Putin. He has crafted an image for himself over his long rule as the leader who lifted Russia out of the post-Soviet chaos to bring order and prosperity.

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Mr Putin had planned to play on that trademark “stability” this week by winning a nationwide vote to alter the constitution and clear his way to stay in power for another two terms. But the ballot was reluctantly postponed, judged too dangerous at the height of a pandemic.

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The bulk of state help and handouts is being directed at big business: more employees, more critical for Russia’s economy – and less critical of its president.

It has left others feeling abandoned.

“I can’t predict a catastrophe for this regime [but] it’s a serious challenge to Putin,” Mr Kolesnikov suggested, pointing out that the Kremlin has no obvious new rallying cry to distract people from their difficulties. “The pandemic works more efficiently, compared to the political opposition and protesters.”

Coronavirus Crisis Tests Putin’s Grip On Power In Russia

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