Recommendations for Improving Russia’s COVID-19 Inoculation Rates

As a foreigner who’s honored and privileged to live in the Russian Federation, it isn’t the author’s place to actively oppose the state’s official policies since that could be maliciously misconstrued as ‘meddling’ considering the tense political context between his American homeland and his adopted one of Russia. Constructively critiquing them, however, is unquestionably acceptable since this is aimed at improving the effectiveness of policy implementation in order to reduce the potentially adverse consequences of these same policies that he’s generally critical of.

The “Russian Fauci’s” Plans

The Russian government’s official policy as articulated by Director of the Gamaleya Center Alexander Gintsburg, the country’s equivalent of the US’ Anthony Fauci and who was just given its highest civilian award by President Putin, is for 70-75% of the population to have antibodies against COVID-19. To this end, the state is promoting the policy of mass vaccination, which formally remains a voluntary choice but one that the state is nevertheless increasingly “coercing” people to agree to. This is being done through some regional governors exercising the powers delegated to them by President Putin to address the pandemic by mandating vaccination quotas for broad categories of the workforce. Some have even introduced mandatory vaccination for people over 60 years of age as well as those suffering from chronic diseases. One region also recently imposed self-isolation in parts of its territory for all those who aren’t yet vaccinated.

Three related nationwide policies are currently being considered. The most dramatic would require government-issued QR codes proving vaccination, recovery from COVID-19 within the past six months, or a negative PCR test within the past three days to enter most public places pending its passing and each regional governor’s final say over how to apply this policy to their part of the country. The next would hold so-called “anti-vaxx” doctors criminally liable while the third would legally equate “anti-vaxx” content on the internet with bestiality and other material designated as toxic, with it presently being unclear whether the first-mentioned category of content will be deemed illegal and thus compel internet (including social media) companies to remove access to it for Russian users or face fines. Taken together, these three policies that are being contemplated at the moment would make the Russian state among the world leaders in “coercive” vaccination if they’re successfully promulgated.

Personal Disclaimer

It’s not the intent of this piece to argue whether this is the right or wrong policy to have. The purpose is solely to share constructive proposals for improving Russia’s COVID-19 inoculation rates, which continue to lag behind its peers. Nevertheless, it deserves mentioning that the author is of the belief that this policy isn’t just being pursued for epidemiological interests, but also grand strategic ones related to facilitating Russia’s implementation of the paradigm-changing socio-economic precepts connected with the World Economic Forum’s visions of the “Great Reset”/”Fourth Industrial Revolution” (GR/4IR). This was articulated in his piece asking, “What Explains Putin’s Embrace Of The Conventional COVID-19 Narrative?”, which was also elaborated upon in a domestic context in his response to former Kremlin grey cardinal Vladislav Surkov’s recent article warning about the possibility of “chaos” soon sweeping Russia. The author of the present piece believes that this might be driven by “anti-vaxxers”.

Despite that being the case, it’s also not the author’s intent for this article to argue whether this grand strategic goal is right or wrong. As a foreigner who’s honored and privileged to live in the Russian Federation, it isn’t his place to actively oppose the state’s official policies since that could be maliciously misconstrued as “meddling” considering the tense political context between his American homeland and his adopted one of Russia. Constructively critiquing them, however, is unquestionably acceptable since this is aimed at improving the effectiveness of policy implementation. These disclaimers should be kept in mind since the author’s personal position is generally critical of these policies, but since there doesn’t seem to be any realistic chance of the state abandoning them due to the immediate epidemiological and long-term grand strategic interests involved, the best that can happen is to optimize them so that the potentially adverse consequences can be reduced as much as possible.

Clarify That COVID-19 “Vaccines” Are Actually “Experimental Prophylactics”

In the author’s humble opinion, the state must urgently undertake what can be called a “Great Media/Perception Reset” in the domestic and international sense. What’s meant by this is that everything that officials have been saying about the pandemic must be clarified in order to counteract the confusion that certain statements have unintentionally provoked among many. The first order of business must be to clarify that the products referred to as “vaccines” aren’t “traditional vaccines” in that no such product has been proven to prevent one from catching COVID-19. The best that they’ve been proven to do is to supposedly reduce the intensity of the disease among those who fall ill with it. In other words, they can most accurately be referred to as “experimental prophylactics”, not “vaccines”. With this in mind, it’s suggested that not only is this clarified to the domestic and international audiences, but that the terms “vaccines” and “vaccination” be replaced with more accurate ones.

Only upon doing so might public trust in them increase. The reason why so-called “anti-vaxx” sentiment is so high in Russia is because people there are aware that there’s a factual disconnect between how “vaccines” were promoted to them by their officials and the reality of what these technically “experimental prophylactics” actually do. The damage in terms of public perceptions about Sputnik V and other related treatments has been tremendous and cannot be completely repaired, but it can potentially be reduced through more accurate descriptions of them and their scientifically proven effects. By leveling with the people and acknowledging that the terms “vaccines” and “vaccination” could be substituted with much more accurate ones like “experimental prophylactics” and “prophylactization”, they might be less likely to believe certain information on the internet which claims that all such treatments don’t work whatsoever at all and should thus be avoided at all costs.

