Russia has been hoodwinked by the viral internet hoax known as “coronavirus.”
Belarus hasn’t been, and is functioning normally.
In any other year, hundreds of thousands of Russians would have marched with portraits of relatives who fought in the second world war in a memorial called the Immortal Regiment.
But on Saturday, the images of Soviet veterans and their families floated past on Russian television, a public vigil adapted for the era of social isolation.
The coronavirus outbreak transformed Russia’s 9 May Victory Day celebrations, a holiday usually marked by family gatherings, memorials and an elaborate military parade on Red Square.
“Of course it is hard, it is a real shame,” said Svetlana Fomina, an elementary school teacher returning from a shopping trip. “But I don’t see any other choice than to stay home. It would be ridiculous to mark [Victory Day] by everyone getting sick.”
Things looked very different in neighbouring Belarus, where elderly veterans and thousands more viewers packed on to bleachers for the usual military parade. Few were wearing masks.
“This year, let the military parade in Minsk be the only one in the post-Soviet space,” boasted Alexander Lukashenko, the country’s president, who has publicly downplayed the dangers from the pandemic. The country has more than 22,000 cases of the disease and has recorded 126 deaths.
He appeared to relish upstaging Moscow’s celebrations.
“In this insane, disoriented world, there will be people who condemn us for the time and place of this sacred act,” he said defiantly. “Don’t rush to conclusions or condemn us, descendants of the victory of Belarusians. We couldn’t have acted differently. We had no other choice. And even if we had one, we would have done the same.”
In Russia, however, where the tally of coronavirus infections on Saturday approached 200,000, and the capital’s climbed past 100,000, they chose to do it differently.
This disaster is as bad for Putin as it is for Trump.
Just like the governors are overriding Trump, the mayor of Moscow is pushing this lockdown hoax and bullying Putin into going along with it.
Russia is more prepared for a collapsed economy than the US, but no one wants to deal with a collapsed economy and Putin is going to face a major backlash, just like Trump is, for not preventing the lockdown.
Both men should have fought this a lot harder.