Russia appears to be slightly behind the rest of the world in terms of the impact of the global COVID-19 pandemic, both in terms of the number of confirmed coronavirus cases and in terms of imposing lockdown measures. Many public events have been postponed and the authorities have advised people arriving from abroad to self-isolate. No stricter instructions have yet been announced, however.
According to the most recent data, Russia has recorded three deaths from the virus so far and the total number of cases across its whole territory stands at 1036, which may seem quite low, although the daily rate of cases in the country tripled on Wednesday.
Under these circumstances, President Putin addressed the nation on the subject and announced a number of measures to try and stop the spread of the virus.
The whole of next week will now be a nationwide holiday, with all salaries being paid as normal. In addition, entitlement to all social benefits will be extended for six months and certain categories of citizens (such as families with small children, those made redundant, unemployed and people on sick leave) will be entitled to extended welfare support. Although the amounts announced are not substantial, this is still an unprecedented move for the Russian state. A tax holiday for small businesses, a moratorium on some bankruptcies and temporary mortgage relief have also been announced.
At the same time, those with substantial personal wealth will pay additional taxes including increased tax on dividends being transferred abroad and the introduction of a new tax on interest on bank deposits exceeding 1 million roubles.
Most notably, a nationwide vote on the amendments to the current constitution that had been scheduled for 22 April has now been postponed indefinitely.
The changes to Russia’s constitution are designed to bring about numerous changes, including allowing the President the opportunity of being re-elected (having served four presidential terms in total, all of which will be ‘nullified’ under the new constitution, with the term count effectively reset). This would allow President Putin to stay in power until 2036.
The draft constitution has been approved by the Russian parliament and the Constitutional Court over the past few weeks, and the popular vote on it was, until recently, supposed to go ahead very swiftly. The legitimacy of the referendum itself has been widely questioned, however, as controversy surrounds whether current law allows such a procedure and in light of the fact that these constitutional amendments have in effect already been passed by parliament.
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