But the economic fallout from a five-week lockdown, combined with record-low prices for oil – the backbone of the national economy – is taking its toll, and frustration with Putin’s response is mounting.
“What the President says on television is empty words… We’re asked to stay at home but there’s no help from the government,” said footballer Yevgeny Frolov in a recent interview.
The Russian leader chose to distance himself from the outbreak response early on, unwilling to be associated with bad news, and left it to regional leaders to figure out how to handle the crisis.
As the country shut its borders and imposed a lockdown, Russians looked at Europe where governments were handing out payouts and subsidies for their citizens, but Russian officials have not matched that.
The government did announce some measures of support, such as interest-free loans and tax breaks, but they are widely perceived as insufficient.
Putin’s weekly speeches on television are viewed with increasing annoyance. His approval ratings have remained stable, but his trust ratings, which are typically more forward-looking, have been in decline for some time.
Only 46 per cent of those surveyed by the independent pollster Levada Centre in March would like to see Putin in power when his current term expires in 2024, compared with 54 per cent last June.
Moscow, Russia’s biggest city, with a budget rivalling that of Paris or Berlin, has managed the outbreak with lockdown restrictions, widespread testing and millions of pounds worth of new hospital beds and equipment.
But the rest of the country, which lags far behind on living standards, is at risk of being overwhelmed. Doctors across Russia have clamoured for help in recent weeks, complaining about underfunded and underequipped hospitals, which often lack basic necessities.
In one of the most recent appeals, dozens of desperate healthcare workers in the city of Ufa, some 1100 kilometres east of Moscow, recorded a video urging top officials to investigate what they described as a cover-up of the COVID-19 outbreak at a hospital there.
Recent opinion polls show that Russians are divided almost exactly in half in their views on the state response.
“That’s a pretty favourable result for the government,” Moscow-based political analyst Masha Lipman said. “The most important thing for authorities right now is to make sure that society doesn’t rally around the shared discontent.”
“A lot will depend on how soon Russia will emerge from the lockdown and how quick the recovery will be,” said Denis Volkov, deputy director at the Levada pollster.
A petition from opposition leader Alexei Navalny urging the Kremlin to extend emergency payouts to Russians and scrap all taxes for small businesses has attracted more than half a million signatures.
The Telegraph, London