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Putin gets bonus trust points for nailing the hazmat suit appearance first

Damian Wilson
Damian Wilson
is a UK journalist, ex-Fleet Street editor, financial industry consultant and political communications special advisor in the UK and EU.
is a UK journalist, ex-Fleet Street editor, financial industry consultant and political communications special advisor in the UK and EU.
Putin gets bonus trust points for nailing the hazmat suit appearance first
Russian President Vladimir Putin’s visit to a coronavirus hospital wearing a full hazmat suit may not be as flashy as some of his many photo ops, but it will earn him more trust than a hundred bare-chested pictures.

When Vladimir Putin announced he was off to check a Moscow hospital treating coronavirus victims, those around him would have imagined a standard photo op – shake a doctor’s hand, thank a nurse, then back to the office, pronto. 

Foot on the pedal please, driver – there’s a killer virus back there!

There would have been a few groans of 'here we go' when he told them he wanted to wear one of those protection suits.

How would the optics look if he turned up dressed like supermodel Naomi Campbell on her Instagram post, wearing pink rubber gloves and looking like she was about to clear a troublesome wasp’s nest from her garden?

It’s what all those who have chuckled at Putin’s numerous other photo ops may have expected. But he was serious this time, donning the full yellow kit complete with respirator, heavy duty boots and gloves as he talked with hospital staff and toured the wards to chat with victims of the global pandemic.

Also on rt.com Putin dons hazmat suit to visit hospital treating coronavirus patients in Moscow (VIDEO)

And while over the years we’ve been treated to the sight of Putin horse-riding, grappling with the national judo team, playing badminton, football and ten-pin bowling, diving in a submersible to the bottom of the Black Sea, soaring the skies in a gyrocopter alongside migrating cranes and tranquilising a tiger in a Siberian nature reserve, this was something a little different.

While I’m not saying it will never happen, I find it hard to imagine British PM Boris Johnson or US President Donald Trump volunteering in the middle of this mess to adopt a hazmat suit, tour a high-risk hospital, and visit patients infected with the deadly coronavirus – some of whom, almost inevitably, will die.

Boris did drop in on a Kettering hospital dealing with some Covid-19 patients in late February, but the effect of the danger he may or may not have faced was somewhat diminished by the fact that the only precaution he took was to roll up his shirt sleeves and tuck his tie between his buttons. 

He simply looked more dishevelled than usual.

Also on rt.com What will the post-coronavirus world look like when we venture from self-isolation? 

But Putin going full hazmat shows just how wide the gap is between the leadership styles of these three heads of state – all totally aware of what comprises good optics.

Some are suggesting the reason people are ignoring Johnson’s appeals to stay at home is that he doesn’t command the respect essential to ensuring people follow his orders without question.

There could well be something in that, because while BoJo is blessed with many qualities, natural gravitas is not one of them.

Meanwhile, President Trump seems to have sidelined his public health expert, Anthony Fauci, NFI’ing him to his West Wing press conferences because of their disagreements over the pandemic playbook.

Trump has recently chosen to appear solo, giving his lofty opinion on the diverse issues of the worldwide health crisis to a slack-jawed press corps. The idea of a spat between president and scientist is not helping the USA at all.

A genuine display of leadership has come from Italy, where a collection of mayors from various towns across the country recorded a series of videos berating their fellow Italians, threatening student parties with police and flamethrowers and pleading with women to forego inviting the hairdresser around for a wash and dry, asking “who’s going to see you” if you can’t even go out.

Also on rt.com First day of ‘self-curfew’ in India: New Delhi relies on isolation-trick to dodge coronavirus — enough after 100s infected?

People are looking for leaders they can believe in. Over-the-top bravado, nothing-to-see-here reassurances or panicked telling-off are not helping build trust.

You can laugh all you want at Putin's bare-chested antics and fishing trips with his defence minister – a lot of Russians do, even the less opposition-minded ones. But when push came to shove, he put on a hazmat suit. It's a sensible thing to do, not only in protecting the ageing head of state from genuine danger, but also in sending the message: 'I’m prepared to get my hands dirty trying to sort out this mess. But I'll not risk my life to show off, and neither should you.'

It’s a show every leader should put on – and likely will, at some point. But Putin got there first.

When the Covid-19 death toll starts to rise in Russia, which it will, and tough measures are needed to reduce its spread among the 146 million people who live there, then quick, decisive action will be essential.

There is no room for argument in combating this virus. So Putin has asserted his authority and banked credibility with this virus hospital visit. He’ll need both later on when asking the population to comply without question with his public health warnings and restrictions on their movement.

And that, whether you like the president or not, is a good leader look.

The statements, views and opinions expressed in this column are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of RT.

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