At the height of the covid-19 pandemic, Russian President Vladimir Putin was one of the world’s most protected leaders.
And it still is, despite the relaxation of measures against the coronavirus around the world.
Every person invited to be in a radius of one kilometer of the Russian leader (and there are dozens of people, such as doctors, service personnel, pilots and many others) has to pass two weeks in quarantine.
In addition, it must be subjected to no less than four covid-19 testsamong other medical tests, including in some cases stool samples.
A complex system that protects Putin’s health.
“And then it was my turn. We shook hands and I conveyed best wishes to him [Vladimir Putin] from all the war veterans of our republic,” a retired general from the Russian region of Tatarstan, Akhat Yulashev, told local media when he returned home from Moscow.
“He smiled at me. It made a good impression on him!”
The 94-year-old man traveled to Moscow to attend the victory day parade on May 9 last in the city’s famous Red Square. But because he was going to approach Putin, first had to spend two weeks in quarantine in a Moscow hotel that he described as “luxurious.”
The Russian state has done everything to protect the president from coronavirus infection
The BBC was unable to speak to General Yulashev personally, but he is believed to have been one of those around 400 people who were quarantined during fifteen days in prominent Moscow hotels (one five-star and one four-star) before a close meeting with the Russian leader that day.
Even with the pandemic abating and the release of various vaccines, protective measures around Putin have remained in place.
The president moves around his residences much more now than he has in the last two years, as do his service and medical staff and everyone who comes into contact with him.
Publicly available data from Russian state sources reveals that there was a spending of around 3.2 billion rubles ($54.6 million) in protecting Putin’s health through these measures.
Mikhail Fremderman, an Israeli doctor who until 2014 resided in Russia, describes this as something unprecedented.
“From these measurements, it is impossible to judge whether the Russian president has serious health problems. These are most likely security precautions.”
Konstantin Balonov, an American doctor who has treated critically ill Covid-19 patients, lived in Russia until the mid-1990s. He says the excessive measures could be related to Kremlin doctors avoiding blame at all costs.
Tests and more tests
While there were many reasons for swab testing early in the pandemic, as time went on and cases decreased in Russia, the containment measures around Putin did not relax.
Despite the fact that President Putin was reported to have been vaccinated against covid-19, testing for all people who come into contact with him remains mandatory.
New controls were also added, such as tests for antibodies, flu, cold and staph infection.
According to public state sources, since the beginning of 2021, around 1,500 people have undergone extensive testing.
In February 2022, some Russian media, citing anonymous sources, reported that some Kremlin staff with access to the president had to go through stool tests once a week.
Public sources indicate that aircrews and personnel involved in the transportation of the Russian president are also subjected to regular tests.
In your case, it is a wide variety of controls, from rapid PCR tests to antibody tests and stool samples. In total, the flight personnel spent US$2.1 million in the last two years for these tests.
In May of this year alone, flight crews submitted 1,376 swabs and 98 stool samples, as well as 447 blood tests. A significant number of staff spent two weeks in quarantine in hotels outside Moscow.
A Russian doctor, an infectious disease specialist, told the BBC that this “excessive level of testing” cannot have a medical purpose.
“These tests are duplicating normal PCRs,” he says, explaining that the fecal route is not known to influence covid-19 infection.
Testing for other infections and a sharp reduction in contact with the outside world is common for critically ill patients, says the doctor, but only when they are about to undergo surgery.
For him, all this is probably not based on medical science, but an attempt by lower-ranking officials to “win favor with their bosses, to show that they have thought of everything.”
The medical entourage
In March 2021, the Kremlin announced that Putin had been vaccinated. It was later announced that the vaccine used was the first produced in Russia, Sputnik V.
His testing processes were questioned by many experts outside of Russia.
After the vaccination, Putin returned to travel more frequently around the country, staying in his residences outside Moscow. On these trips he is usually accompanied by doctors.
The BBC learned through public sources that up to four doctors accompany President Putin on his visits to his vacation residence on the picturesque Lake Uzhyn, about 400 kilometers northwest of Moscow. Tens of thousands of dollars have been spent on lodging for medical staff.
There are also indications that the doctors have accompanied Putin on his trips to another residence, this time in Sochi, in southern Russia, as well as to business forums in St. Petersburg and Vladivostok.
The latter is an especially difficult undertaking since Vladivostok is in the Russian Far East, an 11-hour flight from Moscow.
Independent Russian media have reported that some Kremlin staff have spent up to 150 days in a single year in quarantine in hotel rooms exclusive occupancy.
How does this compare to other countries?
Israeli doctor Mikhail Fremderman says that the current measures in Israel are the same for the head of government as for ordinary citizens.
They are not conducting additional tests or measures in that country. The Israeli prime minister is accompanied by doctors, but only on trips abroad.
American doctor Konstantin Balonov says he has never heard of anyone being tested for covid-19 via stool samples and the only tests he knows of are PCR or antigen tests.
Balonov says his sources familiar with medical protocols at the White House confirmed that there are currently no tests or quarantines for members of the press, though earlier in the pandemic, journalists attending news conferences were required to present negative results and cover up. the face, measurements that were standard in all public spaces in the US at the time.
Russia does not have a comparison in any other country.
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