In a newly released documentary about the coronavirus pandemic in Russia, journalist Irina Shikhman claims that an assistant to Dr. Alexander Myasnikov, the head of the country's government-run coronavirus information center, demanded 88,000 rubles ($1,200) for an interview with the doctor.
Shikhman released the documentary on her well-known YouTube channel, Let’s Talk? (in Russian, A pogovorit?). She claims that the film’s producers requested comments from the Moscow Mayor’s Office, the Moscow region’s Health Ministry and Russian Health Ministry, but received no responses. The film’s producers then decided to reach out to Dr. Myasnikov.
“[Myasnikov] transferred us to his assistant, and he, in turn, said that a 30 minute Skype interview will cost us 88,000 rubles. In response to my question [of] what are we paying for, this person in a government position told me: ‘For his time.’ We saved a recording of the conversation,” Shikhman says in the documentary.
According to Myasnikov, he has no knowledge of money being charged for interviews with him. “I am trying to get in touch with [my assistant]. I don’t know anything about this yet. I would already be a millionaire!” Myasnikov told Open Media.
The government-run coronavirus information center was established in Moscow in mid-March. Alexander Myasnikov took up its leadership in mid-April, and is now responsible for disseminating information about the coronavirus, as well as countering false information about the disease.
A cardiologist by training, Myasnikov works as the head doctor at the Zhadkevich Hospital in Moscow. He is also a well-known television personality, who runs a health program called “On the most important thing” on Channel One, and often gives expert interviews.
That said, Myasnikov has made controversial statements about the coronavirus on multiple occasions. In February, he said that Russians’ had a “zero point zero” chance of contracting the disease. He also predicted that the epidemic would be over by mid-April (he later admitted that this was a mistake), and called Russia’s low coronavirus mortality rate a “Russian miracle.”