MOSCOW (AP) — Russian President Vladimir Putin said Tuesday that further social support measures and incentives for businesses will be introduced as he hailed the nation’s response to the coronavirus pandemic in the run-up to a vote that could extend his rule until 2036.
Speaking in a televised address, Putin declared that Russia has successfully gone through the most dangerous phase of the outbreak.
“Together we have proven that we are capable to fulfil the most difficult tasks,” he said.
Putin said the early introduction of stringent sanitary controls on the border, travel restrictions and a sweeping lockdown allowed Russia to win time and slow down the pace of contagion. In late March, Putin introduced a nationwide partial economic shutdown that remained in place until May 12, and most Russian regions imposed tight lockdowns.
“We won time and achieved the main thing — to protect human lives,” Putin said.
Russia has registered nearly 600,000 infections as of Tuesday, the world’s third-largest caseload following the United States and Brazil. However, its coronavirus death toll 8,359 is significantly lower than in many countries with much smaller population.
The relatively low mortality has prompted some to allege that Russia has doctored statistics for political ends, but the Russian authorities strongly denied any manipulations, charging that strong prophylactic measures and efficient treatment helped reduce the number of deaths.
Putin noted that the coronavirus hasn’t been defeated yet and urged Russians to remain cautious until a vaccine becomes available. He added that Russia has conducted 17 million coronavirus tests, helping spot patients without symptoms and stem the spread of the disease.
When the first signs of a slowdown in new infections appeared, Putin quickly called a vote on constitutional changes for July 1. The amendments include a provision that could allow Putin to run for two further six-year terms if he chooses after his current term ends in 2024. The plebiscite was originally set for April but postponed due to the pandemic.
“The epidemic isn’t over yet, we still are to put an end to contagion,” Putin said. “But life is coming back to its usual ways, its normal rhythm.”
He voiced confidence that the Russian economy will quickly recoup the losses inflicted by the outbreak.
The Russian leader also said subsidies to families with children and other categories of the population introduced during the outbreak will be extended for several months and new measures added, including subsidized mortgage rates to make new housing more affordable.
He also offered new tax breaks for business, proposing to cut taxes on profits for IT companies from 20% to one of the lowest rates in the world at 3%.
At the same time, Putin announced that the flat interest rate of 13% will be increased to 15% for those Russians who make 5 million rubles (about $72,800) a year starting Jan. 1. That marks the first change in the rate since its introduction in 2001.