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Putin’s Policy on Coronavirus

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Until now, I had respected the independent IntelliNews site, and also RT, for their reporting on important geostrategic issues, but their reporting on May 12th regarding Russian leader Vladimir Putin’s coronavirus-19 policies made some allegations which falsely suggest a similarity between his policies and the American President’s policies on coronavrus-19. 

The key document is dated May 11th and is titled “Meeting on sanitary and epidemiological situation”. Unfortunately, it was not linked to either in the RT report or in the IntelliNews report.

On May 11th, RT headlined “Paid holidays end May 12, Russia to start gradually easing coronavirus quarantine measures – Putin” and reported that, “‘Starting from tomorrow, May 12, the joint non-working period for the whole country and for all the sectors of its economy ends,’ Putin said during a televised speech on Monday. … The conclusion of the ‘holiday’ period allows Russia’s regional authorities to begin lifting Covid-related restrictions. This process will not be fast, Putin said, and all anti-coronavirus precautionary measures will remain in place. Any mass gatherings will remain banned across the country as well.” Nothing was said in that report regarding whether Putin prioritizes the public’s health or instead the nation’s economy. The general impression was that he is more concerned about protecting the economy.

On May 11th, the IntelliNews site bannered “Putin eases Russia’s coronavirus lockdown restrictions”, and sub-headed “Putin has eased the lockdown restrictions a little, but the change has more to do with restarting Russia’s stalled economy than with the population’s frustration at being kept indoors.” This report noted that “Companies will increasingly have to choose between sacking workers or going bust. The big employers have been the focus of the Kremlin’s economic aid programmes, but the SMEs [Small and Medium-sized Enterprises] have largely fallen through the cracks.” Nothing was cited there to back up that assertion regarding his being more concerned to protect large than small firms.

Here are some highlights of the actual document, starting with its opening:

Vladimir Putin held a meeting, via videoconference, on the sanitary and epidemiological situation and new measures to support the country’s population and the national economy.

May 11, 2020

You are aware of my position, it hasn’t changed. The key priority for us is people’s lives, health and safety.

The period of non-working days announced earlier expires today, May 11. Overall, it lasted for more than six weeks, beginning March 30.

This extraordinary measure enabled us to slow the epidemic, giving us the time we needed to substantially improve readiness of the entire healthcare system in case the epidemiological situation took a turn for the worse.

The number of specialised hospital beds equipped for treating severe cases was increased from 29,000 to 130,000, and we have built up equipment and supplies reserves, including a reserve capacity of ventilators, which has critical importance for us. Thank God, of course, that so far we have had to use only a small fraction of this stand-by capacity.

What matters the most is that every region is ready and has everything it needs to help people that might suffer from severe complications, and offer them specialised medical services, including intensive care. Let me emphasise that almost everyone who needs this care is receiving it.

Another very important thing is that the doctors now know much more about this disease than at the outset of the epidemic. They have gained first-hand experience as well as learned best practices from their foreign colleagues. Newly developed treatment methods rely on effective medicines, and we have been expanding their production.

Foreign experience showed that it was the failure to make the necessary preparations as well as an overwhelmed healthcare system that were the main causes of a high mortality rate, making it impossible to save those who could be saved. Let me reiterate that we are now able to provide this kind of assistance. It would not be an exaggeration to say that measures taken in advance helped us save many thousands of lives. …

Social workers are now carrying an extra workload and higher risks. Therefore, I think we need to introduce extra pay on a national level for the three months between April 15 and July 15. I would like to make it clear that the pay that was already allocated for April will reach people regardless.

Doctors at social institutions will receive an extra 40,000 rubles for a two-week shift. Those who are working directly with coronavirus patients will receive 60,000 rubles.

Social workers, teachers, mid-level medical and administrative staff will receive 25,000 rubles and if they are dealing with infected patients – 35,000 rubles. Junior medical staff will receive 15,000 and 20,000 rubles, respectively. Maintenance staff will receive 10,000 and 15,000 rubles, respectively. …

Of course, like before, all government bodies and municipal authorities will continue working, as well as facilities with a continuous production cycle, medical institutions, pharmacies, financial bodies, grocery stores and stores selling essential products.