Rein In RT

The international dimension of this proposal concerns how Russia’s publicly funded international media flagship RT presents this issue to the global public. Their op-eds on “vaccines”, lockdowns, and related policies are extremely critical, yet the irony is that while they focus exclusively on Western countries, in some cases these opinion pieces are more relevant with respect to Russia since that country’s relevant policies are at times even stricter than those that these contributors are criticizing Western countries for practicing. It can’t be discounted that this inexplicable narrative disconnect, which blatantly contradicts the personal position of RT Editor-In-Chief Margarita Simonyan that she passionately elaborated upon just last month on her Telegram channel (which can be read here and should be Google Translated since it’s in Russian), might have something to do with domestic and international skepticism of Sputnik V and related “experimental prophylactics”.

After all, despite publicly financed Russian-language media incessantly encouraging their compatriots to get “vaccinated”, the Kremlin is nevertheless still subsidizing what the government itself would condemn as “anti-vaxx” content – which might potentially soon be legally designated as toxic and equal to bestiality – if it was in the Russian language and directed towards its own people instead of in English-language and for the international audience. Head of the monitoring group tracking actions taken to interfere in Russia’s sovereign affairs in the period of preparing and holding the Russian legislative elections Vladimir Dzhabarov warned in late June that “all [anti-vaxx content on Russian social media is] coming from the West where hundreds of millions have been practically inoculated already. What is the reason? To dispose our voters against the current authorities and create certain social tensions before the elections.”

Contemplate The Pros & Cons Of Contradictory Perception Operations

Considering his official status, it can thus be concluded that the Russian government suspects that its country’s “anti-vaxxers” are useful idiots of the West who are being exploited for ulterior motives through baseless social media fearmongering campaigns. It needs to be noted, however, that some of these people might be reasonable and patriotic folks who are simply predisposed to such narratives (whether they can all genuinely be traced back to the West or even if some are indigenous) because the reality of these “experimental treatments” being prophylactics contradicts the state’s claim that they’re “vaccines”. Another pertinent point is that the Russian government is literally funding what was argued in the preceding paragraph to be “anti-vaxx” – and potentially soon to legally be regarded as toxic – content by subsidizing RT’s associated op-eds on this topic which take a stance towards this sensitive issue that’s completely at odds with the state’s official one.

This perplexing perception management condtradiction must be rectified at the earliest opportunity lest the Russian state continue inadvertently subverting its own “prophylactic” policy at home. There might be certain interests related to strategic communications and engagement with foreign audiences that are responsible for RT’s editors defying their patron’s policy and even the very passionate views of their own Editor-In-Chief, but if the Kremlin truly wants to increase Russia’s COVID-19 “prophylactization” rates, then it must consider whether these aforementioned interests are worth the cost of undermining officials’ messages towards their own people that they’re spreading for immediate epidemiological and most likely also long-term grand strategic reasons like was previously argued. The Russian state cannot continue spreading contradictory messages at home and abroad if it’s serious about presenting “anti-vaxx” sentiment inside its borders as supposedly being the result of a Western meddling campaign.

Reconsider The Wisdom Of Potentially Criminalizing “Anti-Vaxx” Sentiment

Izvestia, one of Russia’s leading media outlets, reported in late November that the Federal Service for Surveillance in Healthcare (“Roszdravnadzor”) had passed the names of several dozen “anti-vaxxers” from a few regions to the prosecutor’s office in order to investigate them for provoking social agitation. Coupled with the plans to potentially hold “anti-vaxx” doctors criminally liable as well as legally equate “anti-vaxx” content with bestiality, the trend convincingly appears to be one of gradually criminalizing “anti-vaxx” sentiment. This could ultimately be counterproductive though, especially if the state doesn’t accurately clarify that its “vaccines” are really “experimental prophylactics” and thus unwittingly pushes people who are aware of this scientific truth into embracing other possibly more unconventional (“radical”) narratives about these treatments. That said, those who exploit such sentiment to provoke social unrest might indeed be guilty of violating relevant laws against causing public disorder.

Potentially criminalizing “anti-vaxx” sentiment could in and of itself make these views more popular if the state’s prior criminalization of other such unconventional narratives during communist times is any example as proven by the instance of so-called “samizdat”, or the informal reproduction and widespread dissemination of banned content. The emergence of such a scenario in the contemporary “anti-vaxx” context, to say nothing of the unpredictable and tense global situation at the moment, could provoke the “chaotic” outcome that Surkov recently warned about. This might be preemptively averted if the state clarifies the reality of its “experimental prophylactics” and reconsiders the wisdom of potentially criminalizing “anti-vaxx” sentiment. The latter might still remain “taboo”, but it might be less likely to influence Russians against receiving these “experimental prophylactics” if they have official clarity about exactly what they do so that there aren’t any false expectations for others to exploit.

