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Russian military vehicles in Mariupol

‘Nothing significant has changed!’ The Kremlin wants propagandists to liken martial law to Moscow’s pandemic response. But Russia had one of the world’s highest COVID mortality rates.

Source: Meduza
Russian military vehicles in Mariupol
Russian military vehicles in Mariupol
Valery Sharifulin / TASS

On October 19, Vladimir Putin signed a decree officially imposing martial law in the four Ukrainian territories that Russia annexed in late September. In Russia proper, the president imposed measures that amount to a kind of martial law lite. You can read more about the new restrictions here.

Immediately after Putin’s martial law announcement, the Kremlin sent out a guide for covering the new measures to the country’s pro-government and state-owned media outlets. Meduza has obtained a copy.

The document begins with one key instruction: “It’s vital to reassure the audience: nothing significant has changed!”

As proof of this claim, propagandists are told to remind audiences that martial law has technically only been declared “in four territories” (referring to the annexed Ukrainians regions) — and that in all four of them, martial law was either imposed “before incorporation into Russia” (as Putin claimed in his speech) or was de facto in effect already.

As for the restrictions in Russia’s “other regions,” the guide recommends characterizing them as a way to “protect critically important infrastructure.”

martial law

Forced labor, property seizures, and travel restrictions What Putin's martial law decrees really mean — and how they violate existing legislation

martial law

Forced labor, property seizures, and travel restrictions What Putin's martial law decrees really mean — and how they violate existing legislation

Overall, the Putin administration “recommends” that pro-Kremlin media draw parallels between the imposition of martial law and Russia’s experience fighting COVID-19. In both cases, they say, Russia’s governors were granted additional powers, and in both cases, Prime Minister Mikhail Mishustin and Moscow Mayor Sergey Sobyanin were in charge of coordination at the federal level.

The spin guide also recommends stressing the fact that officials will now be involved in “industrial mobilization, orienting the economy to work on military tasks and measures to support mobilized soldiers and their families.” Elsewhere in the document, the authors note that this economic mobilization will be accompanied by the “cutting of red tape.”

“[The authorities are] drawing on the experience of the fight against the coronavirus, when everything was changing fast,” the guide reiterates.

Kremlin propagandists — like Vladimir Putin himself — frequently claim that Russia’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic was extremely effective. In 2021, for example, the president had this to say about it:

Over there [in the West], they have high-quality health care and manufacturing, their achievements are remarkable, and we still have a long way to go, in some areas, before we catch up. But that’s [only] for certain people. While for us, it’s for the overwhelming majority of the population. And they don’t have a mobilization capability; we’ve seen that ours is better. The mobilization of our entire healthcare and industrial systems turned out to be just incomparably better than in European countries and in the West; over there, it’s just collapsed.

But this assessment is a far cry from the truth. As Meduza has reported multiple times, Russia’s vaccination campaign was a failure (though Moscow did manage to produce a vaccine extremely quickly), and the authorities, concerned about the economy, failed to impose severe restrictions that could have mitigated the death counts of the multiple waves of COVID-19 that swept through the country. As a result, according to scientists, Russia had one of the highest COVID-19 mortality rates in the world — both in absolute terms (about 1.2 million excess deaths) and per capita (more than 800 deaths per 100,000 people).

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Story by Andrey Pertsev

Translation by Sam Breazeale

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