This is a republication of a post authored by Andrew Korybko, which was first published in OneWorld. It has been adapted with full permissions obtained from the author.
The purpose of this analysis is to explain why the Russian leader embraces the conventional COVID-19 narrative despite emerging evidence that casts doubt upon some of the claims about the virus’ lethality and associated containment strategies.
Self-interested influencers in the Alt-Media Community (AMC) misportrayed President Putin’s response to COVID-19 to spin the falsehood that he’s supposedly against the conventional narrative. This complemented their prior efforts to construct similarly false narratives about his policies towards “Israel”. The common thread between these two fake news campaigns, among the other less notable ones that have been waged over the years, is to make it seem like the Russian leader automatically supports the exact opposite of whatever the US does out of principle when it comes to some of the world’s most sensitive issues. That’s not true, and many in the AMC are increasingly becoming aware of this political reality, which has left them very confused.
The purpose of this analysis is to explain why the Russian leader embraces the conventional COVID-19 narrative despite emerging evidence that casts doubt upon some of the claims about the virus’ lethality and associated containment strategies. It intends to inform those interested members of the AMC about what might possibly be President Putin’s grand strategic end game. Everyone ultimately has the right to make up their own minds about everything, including their position towards his policies in this respect, but they should hopefully refer to a variety of sources before doing so. This analysis is meant to present an alternative interpretation of his motivations that challenges the populist hypothesis that he’s “in on it” (whatever one regards “it” as meaning).
There shouldn’t be any doubt that Russia’s scientists are among the best in the world. They presumably have access to the emerging evidence casting doubt on the conventional COVID-19 narrative, which President Putin is probably also aware of. Nevertheless, Russia has formulated its policies according to the conventional interpretation of events that are in alignment with the World Health Organization’s (WHO) recommendations. From this, it can be concluded that the Russian leader is supporting this UN body’s position out of principle, which aligns with his consistent support of that global organization in general. Contrary to the false narrative prevalent in the AMC, he isn’t against “globalism” per se, just the unilateral variant promoted by the US.
Russia and the UN
To explain, the international legal principles enshrined in the UN Charter are “globalist” in form and substance. Russia’s predecessor state of the Soviet Union supported the creation of this successor to the League of Nations and sincerely worked towards ensuring full international compliance with all of its clauses. Modern-day Russia continues this diplomatic tradition and is adamantly against anything that infringes on the UN’s competencies, though it’s also pragmatically expressed support for the organization’s reform in some capacities. To flagrantly go against the WHO despite emerging evidence casting doubt on some of its COVID-19 claims would set an example that’s counter to Russia’s grand strategic interests of reaffirming the UN’s authority in the world.
That said, President Putin is also pragmatic enough that he wouldn’t blindly support the UN if he truly felt that something that it was doing was disadvantageous for Russia’s interests. For better or for worse, for right or for wrong, and regardless of one’s personal opinion towards all of this, nobody should assume that he has any serious fears that his embrace of the conventional COVID-19 narrative would endanger his country. While credible health controversies plague some Western vaccines, Russia’s Sputnik V has thus far avoided them, though it’s still being targeted by political campaigns meant to manipulate the global masses’ perception about its safety.
One of the most controversial aspects of his country’s efforts to contain COVID-19 is its policy of vaccination that’s been critically described by some as “coercive”, which results in it being de facto “mandatory” for many people. Since Sputnik V is regarded as a very safe form of inoculation, though, there shouldn’t be many concerns about its long-term health effects. Moreover, President Putin has publicly praised this vaccine as well as his country’s several other ones for their high level of safety. Whether “voluntary”, “coercive”, or “mandatory”, the country’s vaccination policy wouldn’t be implemented if he seriously thought that it would endanger his people’s lives. It should thus be assumed that President Putin believes that it’ll truly save lives.
This segues into some observations about the other primary aspect of his government’s efforts to contain COVID-19, namely its lockdown policy. Evidence has also emerged that this might not be the most effective policy either, even though it’s still being practiced in the country. Although its effectiveness can be improved, the state has implemented social safety nets to support those who are temporarily unable to work because of lockdown as well as the businesses most directly affected by it. It’s therefore unrealistic to assume that he’s trying to crash his country’s economy like some fear that other world leaders are trying to do to theirs for ulterior reasons connected to the plans for a so-called “Great Reset”/”Fourth Industrial Revolution” (GR/4IR).
Great Reset and the Fourth Industrial Revolution
About that, President Putin certainly seems to be in favor of such a vision as evidenced by his revelation in early January during his virtual participation in the World Economic Forum (WEF) that he’s been regularly attending its events since 1992, during which time he befriended WEF founder Klaus Schwab who authored a book about these concepts. Furthermore, the Russian government signed a memorandum with the WEF just last month to set up a “Centre for the Fourth Industrial Revolution” on its territory. State champion Sber, formerly called Sberbank prior to its rebranding, is expected to take the lead in implementing this profound socio-economic transition inside the country. All of this is in spite of publicly financed RT being editorially hostile to that trend.
