Home / World / The Russians were urged to return to normal life. Except Putin.

The Russians were urged to return to normal life. Except Putin.

MOSCOW – Officials from a secret Russian security force seemed to know exactly what they wanted when they contacted Olga Izranova’s company last spring.

They wanted mobile tunnels that flood people with clouds of disinfectant.

“They said it had to be done very quickly,” recalls Ms. Izranova.

He admits that the tunnels have limited effectiveness in the coronavirus pandemic, but for his most important client, every bit counts. The Federal Protection Service, Russia’s response to intelligence, has helped build a virus-free bubble around President Vladimir V. Putin that far exceeds the protective measures taken by many of his foreign counterparts.

Russian journalists covering Putin have not seen him closely since March. The few people who meet him face-to-face typically spend two weeks in quarantine first. The president still conducts his meetings with senior officials – including his cabinet and Security Council – via video link from a spartan room at his residence outside Moscow, which has been outfitted with Ms. Izranova’s disinfectant tunnel.

“We took walks, got bored, sat and breathed the air,” said Lev Litvinov, a 100-year veteran.

The logistics proved so tiring that Mr. Litvinov didn’t actually make it to the parade. He said that after spending two weeks in quarantine, he fell ill during the tortuous drive across the countryside to Red Square, 80 kilometers away. Instead, he was taken to a health center, where he spent another week.

“More importantly, it’s about their health, the health of the veterans”, Dmitri S. Peskov, Putin’s spokesperson, he said in June of the decision to quarantine attendees.

Putin’s diligence in protecting himself is surprising because in recent months, communicating with the Russian public, his government has widely declared that the virus has been defeated.

“I would like to congratulate you on our latest joint victory,” Moscow Mayor Sergey S. Sobyanin wrote to Muscovites in June, announcing the end of the city blockade. Indoor dining in bars and restaurants resumed only two weeks later.

Critics said Russia was quick to end coronavirus restrictions to lift people’s spirits ahead of the July 1 referendum on constitutional amendments that opened the door for President Putin to stay until 2036. When the Mr Putin announced in August that Russia had registered the world’s first coronavirus vaccine, it looked like the country was giving one final, crushing blow to the pandemic.

“These joint efforts and targeted and, as it turned out, very effective solutions have helped us overcome the peak of the epidemic and create the conditions for further work,” Putin later said in an interview on state television.

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