Additionally, starting May 12, wherever possible, it is necessary to create conditions for resuming the operations of backbone industries, which include construction, industrial production, agriculture, communications, energy production and extraction of mineral resources.

These industries involve a significant number of workers and working there means the income and wellbeing of their families. It is also important that these operations do not involve direct contact with consumers – so it is possible to resume operation with low risk. Naturally, all sanitary regulations must be complied with. …

First of all, families with children. They always have a lot of things to take care of, but now if a family loses its income it is very difficult. All the more so if one of the parents, or worse, both of them, have lost their jobs. Unfortunately, this is happening in some cases.

As you know additional benefits are being specified for families entitled to maternity capital in the amount of 5,000 rubles a month per child under 3. The family will be getting this monthly amount for three months from April through June.

In addition, families with parents who lost their jobs are entitled to 3,000 rubles a month for each underage child. These benefits will also be paid for three months.

Next. We have made a decision that families with an income per person below the subsistence minimum can apply for benefits for children aged 3 to 7, inclusive, starting June 1 rather than July 1 as originally specified.

I draw you attention to the fact that these benefits are calculated, as I said in the Address, from the beginning of the year. Thus, a family who applies in June will get all the benefit it is entitled to in the first half of the year. On average (let me stress – on average) this can add up to 33,000 rubles per child, and a family like this will be getting regular benefit payments every month. The national average is 5,500 rubles per child per month.

However, I believe that this not really enough these days. Many more families with children need direct support from the state. The favourable macroeconomic conditions we have created in recent years for the progress of the economy, the rehabilitation of the banking and financial system in the country and the reserves we have accumulated allow us to take more decisions on supporting people.

In this connection I suggest, first of all, that the minimum child allowance be increased from 3,375 rubles to 6,751 rubles [per month]. This benefit is to be paid to non-working citizens, including students. As a rule, these are young parents and young mothers. It is important that we support them.

Second, I mentioned additional payments for children under 3 years old in the families that are eligible for maternity capital. But many families are not eligible because their children were born before January 1, 2020 when the new parameters for receiving maternity capital, including for the first child, were approved.

In light of this, I suggest that 5,000-ruble monthly payments be approved for such families. Moreover, they should receive this amount not only in May and June, but also for April, that is, retroactively. In this way, all families in Russia with children under 3 years old will receive 5,000 rubles a month.

And last, one more child support measure: from June 1, families will receive a one-off payment of 10,000 rubles per child aged between 3 and 16 years.

I would like to point out that this is not the time for people to waste a lot of personal time collecting all kinds of certificates and statements. Therefore, we have taken the only fair decision, as I see it, that no formal criteria are adopted for this one-off payment. The only condition is that assistance must be provided to everyone who needs it.

As I said, every family in Russia with children between 3 and 15 years inclusively will be able to submit a request for this one-off assistance starting tomorrow, online via the Gosuslgi [Public Services] Portal or through the Pension Fund, and receive 10,000 rubles per child starting June 1.

Overall, in accordance with the decisions we took today and our previous decisions, assistance will be provided to 27 million Russian children, from babies to schoolchildren. I believe that this is what state priorities should be like, especially now that we must above all take care of our elderly people and support families with children.

Colleagues,

As you know, we hold meetings with the participation of the business community on supporting and developing key economic sectors almost every week. Moving forward, we will definitely keep this process in place for devising targeted solutions and fine-tuning earlier decisions. We will discuss developments in agriculture, textiles, communications and the IT sector.

However today I wanted to draw your attention to one urgent and system-wide problem. According to the latest official figures, the number of unemployed people in Russia has reached 1.4 million, having doubled compared to early April.

This is quite a challenging situation that requires comprehensive efforts to stabilise employment and support those who have lost their jobs. I ask the Government to draft resolutions to this effect. We will discuss them at a separate meeting that will take place before the end of May. …

Consequently, there is no question that measures to support the economy, and primarily those designed to keep companies on a sustainable footing, will have to be carried out. We need to maintain jobs, professional teams, business infrastructure and capacities so as to avoid any further sharp fall in employment, while enabling business owners to restore their teams, expand operations and get the economy back on track.

