Putin Announces A Date For Constitutional Referendum As Moscow Starts To Reopen

Jun 1, 2020
Originally published on June 1, 2020 6:00 pm
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AILSA CHANG, HOST:

Moscow lifted coronavirus restrictions today - at least sort of. Russian President Vladimir Putin used the occasion to make a big political announcement. Charles Maynes reports.

CHARLES MAYNES, BYLINE: Moscow's grand reopening wasn't as festive as one might guess. For one, the weather was bad, all cold and rain. And there are still restrictions plenty. A city database tells residents which days they can take a walk, when they can exercise. And all these newly scheduled freedoms are available only within a two-kilometer radius from home, which is one more rule than some can stand.

VIKTOR SIDORENKO: (Speaking Russian).

MAYNES: "It's sheer stupidity," says Viktor Sidorenko, a chemist who was out walking with his dog Tim during the allowed neighborhood exercise period at 8 a.m. this morning.

SIDORENKO: (Speaking Russian).

MAYNES: "It's as if some bureaucrat checked off a box to say, there; we've done something. They themselves understand no one will follow these rules. People are tired," he says.

SIDORENKO: (Speaking Russian).

MAYNES: But after nine weeks in lockdown, Russians are also eager to get back to work.

ELENA LITSARYOVA: (Speaking Russian).

MAYNES: Elena Litsaryova was one of thousands back on the job; in her case, at a local dry cleaner, which is serving customers again, provided they wear masks and gloves.

LITSARYOVA: (Speaking Russian).

MAYNES: She says she's happy to get the paycheck after collecting just 4,000 rubles - a little over $50 - during the shutdown.

ALEXANDER KYNEV: (Speaking Russian).

MAYNES: Political analyst Alexander Kynev says the bleak financial outlook is behind President Putin's announcement today.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

PRESIDENT VLADIMIR PUTIN: (Speaking Russian).

MAYNES: The Russian leader said a constitutional referendum that was supposed to take place last April will now be held July 1. The vote's key provision would allow Putin to remain in power through the year 2036. Analyst Alexander Kynev says Putin wants to hold the delayed referendum before things get worse. The public is chafing at both the economic hit and continuing coronavirus restrictions.

KYNEV: (Speaking Russian).

MAYNES: An online video by the comedian Maxim Galkin went viral last week after lampooning Putin and Moscow Mayor Sergei Sobyanin’s efforts to micromanage the city's reopening, everything down to which direction people walk, how they breathe and what fines to pay for violations.

KYNEV: (Speaking Russian).

MAYNES: Kynev, the analyst, says people long ago stopped paying attention to what the government says when it comes to the pandemic, and that could prove a worrying trend as the Russian leader opens the country further and urges Russians to the polls next month.

For NPR News, I'm Charles Maynes in Moscow. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.