Vladimir Putin ‘could be toppled by coronavirus crisis’ as Russia braces for peak – The Sun

RUSSIAN President Vladimir Putin could be toppled by the coronavirus crisis as some experts warn the Kremlin could turn on him as the nation braces for the virus' peak. 

Scores of doctors unable to treat patients with adequate protective equipment have reportedly quit, hospitals are under resourced and overwhelmed and critics question whether the president and former strongman can stand up against the invisible new foe.

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The effects of the pandemic on top of the oil price collapse and the country's main revenue stream appear to be destabilising the Russian regime.

Medical staff say they have run out of oxygen and ambulance crews queue for hours to deliver patients to overloaded hospitals.

Billionaire oligarchs have bought up desperately needed ventilators for private use in their mansions amid public anger that the government is favouring the rich.


Now analysts and Putin’s political enemies have questioned if his reign might fall victim to the crisis.

Kremlin foe and former chess champion Garry Kasparov said “dictator” Putin "doesn’t care about any loss of life, only loss of power".

"One-man dictatorships are dangerous but brittle," he added.

"If the economic and health crises combine to overcome people’s fear of the police, things might change very quickly.

"Putin’s current allies might take the opportunity to turn on him to better save themselves."

One-man dictatorships are dangerous but brittle … Things might change very quickly.

The now human rights campaigner told the Washington Post: “While Covid-19 was filling European hospitals, Russia was still filling soccer stadiums with fans and, in one case, the opening ceremony of a chess event in a theatre with more than a thousand people".

He has also accused Moscow of a cover-up over infection numbers saying: “It is remarkable that anyone ever took Russia’s coronavirus numbers at face value."

Anastasia Vasilyeva, an eye doctor and president of an independent medical trade union, agrees.

"The government is openly lying," she said earlier this month.

Just days later she was detained by police on a trip to investigate hospital supplies and fined for defying lockdown rules.

The government is openly lying.

The former KGB man-turned-president promotes an image of strength and stability to his sprawling nation.

But Russian expert Ben Noble, of University College London, told The Telegraph that Putin’s failure to groom a successor "puts the system and the country at risk if he were taken out of the picture without warning.

“In other words, concern for security in the present puts the structural stability of the regime at risk in the long-term – a key weakness of personalist rule.

"The Kremlin is aware of this existential threat. It also knows that members of the elite are aware of this weak spot.”


Putin’s popularity has already slipped to its lowest level for seven years after he raised the pension age to 65 for men in a nation with an average male life expectancy of 67.

He also scrapped a plebiscite on constitutional reforms that allow him to stay in power until 2036.

A Victory Day celebration next month marking 75 years since the end of the Second World War was also postponed in what could have been a valuable opportunity to boost his support.

James Nixey, of the Chatham House think-tank said: "All of his plans have been thrown into chaos by Covid-19."

He added: "This would challenge any competent government and Russia’s government could never be called competent."

Mr Nixey said the primary aim of Putin’s regime was to retain power and he does not see this as the immediate end "but it hastens his end", he said.

Mark Galeotti, an expert on Russian security, similarly said the crisis "hits all his weakest points since there is no straightforward threat and it is so unpredictable".


Meanwhile, fears are raging that Putin is downplaying Russia's coronavirus outbreak.

The latest figures claim more than 80,000 confirmed cases among Russia’s 145 million population, with 747 deaths – although earlier figures showed a 37 per cent spike in ‘pneumonia’ deaths, leading to claims the state was manipulating data.

The Kremlin says Russia will not see a peak until mid-May, although there is no sign yet it is close to flattening the curve of infections.

One survey found 60 per cent of Russians do not trust official information on the virus.

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said "the coronavirus developments would not pass by our country without any crisis elements" but added that Putin believes "human life is a priority".

A number of sources have since disputed the statistics as Russia rapidly builds additional hospital capacity.

Scores of badly paid medics earning an average of £815 a month have quit their jobs in at least five cities after being told to work with infected patients with inadequate protection.

Moscow – home to more than 12.5 million – has become the epicentre of Russia's outbreak.

Staff shifted to critical care duties have been made to write resignation letters after refusing to work without protection.

"They want to save lives but don’t want to go to certain death," one paramedic’s daughter said.

Footage from St Petersburg showed stricken patients lying on bare mattresses in corridors.

In one hospital that specialises in infectious diseases, a third of suspected or confirmed coronavirus cases were medical staff.


Amid the crisis, Putin despatched a planeload of medical supplies to New York.

Small business owners have also voiced their fury over bailout efforts which are far smaller than in other leading nations.

So far, bail outs have been focused on big firms, many controlled by oligarchs close to the Kremlin.

Business are struggling to stay afloat as President Putin ordered an increase in the unemployment benefit, but only to a subsistence level.

Russia is also offering wage support of some 12,000 roubles a month but it only applies if a firm retains 90 per cent of its staff, which for many smaller companies is impossible.

Small business owner Anastasia Tatulova was broadcast on state television at a meeting between entrepreneurs and the president last month.

She pleaded with Putin, saying: "I'll try to beg for your help without crying, but this really is a tragedy."

Ms Tatulova said the "half-measures" of support would not work.

Andrei Kolesnikov of the Moscow Carnegie Centre think-tank argued:  "The paternalistic Russian state… can't implement their promises. They can't help people, can't help business".

Were Putin to be incapacitated, little known prime minister Mikhail Mishustin, 54, would temporarily take over the Kremlin.

But experts forecast a raging battle as competing factions vie for power in Moscow.

Due to the pandemic, Putin last week postponed his planned April referendum which could have kept him in power until 2036 when he would be 83.

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