Putin Straight Talk on COVID-19 and its Economic Fallout
In public remarks, Putin says what he means and means what he says.
His straight talk contrasts markedly with double-talking US politicians — notably Trump, hardliners infesting his regime, and their predecessors.
Nothing they say can be believed. Policies they institute serve privileged interests at the expense of the public welfare, even at times of national distress like now.
In dealing with sharply rising COVID-19 infections, Congress and the White House prioritized bailing out corporate America, crumbs alone for ordinary people.
Patients requiring COVID-19 treatment are on their own. Putin stressed that precautionary measures instituted earlier prevented large-scale infection outbreaks — less than 1,000 in Russia so far.
He sounded overly-optimistic in believing outbreaks can be contained and eliminated in a few months.
Declaring a week-long national holiday from March 28 to April 5, he urged Russians not to think infection can’t happen to them. “It can happen to anyone,” he stressed, adding:
“The most important thing is to stay home.” According to Russian epidemiologist Vasily Vlasov, “(p)eople need to be separated at the very least…for two weeks.”
“And to ensure that this happens, measures need to be put in place that will actually keep them at home.”
There are 14 countries bordering Russia. Putin explained that some of them have growing numbers of COVID-19 infections, adding that’s it’s “impossible to stop (them) from spilling” into Russian territory.
He credibly stressed that the “lives and health of our citizens is our top priority.” He means it.
In the US and other Western countries, only members of their privileged class matter, others exploited to serve them.
An April 22 vote on constitutional amendments was postponed indefinitely.
Proposed changes include transferring presidential powers to lawmakers, creating a new State Council governing body, and removing term limits for presidents, letting incumbents run multiple times if they wish.
The immediate top priority is containing COVID-19 outbreaks, treating the sick, and eliminating the threat to all Russians.
During the national holiday and thereafter as long COVID-19 threatens everyone, essential services will keep functioning, “including medical facilities, pharmacies, stores, institutions responsible for banking and financial settlements, as well as transport, and ministries and agencies at all levels,” Putin explained.
Addressing socioeconomic issues, Putin instituted the following policies.
“(A)ll social protection benefits that our citizens are entitled to should be renewed automatically over the next six months, with no additional certificates or visits to the authorities needed.”
Beginning April 1, Putin proposed “paying all families that are eligible to maternity capital, an additional 5,000 rubles a month for each child…aged 3 to 7.”
Individuals on sick leave or who lost jobs will get government financial aid.
“Sick leave payments should be calculated based on the amount of at least one minimum wage a month. This provision will be in force until the end of the year, and from there we will decide how to proceed depending on the situation.”
Like most other countries, Russia’s economy is greatly impacted by COVID-19.
To aid ordinary Russians in need, monthly unemployment benefits of 8,000 rubles will be increased to “the minimum wage amount or 12,130 rubles per month.”
For individuals unable to service consumer mortgage or other loans because of unemployment or illness, payments will be rescheduled for later when crisis conditions no longer exist.
“It goes without saying that any penalties are out of the question,” said Putin, adding:
“I am asking the Bank of Russia to set up a similar loan rescheduling mechanism for self-employed people.”
“If people are unable to repay their debt for objective reasons, they should not be left without options, and they should not fall hostage to creditors’ claims.”
“Small and medium-sized businesses…need help to stay open, which means retaining their employees.”
“Government assistance will be provided to businesses…to ensure stability in the labor market…”
Taxes on small and medium-sized enterprises will be deferred.
Putin proposed government and central bank actions “to ensure stable lending to the real economy, including through state guarantees and subsidies.”
“Companies experiencing hardship must be protected from bankruptcy” by instituting a six-month moratorium on claims by creditors.
Everything possible must ensure income for Russian citizens, he stressed. Cutting insurance contributions of employers from 30 to 15% will let them apply savings to pay workers.
This policy will stay in effect “for the long run,” an incentive for companies to maintain wages and contain layoffs.
“(A)ll interest and dividend income that flows from Russia and is transferred abroad into offshore jurisdictions must be taxed properly,” Putin stressed, proposing a 15% rate.
Russia currently does not tax interest earned by individuals from bank deposits and investments in securities.
Putin proposed that individuals with one one million rubles in the above categories pay a 13% tax on income it earns, a policy that would apply to around 1% of the population.
Unlike how the Trump regime and Congress are addressing the public health and economic crisis in the US, largely wanting business interests helped, Putin prioritizes helping all Russians, notably the most disadvantaged and small business.
Saying solutions he proposed aren’t simple, he stressed the importance of helping “families with children and…people who are unemployed or on sick leave.”
Like always before, he said what he meant and meant what he said.
At all times, including hard times like now, his US counterparts, notably since the neoliberal 90s, cared and continue caring only about monied interests at the expense of ordinary people Putin prioritizes serving.
My newest book as editor and contributor is titled “Flashpoint in Ukraine: How the US Drive for Hegemony Risks WW III.”