Russian media reported, on November 2, that the Russian city of Yekaterinburg has been hit by an epidemic of HIV. Tatiana Savinova, first deputy director of local healthcare, stated that according to official data, approximately 1.8 percent of the local population (i.e., every 50th person) tested positive for this virus, which causes Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome, more commonly known as AIDS (Gazeta.ru, November 2). Nevertheless, several hours later, the same official admitted to have been mistaken, stating that “there is no epidemic” (Life.ru, November 2). This backtracking, however, did not sound convincing at all, and there is a strong sense that Savinova’s declaration represented nothing more than a clumsy attempt to hush up the matter and avoid publicly recognizing the looming health catastrophe. According to law, a state of emergency must be proclaimed when the affected portion of the population reaches the 1 percent threshold. This means that even according to publicly available data, at least 20 Russian regions should be in a state of emergency (Economika I Zhyzn, April 21).
The situation looks truly severe: in terms of newly registered cases, between 2014 and 2015, the growth rate of HIV cases skyrocketed by a staggering 10 percent (Rosbalt.ru, March 24), placing Russia on the level of Burundi, Cape Verde, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Djibouti, Ethiopia and other African countries.
Nonetheless, the Russian authorities have yet to reconsider previously pursued policies or admit the seriousness of the exiting threat. Aside from the fact that Russia lacks a clear strategy for how to handle the situation (at both regional and federal levels), there is yet another formidable obstacle—the lack of financial means (Life.ru, November 2). This is profoundly aggravated by numerous resource-consuming programs initiated by Moscow that also compete for state funds: Russia’s extensive military modernization program may be the most notable of these. At the same time, crushing levels of corruption, low oil prices and international sanctions prevent Russia from stabilizing its finances.
Indeed, on October 25, Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev signed a government strategy to deal with the proliferation and containment of HIV until 2020 and beyond (Rosminzdrav.ru, October 25). This plan, however, did not impress those aware of the true nature of the health crisis. The director of “SPID.CENTR” Foundation, Anton Kraskovsky, stated that the government’s decision is not likely to lead to any practical steps (Actualcomment.ru, October 25). The most probable outcome—the illicit redirection of financial means and proliferation of empty phrases referring to such notions as “spirituality” and “patriotism”—will not help.
In conclusion, two additional aspects are worth highlighting. First, the scope and pace at which HIV is spreading in Russia poses a serious challenge to its national security. Many experts claim that should this tendency persevere, Russia (which is gravely depopulated even now) might demographically be looking at an “African scenario” in the foreseeable future. Second, one of the central pillars of Russian information warfare against the West is based on the alleged “moral degradation” and “lack of spiritual norms and values” as the most distinctive characteristics of Western society. These moral failings are then juxtaposed with Russia. However, statistics prove otherwise: official rates of HIV/AIDS in Russia (the unofficial number is unknown, but the majority of experts agree that it is significantly higher than is declared) exceed statistics for the European Union and the United States. Furthermore, the most strongly affected groups in Russia are drug abusers and those involved in prostitution. Needless to say, this discouraging fact is hardly compatible with loud proclamations made by Russian conservative politicians, intellectuals and clerics of the Russian Orthodox Church, who regularly accuse the West of debauchery and moral corruption.