Russia on the Ground – May 2020

Prime Minister Mikhail Mishustin with Russian President Vladimir Putin. Mishustin recovered from COVID-19 and returned to work this month.

This resource serves to track domestic news inside Russia – focusing primarily on demographics, public opinion, economy, and major domestic political events inside Russia.

It is intended to give students who are otherwise following major issues and events within Russia greater context from which to view those issues and events. This resource lists useful but often under-reported information that can help build a pragmatic and objective view of Russia’s domestic situation.


COVID-19 in Russia

– Polls

Russian President Vladimir Putin approval rating falls to a two-decade low, but support for extending his rule is up
Russian President Vladimir Putin’s approval rating has slipped to its lowest level in more than two decades, of 59% in April from 63% in March, according to independent pollster the Levada Center, its lowest since September 1999, when Putin had just been made prime minister, but support for a constitutional change to extend his rule has risen.

Russia’s Not so Radical Youth
Sociological surveys don’t provide much ammunition to support the idea of Russian youth as revolutionaries in waiting – in fact, it’s quite the opposite.

Many Russians Expect to Lose Jobs, Take Pay Cuts in Wake of Pandemic
Almost half of Russians expect layoffs within their household in the coming months and almost one-third have already had someone in their household recently fired, according to a poll conducted April 26-28 by Russia’s most respected independent polling organization, the Levada Center.

Russians’ Confidence in Government Down, Self-Reliance Up During Virus Outbreak
Some 61% of Russians surveyed by the Moscow-based Online Market Intelligence (OMI) researcher and the Platforma social forecasting center said they felt less confident that the government would come to their aid during the pandemic, RBC reported. Only 10% said they had more confidence that it would help them.

A third of Russians believe that the danger of the coronavirus epidemic is exaggerated or a fiction
A third of Russians (32.8%) believe that the danger of the coronavirus (COVID-19) epidemic is exaggerated, or they consider it to be an invention of interested parties, according to a study conducted by the Higher School of Economics (HSE).


Demographics & Civil Society

World confronts pandemic shortages. Russians have been here before
The coronavirus epidemic has raised worries about job security, food supplies, and social stability in many countries. Not long ago, Russia experienced such a trial.

Central Asian Labor Migrants Amid Lockdown in Russia
As the world is now discussing the possible impact of the novel Coronavirus crisis on economies, societies, and lifestyles of people in a post-pandemic world, many Central Asian labor migrants in Russia are trying to figure out if they can make it through the lockdown.

Kremlin Expands Online Voting Possibilities Amid COVID-19 Fears
In Russia, socially distanced voting has just become a lot easier.

Intrusive Tracking App Wrongly Fines Muscovites
Many fined despite staying home.

Charitable donations increase 89% during quarantine period as Russians seek to help out the vulnerable
Russians have become far more charitable during self-isolation. That’s according to data compiled by newspaper Kommersant, which discovered that non-profit organizations recorded a notable increase in donations during quarantine.


     – Federal Health Response

WHO Sees Russia Pandemic Stabilizing as Total Cases Hit 200,000
The World Health Organization offered a glimmer of hope to Russia’s escalating efforts to combat the coronavirus pandemic by saying the spread of the deadly pathogen in the country may be reaching its peak.

‘3 stages for easing coronavirus lockdown’ revealed in latest Putin video address
Russian President Vladimir Putin has held another live broadcast with his ministers to discuss strategies for Russia’s gradual return to regular-functioning economic and public life.

Putin Warns of Second Coronavirus Wave for Russia This Fall
President Vladimir Putin warned Friday that a second wave of the coronavirus epidemic could hit Russia this fall as he noted that the country’s current outbreak is stabilizing.

WHO says no evidence of Russia’s underreporting COVID-19 mortality
The World Health Organization (WHO) sees no evidence that Russia underreports deliberately coronavirus mortality rates, WHO’s Representative to Russia Melita Vujnovic said on May 12.

Readiness as the new reality: How COVID-19 made Russia’s healthcare system shift gears
What helped Russia’s healthcare system endure the novel coronavirus crisis and what’s in store next? The “Future Russia. National Projects” portal operated by TASS provides a perspective.

Russian regulators say planes should be no more than half-full
As the aviation industry hobbles back to work, Russia’s Federal Service for Consumer Rights Protection and Human Welfare is encouraging airlines to sell no more than 50 percent of the available seats on planes, in order to observe social distancing guidelines.

Russia suspends use of ventilator type sent to US after fatal fires
On May 13, Russia suspended the use of some Russian-made medical ventilators after two fatal hospital fires reported to involve the machines, a setback in its fight against the novel coronavirus.