Let me remind you that we have offered direct government subsidies to small and medium-sized businesses, as well as socially-oriented NGOs in the affected sectors, so that they can pay their employees salaries for April and May. The key requirement for receiving this support is to keep at least 90 percent of their employees on the payroll compared to April 1. This measure could potentially cover 4 million workers.

At the same time businesses need to understand their prospects; they need to see the horizon of the unfolding situation so they can make decisions, as I said, with a planning horizon rather than just for the next month or two.

So, we have a number of other measures.

First. I suggest that a special employment support loan programme be launched effective June 1. All businesses in the affected industries as well as socially-oriented NGOs should be eligible for it. This measure could potentially sustain 7 million jobs.

Loan volumes will be calculated based on a formula of one minimum wage per employee per month for a period of six months. The loan maturity date will be April 1, 2021.

It is crucial that these loans are accessible to businesses while banks should be interested in working with this programme. The final interest rate for the borrower will be a preferential 2 percent rate. Everything above this will be subsidised by the state. The interest will not need to be paid monthly, it will be compounded. In addition, 85 percent of the loan will be guaranteed by the state.

And the key is that if the company keeps 90 or more percent of its current jobs, after the loan matures, it will be completely written off as will the interest on it. These costs will be covered by the state.

If the number of jobs is kept to least at 80 percent, half of the loan and compounded interest will be written off.

Such loan could be used with some flexibly for paying wages and, for example, to refinance earlier no-interest, so-called “wage loan.” As you know, we are already using this employment support tool.

However, even with all the freedom to manoeuvre for businesses and other organisations, I must instruct the Government to ensure control over the basic premise: businesses must spend the funds primarily to pay wages. Any schemes like “paper jobs” or jobs with wages below minimum wage are to be excluded, totally excluded. I ask you to strictly monitor this.

And of course, along with the loan, businesses will have to co-finance wages with their own funds.

What I want to stress here is that we have supported and will continue to support businesses, but those who care about their employees are the priority. Once again, the point of providing government support is to motivate businesses to retain jobs and maintain wages.

Second, affected industries have already been granted tax and social insurance contribution deferrals for six months and will be able to pay it back in instalments over the course of a year – as business representatives asked me to do at one of the meetings. However, to simply postpone tax payments is apparently not enough right now.

Therefore, I propose cancelling these payments for the second quarter of this year, except for VAT. This measure will apply to private entrepreneurs, small and medium-sized businesses in the listed industries and socially-oriented NGOs.

Once again, to be clear, in this case, taxes and social contributions for the second quarter will not just be deferred, they will be cancelled – for April, May and June, the months that businesses find themselves in a difficult situation and are still experiencing hardships. More than 1.5 million companies will be able to benefit from this measure.

Third, last year, in four regions – Moscow, Tatarstan, the Moscow Region and the Kaluga Region – self-employed citizens, including those providing transport services, rental property owners, tutors, babysitters, etc., got an opportunity to do their businesses officially, rather than in a so-called grey area and pay income tax at a reduced rate of 4 or 6 percent. Some 340,000 people used this opportunity last year.

These people trusted the government and believed the guarantees for secure and civilised work. So, I think this aspiration should be supported and even encouraged. I propose tax rebates for taxes paid by the self-employed for the 2019 fiscal year in full.

The fourth proposal is related. Currently, people can register as self-employed in 23 regions. The number of officially registered self-employed workers is now over 650,000. I propose providing all self-employed citizens with a tax credit in the amount of one minimum wage they could use to pay taxes this year, thus retaining their own income.

Fifth, we also need to lower the fiscal burden on the self-employed in the most heavily affected sectors. I suggest that this year they be given a tax deduction in the amount of one minimum wage from their insurance payments, which will come as additional support to them at this difficult time.

And finally, the sixth measure. Government agencies providing microfinancing support for the self-employed, family enterprises and small businesses have been established and are working efficiently in all Russian regions.

I suggest that additional capitalisation be provided to small but efficient regional development institutions without delay and that 12 billion rubles be allocated for this purpose. These funds have been earmarked for the national project on small and medium-sized businesses for the next few years. I believe that this financial resource must be used now, in 2020. …

Clearly, Putin’s approach is socialistic, not at all capitalistic, as Trump’s is in America.

