In mid-November, the State Duma received a package of bills that would require Russians to present QR-code vaccine passports in order to take flights and trains, and access public events, stores, cafes, and restaurants. The two draft laws were submitted by the Russian Cabinet and had the potential to enter force as soon as February 1, 2022. Now, all these plans have stalled — as it turns out, the legislation won’t go to the Duma floor for a vote for another month. Meduza sheds light on the high-level tensions behind this delay.
The Russian Cabinet and the Kremlin can’t seem to make a decision on the fate of a package of bills that would introduce QR-code vaccine passport prerequisites at the federal level.
The government submitted the two draft laws in question to the State Duma on November 12. The first bill would impose the QR-code system at the legislative level in all of Russia’s regions. The other would also require QR-codes for purchasing tickets for trains and planes traveling internationally and between cities.
However, the State Duma is dragging its feet on the consideration of the bill, postponing the vote until mid-December. In the meantime, the draft legislation has been sent to regional legislative assemblies, which must prepare their own reviews of what has proven to be a controversial package of legislation.
Lawmaker Fedot Tumosov from the A Just Russia party, who sits on the parliamentary Committee on Health Protection, told Meduza that consideration of the draft laws was postponed “in accordance with the regulations” that govern the State Duma’s work. “It’s stated [in the regulations] that laws relating to the joint powers of the Federation of the subjects of the Federation, should be considered by the regions too,” he recalled.
“The regions must submit feedback by December 14. Then comes the second stage: the Committee on Health Protection will consider the draft legislation, prepare for the first reading, [and] take into account the opinions of the [federal] subjects. [State Duma Speaker Vyacheslav] Volodin said we will consider it in a month,” Tumosov added.
According to a Meduza source close to Vladimir Putin’s Executive Office (the Presidential Administration or AP for short), the State Duma will definitely approve the legislation, but it hasn’t been finalized as yet. “It could be a harsh, Austrian version, or it could be soft measures,” the source said. For this reason, the vote on the bill may be postponed once again.
Meduza’s source also said that against the backdrop of popular opposition to the proposed legislation, the word “QR code” will almost certainly be scrubbed from the documents — the plan is to replace it with a more “agreeable” and less inflammatory term. “A QR code is one thing, a ‘Health Passport’ — or some other similar expression — is another,” added another Meduza source close to Putin’s administration.
One of Meduza’s sources close to the AP underscored that the government is playing the main role in the QR-code saga. However, the source also said the Cabinet of Ministers doesn’t have a unified position — instead, there’s a split between the “nurses” and the “economists.”
The so-called “nurses” are the Cabinet’s social bloc under the leadership of Deputy Prime Minister Tatyana Golikova; the “economists” are the economic bloc led by First Deputy Prime Minister Andrey Belousov. The “nurses” — who are responsible for the pandemic response — are in favor of strict measures and the introduction of QR-code prerequisites to accelerate vaccination. But the “economists” fear these measures will have a negative impact on Russia’s economic situation.
A Meduza source close to the Cabinet explained that what complicates the situation is the fact that each government official is primarily preoccupied with meeting their own performance benchmarks. “Everyone became hostages to the benchmarks. Each official has their own: Golikova, [Health Minister Mikhail] Murashko, [and Rospotrebnadzor Head Anna] Popova have one, and Belousov has another. And each one needs to report on meeting their benchmarks before the president and the prime minister. There’s not a thought about the public good,” he explained.
In addition, a political strategist close to the leadership of the AP’s political bloc said there’s an additional conflict between the Cabinet’s “nurses” and Putin’s administration itself. According to this source, the AP isn’t happy about the fact that pandemic restrictions are bringing down the president’s ratings. As previously reported by Meduza, officials in the Kremlin are trying not to “tie” Putin to the divisive topic of vaccination against the coronavirus — in fact, they’re doing their utmost to show that the president is far removed from it.
A source close to the Health Ministry also spoke to Meduza about this confrontation between the AP’s political bloc and the “nurses bloc” in the government.
“The AP’s Domestic Policy Directorate is against [harsh restrictions] because it fears stirring up protests. Now, the State Duma is gathering feedback from the regions. It’s unlikely that the regions will actively speak out, because as yet no one understands the head of state’s position on this matter. In theory, some regions may oppose [the legislation], because local parliaments write the reviews and in some regions they’re in opposition to [their] governor,” the source explained.
Another Meduza source close to the “nurses bloc” said that many regions genuinely don’t want to introduce a strict QR-code system, as they literally “fear unrest.” A Meduza source close to the Moscow Mayor’s Office claims that the capital has no plans to introduce such measures. “There’s no need for it, the situation is already stable,” the source asserted.
The Kremlin has been very cautious in its official statements about the controversial QR-code vaccine passports. Commenting on the draft legislation on November 15, Putin’s spokesman Dmitry Peskov underscored that it’s the prerogative of the State Duma and the Cabinet, adding that work on the bills was “just getting started.”
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Translation by Eilish Hart