A man is vaccinated at the Gostiny Dvor exhibition centre, Moscow (Image: Sergei Savostyanov/Sipa)

As I write this, Russia is firmly in the grip of the third wave of the COVID-19 pandemic. Every day, there are about 22,000 reported new infections — twice as many as during the peak of the first wave in May 2020 — and more than 600 deaths.

The new Delta variant of the virus, which Moscow Mayor Sergey Sobyanin says is responsible for 90% of new infections in the Russian capital, has caught Russia almost completely unawares. Despite having access to the brain power and resources of one of the most technologically advanced nations in the world, Russian authorities have repeatedly squandered almost every chance to beat the pandemic. Their massive, bloated propaganda apparatus failed to do the one job it was designed for: get the message out.

Instead, the pandemic has exacerbated the crisis of trust between the Russian government and citizens. Now, the campaign for parliamentary elections in September could make fighting the pandemic even harder, since the ruling United Russia party may be even more reluctant to impose unpopular measures such as lockdowns.