Investigative historian Eric Zuesse is the author, most recently, of They’re Not Even Close: The Democratic vs. Republican Economic Records, 1910-2010

Russia

Russia: Highlights of the XII BRICS Summit

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On November 17, under Russia’s BRICS Chairmanship, Vladimir Putin hosted the 12th BRICS Summit via videoconference. The leaders of Brazil, India, China and South Africa participated to discuss the state and prospects of cooperation within BRICS, discussed the global stability and security, and most importantly exchanged views on joint efforts to halt the spread of coronavirus pandemic.

As the Chair of BRICS 2020, President Vladimir Putin reviewed BRICS activities since Russia took over from Brazil, highlighted achievements and set the challenges for the future of BRICS. During the Russia’s Chairmanship the BRICS, Russia has held 130 events, including some 25 ministerial meetings, many of them online.

Within the context of the current global health situation, Putin pointed to the subject of medical cooperation among BRICS, and reminded the Ufa Declaration which was adopted five years ago included an agreement to work together to prevent the spread of infectious diseases.

Pursuant to that agreement, the BRICS countries created an early warning system for infectious disease outbreaks, which could be used during the COVID-19 pandemic. The BRICS countries promptly responded to the disease outbreak and took practical measures to combat the pandemic.

He said that the Russian Direct Investment Fund (RDIF) has signed agreements with Indian and Brazilian partners on clinical tests of the Sputnik V vaccine and with pharmaceutical companies in China and India on the production of this vaccine not only for own use, but also for third countries. There are Russian vaccines, and they are effective and safe. The next task is to launch large-scale production. It is very important to join forces for the large-scale manufacturing of this product for public use.

Besides this, it important to accelerate the establishment of the BRICS Vaccine Research and Development Centre, as agreed at the Johannesburg summit two years ago at the initiative of South African.

Due to the pandemic, many countries have taken emergency measures to support national industries, finance and the social sphere, to revive their economies and return them to a trajectory of sustainable growth. This is the goal of the Strategy for BRICS Economic Partnership for the period until 2025, prepared for this summit.

The New Development Bank is in great demand in the current situation. The Bank has reserved $10 billion to combat the pandemic, while its overall portfolio of investment projects now exceeds $20 billion. As many as 62 large projects are being implemented in the BRICS countries. Incidentally, a regional branch of the bank will soon open in Moscow to implement lending programs across the Eurasian space. The BRICS countries have a special insurance tool in case of a crisis in the financial markets: the BRICS Contingent Reserve Arrangement, with a $100 billion fund.

The BRICS Interbank Cooperation Mechanism is important in the parties’ cooperation on credit and investment policy. This year, they have agreed on the rules and principles of responsible financing of development institutions within its framework.

The five countries are enhancing cooperation in science, technology, and innovation. Intensive contacts have been underway between our academic and scientific centers. Their coverage is truly impressive – from ocean and polar research to astronomy and artificial intelligence. Experts from the five countries carry out joint energy research: reports have been prepared on the projected development of the fuel and energy sectors in the BRICS countries until 2040.

Putin further highlighted the challenging global and regional security environment. International terrorism and drug trafficking continue to pose serious threats, and cybercrime has greatly expanded its reach.

“We are witnessing dangerous destabilizing trends in the Middle East and North Africa. The armed conflicts in Libya and Yemen are continuing. There is still a lot to be done to bring about a political settlement in Syria, and the risks of escalation persist in Iraq, Lebanon, Afghanistan, and in the Persian Gulf,” he told the gathering.

It is highly satisfying that the BRICS countries have been closely coordinating their efforts on current international and regional matters. A policy document, the BRICS Counter-Terrorism Strategy, drafted for the summit. The BRICS countries are expanding their cooperation on combating drug trafficking and corruption, as well as on international information security.

During the meeting, the leaders of the BRICS member countries heard reports from other speakers who have overseen the work on each track of the association’s activity.

Secretary of the Russian Security Council Nikolai Patrushev spoke about cooperation in the coronavirus pandemic response, in combating terrorism and cybercrime.

President of the New Development Bank Marcos Troyjo cited the financial institution’s performance data and plans for next year.