Russia’s coronavirus spread continues to slow, recoveries near 100,000
On the morning of May 21, Russian officials announced that the country recorded 8,849 new coronavirus infections in the past day (85 more new cases than the day before) bringing the nation’s total number of confirmed COVID-19 cases to 317,554 patients.


     – Economic Effects

Russia’s GDP shrinks by 20% in April, but government maintains a triple surplus
Russia’s economy shrank by a fifth in size in real terms in April, according to preliminary data released by the Ministry of Finance, but at the same time the government has managed to maintain a triple surplus in its external account.

Russia’s Economic Woes Continue to Mount During Coronavirus Outbreak
As the Kremlin resists pressure to spend, official statistics show economic activity down by a third and tax revenues crashing.

Russian Ruble Hits 10-Week High on Investor Optimism
The Finance Ministry sold a record volume of government bonds on May 20, and the government is reportedly mulling increasing foreign currency sales.

Russian retail in the time of corona
The coronavirus (COVID-19) is going to do serious economic damage to Russia’s economy, and with most of the population locked down for at least a month, and maybe more, the retail sector is in the front line.

Russian unemployment could top 10% if lockdown lasts more than a month
The number of unemployed people in Russia may grow to 5-7mn people in 2020 due to the stop-shock caused by the coronavirus (COVID-19) lockdown, Alexander Safonov, Vice-Rector of the Financial University under the Government of the Russian Federation, said in an interview with the state-run Rossiyskaya Gazeta newspaper on May 5.

Rencap marks Russia up to Buy
The thing with equity market crashes is they are always followed by equity market recoveries.

Russia in the Year of Corona. What to Expect of the Economy
In a global comparison, Russia’s corona epidemic response has been very strong.

Russian OFZs are an Emerging Markets investor’s safe haven
Russia has emerged as a safe haven for investors during the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic that has rocked capital markets around the world, according to a paper from the Institute of International Finance (IIF).

Russia’s finance ministry places $2.4bn of OFZ bonds, 2020 sales tip over $14bn
The share of foreigners invested into the Russian OFZ bond market has stabilised at 31% after a brief sell-off in March, providing a useful source of funds for the Ministry of Finance this year.

Russia’s IT segment looks at losses in Q2
Hit by the coronavirus (COVID-19) crisis and lockdown measures aimed at curbing the pandemic, the Russian IT segment expects losses in the April-June period, unless support measures are offered by the government.

Russian retailer X5 storms e-groceries amid COVID-19
Russia’s largest retailer X5 Group saw its online sales jump almost 5-fold year-on-year in April 2020 to RUB1.7bn ($23mn), which VTB Capital (VTBC) on May 8 estimated to be the largest share of e-groceries in Russia. In 2019 overall, the e-grocery segment amounted to RUB45bn.

Prosperity Capital CEO forecasts Russian oil majors will survive as rivals go bust
Mattias Westman, chief executive of Prosperity Capital Management, predicts Russian oil will survive an impending bloodbath which may eliminate multinationals such as BP and Exxon Mobil.

Russia’s economic activity reaches 79% of pre-crisis figure, minister says
Economic activity in Russia reached 79% of the pre-crisis figure, Minister of Economic Development Maxim Reshetnikov said on Wednesday, May 27.


     – Federal Response (General)

Russia’s Crisis Policy
On myths and reality of Russia’s COVID response.

Putin Orders June 24 Victory Day Parade as Russia Flattens Virus Curve
President Vladimir Putin has ordered the Russian military to hold its landmark parade marking the 75th anniversary of the Soviet victory in World War II next month as the country appeared to have stabilized its coronavirus outbreak.

The curious case of FX interventions
The Central Bank of Russia (CBR) will make FX sales of more than $2.6bn in May, lowering the risks of a weaker ruble.

Russia’s RDIF sovereign wealth fund ready to start mass production of anti-COVID-19 drug
The Russian Direct Investment Fund (RDIF), Russia’s sovereign wealth fund, is ready to start the mass production of a drug it claims is effective in the treatment of the coronavirus (COVID-19) together with Russian pharmaceutical company ChemRar Group, the fund said on May 13.

Putin’s pandemic economic rescue package
The new measures to support the population and business amid the pandemic, announced by President Vladimir Putin on May 11, will cost the state about 800 bln rubles ($10.87 bln), two federal officials told Vedomosti, a major Russian-language newspaper.

Russia’s handling of the Covid19 pandemic: a busy week
An indepedent political analyst on the COVID-related measures taken in Russia in mid-May.