The GR/4IR that’s considered to be closely connected with many of the policies promulgated across the world in response to COVID-19 is worthy of criticism, especially when it comes to the destabilizing way in which it’s seemingly being promoted across many Western countries, yet President Putin’s vision is one in which Russia flexibly adapts what he appears to believe is this inevitable transition in such a way that it retains and possibly even expands as much of its sovereignty as possible. He suggested as much anyhow during his earlier mentioned speech at the WEF in January. This grand strategic plan is also consistent with his country’s strictly non-ideological foreign policy that Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov recently reaffirmed.
One of the most common criticisms of the GR/4IR is that it’ll institutionalize and expand what has been described as oligarchic practices, especially those associated with Big Tech. Many in the AMC wrongly assumed that Russia eliminated such influences over its economy during President Putin’s early years in office. What actually happened was that he enforced the law against criminal oligarchs, including those whose actions were considered by some to pose latent national security threats. All other law-abiding oligarchs were allowed to retain their wealth and many subsequently expanded it so long as they didn’t perform any criminal acts or endanger national security.
Nevertheless, President Putin made enormous strides towards reducing his country’s Yeltsin-era dependence on such economic actors. He also worked very hard to reduce poverty and invest more of the nation’s wealth into society, including through large-scale infrastructure projects. His high-profile National Development Projects (NDP) from a few years ago that were regrettably delayed by COVID-19 are proof of his commitment to sustainably reform the real sector of the Russian economy. It also deserves mentioning that Russia has recently become an agricultural superpower through its masterful response to relevant Western sanctions. These developments should reduce suspicion of his grand strategic intentions for Russia.
Returning back to the GR/4IR’s feared connection to oligarchic practices, it might ultimately be inevitable that this economic model will remain prominent across the global economy under those changed circumstances due to the influence that such large-scale and powerful economic actors have, especially in the tech sphere. Be that as it may, this would mean that their continued influence in Russia could potentially become a national asset which might give it a competitive edge in the coming future. Of course, it must be prefaced that President Putin wouldn’t support these actors behaving in a “stereotypical” way. Rather, he’d support their leading role in pioneering the GR/4IR inside of Russia, albeit likely with some additional reforms being made first.
The political vision of what can be described as “populist statism” that he outlined during his speech at the Valdai Club’s 2020 annual meeting in October of that year could lay the basis for how this might look in practice. This refers to the Russian state (and by extension, its economic organs such as those state-run ones that have been described as oligarchies by some) retaining its traditionally top role in society though with a newfound focus on proactively responding to the people’s economic and other needs. This new “social compact” would prospectively be advanced with their genuine support, which President Putin sincerely enjoys among his people.
On the managerial front, the Russian leader introduced the concept of “healthy/moderate/reasonable conservatism” during his speech at last month’s annual event at that top think tank. It’s not a new ideology like some have claimed (and others wishfully hoped), but simply a way to manage the GR/4IR during its ongoing transitional phase that’s characterized by heightened uncertainty across the world. There are specific aspects relating to socio-cultural policies such as President Putin’s castigation of Western “wokeness”, but that’s less so an ideological approach than a managerial one that’s in line with cautious, well-thought-out policies. This conservative managerial style will ensure that “populist statism” is effectively implemented during the GR/4IR.
It’s important at this point to rewind back to the connection that all of this has with President Putin’s embrace of the conventional COVID-19 narrative. As was earlier written, he seems to believe that the GR/4IR and its related socio-economic policies are advancing (as is inevitable), which is why he appears to envision Russia taking the lead in this transition. His country’s Sputnik V and other vaccines are safe and effective, which means that their feared long-term health impact cannot be compared to their Western competitors’, thus reducing some of the controversy associated with the government’s “coercive” vaccination policy. President Putin wouldn’t “poison his own people” so it should be assumed that he sincerely believes that mass inoculation is for their own good.
As for lockdowns, he might have previously believed that they’d help “stop the spread” and perhaps still sincerely thinks the same nowadays despite emerging evidence which challenges that assumption, but their structural impact has been to accelerate some of the socio-economic and technological processes associated with the GR/4IR’s implementation in Russia. These relate to more proactive state support for its citizens and businesses (of course short of the “universal basic income” associated with these concepts), experiments with QR codes, and the increasing digitalization of the economy. All told, President Putin’s embrace of the conventional COVID-19 narrative and promulgation of related policies have served to advance the GR/4IR.
Once again, regardless of one’s personal views towards the profound changes connected with those concepts, the objective conclusion is that President Putin supports these transitions (perhaps after being convinced by a combination of his own independent assessment of global trends as well as the influence of his close friend Klaus Schwab). Unlike his Western counterparts, he’s not expected to blindly follow the WEF but intends to flexibly adapt to these changes in such a way that Russia will try to retain and even possibly comprehensively expand its sovereignty in these newfound conditions. While strictly adhering to a non-ideological and UN-centric foreign policy, domestic affairs will be managed in a “conservative” and “populist statist” way.
All of the arguments in this analysis contradict the false claims being spread about President Putin across the AMC. Just because the US also adheres to the conventional COVID-19 narrative and supports the GR/4IR (albeit under the slogan of “Build Back Better”) doesn’t mean that Russia is automatically anathema to them. President Putin is pragmatic and patriotic enough of a leader to always put his country’s long-term strategic interests first as he sincerely understands them to be irrespective of whether his country’s most passionate supporters feel differently about his assessment of certain issues and situations.
For better or for worse, for right or for wrong, Russia is championing the conventional COVID-19 narrative and the GR/4IR.