President of the Russian Chamber of Commerce and Industry Sergei Katyrin spoke about the Business Council events, while Chairman of VEB RF Igor Shuvalov covered the BRICS Interbank Cooperation Mechanism.

The report by Chair of the Board of Directors of Global Rus Trade Anna Nesterova addressed the establishment of the BRICS Women’s Business Alliance.

President of Brazil Jair Bolsonaro, Prime Minister of India Narendra Modi, President of China Xi Jinping and President of South Africa Cyril Ramaphosa, during the meeting, exchanged views on the state and prospects of the five-sided cooperation.

The 12th BRICS Summit Moscow Declaration was adopted which reflects the five countries’ consolidated approach to the further development of the association, as well as the Strategy for the BRICS Economic Partnership until 2025 and the BRICS Anti-Terrorism Strategy.

“India, China, South Africa and Brazil commend Russian BRICS Chairmanship in 2020 and express their gratitude to the government and people of Russia for holding the XII BRICS Summit,” the adopted document says. Besides that, Brazil, Russia, China and South Africa extended full support to India for its BRICS Chairmanship in 2021 and the holding of the 13th BRICS Summit.

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Exchange of Information and Communication Key to Boosting Russian-African Partnership

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Image source: Valdai Discussion Club

On November 5 to 6, Moscow hosted the Second Russia-Africa Public Forum organized jointly by the World Association of Foreign Alumni of Russian Universities and African Business Initiative Union.

It was held within the framework of Russia’s strategy for the development and strengthening of trade, economic, social and cultural relations with the countries of the African continent, as well as building a stronger institutional foundation for Russian-African cooperation.

Since its creation in October 2018, it has become a platform for discussing ways of interaction between Russia and African countries on a wide range of issues, with special attention to the development of socio-cultural, humanitarian, trade and economic cooperation.

This month, prominent political and public officials, representatives of academic circles, the business community, and student and youth organizations were brought to the forum, which organizers believe provides a platform to exchange views on current issues of developing multifaceted relations between Russia and African countries.

Greeting the participants, Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov reiterated that Russian-African cooperation, which is rooted in the period of the joint struggle against colonialism, is based on the principles of equality and mutual respect.

“Russia’s relations with African countries have always been friendly and multifaceted. However, it is necessary to adjust them to modern realities. We proceed from the assumption that the impetus of the Russia-Africa Summit held in Sochi in October 2019 can help us take our interaction to a fundamentally new level,” he stressed with optimism.

Lavrov said: “I believe that our public and the academic community can do a great deal to help choose methods of boosting Russian-African partnership. There is no doubt that the forum will provide a useful platform for developing innovative ideas and proposals in this sphere, and that it will help the Russian public learn more and understand better the needs of Africa, which is a geographically remote but spiritually close continent.”

The two-day forum focused on the modernization of education in the context of globalization and the scientific and technological revolutions.

It reviewed the strategy of economic cooperation in modern conditions, the development and implementation of new effective institutions and mechanisms of interaction.

It discussed, at length, the problems of international cultural cooperation in the context of modern threats and challenges.

It looked at the ever-growing role of public organizations in various aspects of society’s life and the interaction in the field of healthcare as one of the most pressing issues of the Russian-African dialogue. There were plenary sessions.

Plenary Session 1: Russia – Africa: Dialogue of Civil Societies as the Main Driver of the Future World Order and Sustainable Development.

Plenary session 2: Youth of Russia and Africa: a path towards rapprochement

Plenary session 3: Graduates of Russia as a unique human capital. Export of Russian education to Africa. Personnel training: what kind of specialists does the African continent need today?

Panel session 4: Business and Civil Society Institutions. Innovative technologies of Russian companies for the benefit of sustainable development of the African continent.

Panel session 5: Africa: pressing health issues. Public health and welfare. Pandemic shock.

Speakers and participants have, however, acknowledged the significance of the public forum and stressed that it would be impossible to elevate the entire range of relations between Russia and African countries to an entirely new level unless the public at large takes the most energetic part in these efforts.

It is hard to overestimate the role of this in strengthening friendship, trust and mutual understanding between the two parties without adequate and consistent exchange of information. It is necessary to maximize the potential of public, cultural and business diplomacy using the basic instrument of the media, according to the Chairman of the Board of the Valdai International Discussion Club’s Development and Support Foundation Andrei Bystritsky, speaking at the plenary meeting of the Second Russia-Africa Public Forum.