Articulate The Bigger Picture

The next recommendation is for the Russian state to creatively articulate the “bigger picture” connected to its far-reaching socio-economic policies related to containing COVID-19. The Kremlin mustn’t shy away from making the masses aware of the “forest through the trees”, so to speak, in getting them to understand that these immediate epidemiological interests advance grander strategic ones related to the GR/4IR concepts. One constructive proposal would be to connect President Putin’s “National Development Projects” (NDP) from 2018 that he envisions as carrying out the comprehensive socio-economic reform of his country to the GR/4IR in order to help people better understand how certain policies in the present complement these long-term goals, especially those related to the digitalization of the economy (e.g. the widespread proliferation of QR codes, the “metaverse” that President Putin recently endorsed, and more people working from home after COVID-19 is finally contained).

By focusing solely on “the trees” in this idiomatic example, well-intended but still “anti-vaxx” Russians who remain reluctant to comply with their government’s COVID-19 policies are less likely to reconsider their views since they don’t understand the larger purpose behind what the state is trying to do. That’s why the government should draw attention to “the forest” so that they can have a clearer vision of where everything is headed, though of course by credibly ensuring their social security through the ambitious promises that President Putin has repeatedly made to help his people manage this ongoing global systemic transition. Russia shouldn’t be shy about its GR/4IR ambitions, which is why it would be wise for it to connect them to the NDPs that most of its people are already well aware of. Without doing so, a significant segment of the population risks being misled by foreign-backed infowar campaigns into carrying out “socially disruptive” actions against the state driven by “anti-vaxx” concerns.

Moderate Relevant Policies To Reduce The Risks Of “Radicalization”

The greatest threat facing Russia’s domestic stability at the moment is that some of the most dramatic policies being proposed for promoting mass “prophylactization” run the risk of “radicalizing” “anti-vaxxers” if they aren’t pragmatically moderated. In particular, the possibility of holding “anti-vaxx” doctors criminally liable and legally equating “anti-vaxx” content with bestiality might inadvertently promote the perception that the state is going too far in “coercing” people to receive these “experimental prophylactics”. There shouldn’t be anything illegal about discussing the potential long-term health consequences of receiving such treatments. Instead of criminalizing these conversations, they should be responsibly held by educated members of the public and widely promoted to the masses. Threatening legal consequences for those who talk about such things and equating them to people who rape animals can potentially “radicalize” “anti-vaxxers”.

The government must avoid the perception that it’s imposing its will upon the governed as part of some power display that has nothing to do with the country’s immediate epidemiological and long-term grand strategic interests. Stubbornly clinging to some of these more dramatic policy proposals in spite of opposition from a significant share of the population can provoke resistance and even “radicalization”. The systemic opposition might seek to capitalize off of this for self-interested demagogic reasons that might then create space for foreign media to misportray the political state of affairs in the country through information warfare. The worst-case scenario is that the most “radicalized” “anti-vaxxers” in such a context turn towards “non-systemic” opposition parties, tactics, and strategies, which could in turn be exploited by external forces to inspire them into carrying out illegal acts of “social disruption”, including acts of violence against the authorities (domestic terrorism). This must be averted at all costs.

Concluding Thoughts

The state’s policy being what it is, which is to promote mass “prophylactization” for immediate epidemiological and long-term grand strategic interests through increasingly “coercive” means, it’s predicted that Russia will struggle to attain its goals without urgently recalibrating its approach. As it presently stands, the government risks unintentionally exacerbating “anti-vaxx” sentiment by continuing to use the scientifically inaccurate terms of “vaccines” and “vaccinations” to refer to its “experimental prophylactics” that have only been proven to decrease the intensity of this disease among those who catch it, not prevent them from falling ill in the first place. RT’s English-language “anti-vaxx” content explicitly contradicts the state’s policies and likely confuses average Russians. The steps taken to potentially criminalize “anti-vaxx” sentiment while stubbornly clinging to some very dramatic policy proposals without articulating the bigger picture are expected to “radicalize” “anti-vaxxers”.

The most pragmatic solutions in the face of these challenges are for the government to urgently clarify that “vaccines” are actually “experimental prophylactics”; rein in the unprecedentedly rogue RT after contemplating the pros and cons of its contradictory perception operations; reconsider the wisdom of potentially criminalizing “anti-vaxx” sentiment; articulate the bigger picture with respect to how policies promulgated in support of immediate epidemiological interests connect to long-term grand strategic ones related to the complementary concepts of President Putin’s NDPs and the GR/4IR; and moderate relevant policies to reduce the risk of “radicalization”. Each of these proposals on their own would help Russia succeed with its plans, but the prospects could greatly increase if they’re all implemented together. In closing, the reader should be reminded that while the author disagrees with some of Russia’s policies, he believes that if they won’t be abandoned, then they should at least be optimized.

By Andrew Korybko
Source: OneWorld

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