Research & Insights #16

Covid. A study called the National Anxiety Index for the year 2021 was recently published. It measures and classifies the phobias of Russians based on media and social network analysis. In 2020, the main source of anxiety that kept people awake was the fear of catching Covid. In 2021, it is now the measures taken to fight the spread of the virus that is a source of concern. In other words, Russians are now more worried about the widespread use of the QR code system and mandatory vaccination than about catching the virus. Moscow has made Covid-19 vaccination mandatory for employees in a wide range of public-facing positions, including food service and transportation. Workers who refuse run the risk of being fired from their jobs without pay. Despite the recommendations of the authorities, only a little more than half of the country’s population has received a vaccination. It is interesting to note that the same level of scepticism towards government measures can be observed in many countries of the former Soviet Union such as Belarus, Ukraine, Kazakhstan, Serbia and Georgia.

Kazakhstan. On January 2, demonstrations broke out in several Kazakh cities. A few days later, they degenerated into mass riots and government buildings were ransacked in several cities. The ensuing violence left many people injured and deaths were also reported. Officially, 164 people were killed and nearly 6,000 were arrested. At the request of the Kazakh president, Russia deployed peacekeepers as part of the Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO). According to Kazakh authorities, law and order was restored in all regions of the country on January 7. Independent for over 30 years, the country has maintained close relations with Russia (they are part of the Eurasian Economic Union) and developed friendly relations with a wide range of countries in the West, the Middle East and Asia. The Russian president warned that Moscow would not tolerate “color revolutions” in the former USSR. This refers to the revolts orchestrated, according to the Kremlin, by the West in former Soviet republics since the 2000s.

Digitalization. Russia continues to digitize its economy with the State development of a digital platform called “Unified Biometric System” (UBS). The idea is to digitize all information concerning Russian residents. This digital registry will make it possible to identify a person remotely by his or her biometric data (facial or voice recognition). Initially, the unified biometric system will serve banks and financial organizations, and then it will be used in healthcare (telemedicine), distance learning, e-commerce, retail, public and municipal services, etc. The large-scale implementation of the biometric system will provide an essential infrastructure for the development of the country’s digital economy. UBS was launched at the initiative of the Ministry of Digital Sciences, the Bank of Russia and Rostelecom, as part of the national program of digital economy.

Russia-USA relationship. The situation in Ukraine is still not resolved. Talks between Russia and NATO took place “again” on January 12 in Brussels. They discussed Ukraine and the expansion of NATO to the east. The Russians do not want to concede anything about the integration of Ukraine into the military organization. They are keeping up the pressure by conducting military exercises in the regions of Voronezh, Belgorod, Bryansk and Smolensk, near the Ukrainian border. Around 3,000 soldiers took part in these exercises. The West and Kiev have recently spread allegations about a potential Russian invasion of Ukraine. Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov called the allegations “empty and unfounded” and a ploy to raise tensions, stressing that Russia poses no threat to anyone. Russia won’t be intimidated by ‘crippling’ sanctions, the Russian Ambassador to the US said.