“On the one hand, the Russian public knows little about Africa. And I guess people in Africa know little about Russia,” he noted, and explained that Russia and Africa need to communicate more. Creating necessary conditions for conversation is important, as communication is the foundation of development, and will help strengthen the mutually beneficial ties between Russia and Africa.

As already known, Africa is an important partner for Russia. This fact was highly re-echoed throughout the forum. Speakers and participants explicitly expressed the need to strengthen relations in various fields. Further, most of the issues and diverse opinions expressed there have to improve the current level of relationship. Russia and Africa have to make that mutual desire, in practical terms, to step up cooperation in all areas including social spheres.

In this connection, it requires complete understanding, support for new initiatives and, commitment to expand friendly relations with Africa. These efforts directed not only at consolidating cooperation with the African countries but also at resolving key African problems such as overcoming social inequality and the involvement of young Africans in sustainable economic development.

Despite the challenges, Moscow plans to boost its presence on the continent in the coming years and, as outlined in the Russia-Africa Summit declaration, both Russia and Africa have to begin pursuing targeted goals, continue encouraging exchanges between Russia and African countries.

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Russia Readies to Host XII BRICS Summit

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Under Russia’s BRICS Chairmanship 2020, President Vladimir Putin will host Heads of State of Brazil, China, India and South Africa via videoconference on 17 November. Initially planned to take place in St. Petersburg in July, it was cancelled due to current coronavirus pandemic.

The leaders will discuss the strengthening and further development of cooperation within the framework of BRICS, including in the context of the global political and socioeconomic consequences of the COVID-19 pandemic.

In addition, the leaders will focus on significant and complicated issues or questions relating to geopolitical to socioeconomic spheres, transformations on the global landscapes in the 21st century. The meeting will adopt a working document that will further reinforce the position and development of the group.

As stipulated by the guidelines, Russia took over the rotating presidency of the BRICS from Brazil. Since its establishment, BRICS has come a long way from an informal venue for exchanging views on current issues on the international agenda to an absolutely mature and stable network of multilateral interaction on diverse issues on international and domestic agenda of the five BRICS countries.

Now BRICS has a multilateral structure, and become an association pushing for fair, democratic and multipolar world order. Russia has agreed to strengthen and promote strategic partnership in all key areas of BRICS activities, such as politics and security, the economy and finance, educational and cultural ties.

The theme of the Meeting of the Leaders of BRICS is “BRICS Partnership for Global Stability, Shared Security and Innovative Growth.” They will discuss the enhancement of their countries’ trade and economic collaboration and coordination at international stage or platforms.

It plans to end its chairmanship with a strong set of new agreements, including the already agreed upon BRICS Anti-Terrorism Strategy and the updated Strategy for Economic Partnership to 2025. This document defines guidelines and priorities of cooperation and gives a new impetus to development of trade and investment cooperation among the five countries.

It further provides a number of initiatives to strengthen sector-specific cooperation among the members. The people-to-people and cultural ties, as well as contacts between experts and civil society representatives are already expanding.

Despite the current global situation due to the spread of the coronavirus infection, the activities under the Russian BRICS Chairmanship in 2020 have been carried out in a consistent manner. Since January 2020, a number of events have already been organized, including via videoconferencing.

Russia’s Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov has reiterated that deepening the strategic partnership in BRICS is one of Russia’s foreign policy priorities.

Over the past decade, the group has proved to be a relevant and well-respected format of cooperation. The BRICS countries maintain solidarity in strengthening collective principles in global affairs; they advocate respect for the sovereignty and sovereign equality of all states, and are deeply convinced that any conflicts should be resolved by peaceful means only.

The group collectively defends the principles of a more just world order based on respect for the norms and principles of international law and the United Nations Charter.

According to procedure, each BRICS member takes over the chairmanship for a year. Russia last chaired BRICS in 2015, held a summit in the provincial city of Ufa. Russia also presided over the group back in 2009, before BRIC turned into BRICS following South Africa’s accession. The five BRICS countries together represent over 3.1 billion people, or about 40 percent of the world population.

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