More than 1.9 million Russians are officially unemployed — here’s how the government plans to help them
President Vladimir Putin has announced new support measures for Russians who lost their jobs during the economic crisis brought on by the coronavirus pandemic.

Putin signs bill exempting repayment holidays gains of income tax into law
Russian President Vladimir Putin on May 21 signed a bill on exemption of financial benefits individuals and self-employed entrepreneurs got as a result of the repayment holidays, during which they did not pay interest, of the income tax, into law.


     – Federal Response (Industries and Business)

Putin To Bail Out Russian Oil Industry
Russia’s President Vladimir Putin has tasked the government with implementing a set of measures aimed at supporting the oil industry for the duration of the OPEC+ production cut agreement.

Russia Wants to Spark a Domestic Tourism Boom. Will It Work?
The government is telling Russians to explore their homeland, and borders remain shut.

During the pandemic, Russia and the U.S. have these 3 things in common
Russia’s approach shares much in common with the United States.

‘Better and safer’: As Russia prepares to open up, prime minister urges citizens to holiday at home
Russian Prime Minister Mikhail Mishustin has advised citizens not to rush abroad this summer, stressing that the risk of Covid-19 being imported into the country should be minimized.

     – Moscow

Russia’s Bolshoi Has ‘Optimistic’ Plans For Return Of Ballet After Coronavirus Closure
Coronavirus has been the latest chapter in the Bolshoi’s eventful history. Now the legendary home of Russian ballet and opera is making plans to stage performances in the fall—the situation with the pandemic permitting.

Normal life in Moscow will resume ONLY after 60% of residents have Covid-19 immunity
Speaking to government newspaper Rossiyskaya Gazeta, Alexey Mazus, chief freelance specialist for HIV diagnosis and treatment at Moscow’s Health Department, explained how the city’s coronavirus strategy was being dictated solely by science.

Russian prime minister resumes duties after recovering from coronavirus
Russian Prime Minister Mikhail Mishustin, who had been admitted to hospital with COVID-19, has resumed his duties, according to Russian President Vladimir Putin’s decree published on the Kremlin website on May 19.

Moscow wounded by the coronavirus epidemic, but best prepared to weather the storm
Moscow makes up a fifth of Russia’s economy and is home to almost one in ten citizens. It is the epicentre of the coronavirus epidemic, but thanks to its size and wealth it is best equipped to weather the crisis.

    – Other Cities and Regions

Chechen strongman Kadyrov admitted to hospital with coronavirus
The leader of Chechnya and one of the most controversial figures in Russian politics, Ramzan Kadyrov, has reportedly been admitted to “one of the best hospitals in Moscow” after he was believed to be infected with the coronavirus, it was reported on May 21.

COVID-19 Status Update from Luga, Russia
On COVID in a small Russian town and watching COVID as an American abroad.

Russian regions lift quarantines
Tass offers press-review on the recent situation with COVID-19 in Russia.



New year-round port to link Russian Arctic sea route with Asia in 2025
About $5 million has been invested in the construction of a deepwater year-round port near Indiga, a settlement on Russia’s Barents Sea coast, according to the Arkhangelsk Region’s Acting Governor Alexander Tsybulsky.

Tanker crosses Russian Arctic route without icebreaker assistance
Commercial shipping on the Northern Sea Route starts earlier than ever before. By late May, a carrier had set out on the icy route without icebreaker escort.


Policy and Conflict Post SovietEconomy – Other News

Russia maintains budget surplus, external position in April 2020
In April, Russia maintained double surpluses in its external accounts with a trade surplus of $3.5bn ($35.6bn in 4M20) and a current account surplus of $1.8bn $23.5bn 4M20).



Suing Russia’s president
An ‘ultra-Putinist’ ex-governor has made history with a lawsuit challenging his dismissal. Here’s his story.


Demographics – Other

Russian population is moving west
Three decades after the fall of the Soviet Union Russia’s population starting to undo the legacy of central planning and moving west.

Russia finally passed legislation to improve living conditions in psychiatric care homes, but this breakthrough is still sorely lacking
On April 24, Russia’s Labor Ministry published amendments to the rules governing work in the country’s psychiatric care homes. These changes could seriously improve the lives of all Russian citizens with mental disabilities, including those living outside of these types of facilities.

About the Author

Alex Sitnikov

Alex holds a BA in Teaching Russian as a Foreign Language (RFL) and is currently on his way to get an MA in Translation. He came to Moscow from Tolyatti to study at Lomonosov Moscow State University in 2013 and has been in love with the city ever since. In March 2018 Alex joined SRAS to help coordinate student activities in Moscow. When he’s not occupied with that, Alex likes to play guitar and read.