The Kremlin spin machine was firing on all cylinders on December 9 as top state doctor Gennady Onishchenko warned that protesters set to rally across dozens of Russian towns on December 10 should stay at home – or else risk catching the flu.
It was unclear whether Onishchenko’s advice had struck a chord with the tens of thousands of Russians gearing up for an anti-Kremlin rally billed as the biggest in over a decade.
“I recommend that people don’t go to the demonstration and, considering the cold weather and forecasts saying it will get worse, this goes especially for people with chronic illnesses and endocrinic illnesses,” Onishchenko told the RIA Novosti state news agency.
“With the increase of people falling ill that we are observing at the moment, a mass gathering of people on the streets could facilitate the rapid infection of flu with ensuing consequences.”
'Political' Health Warnings
Chief Health Inspector Onischchenko has gained infamy for making medical and health pronouncements that have an overtly political flavor.
At the height of souring Russian relations with Tbilisi and Chisinau, he declared that Georgian and Moldovan wines were not fit for consumption, leading to Russian trade embargos decimating the countries’ most lucrative exports.
Most recently, amid a diplomatic spat with Dushanbe when a Russian pilot was jailed in Tajikistan, Onishchenko suggested making it harder for Tajiks to enter Russia on the grounds that they have a higher incidence of HIV and tuberculosis.
Electoral Violations On YouTube
Onischenko’s latest comments come on the heels of remarks from Central Election Commission head Vladimir Churov, who has also gained a measure of infamy on Russian internet sites claiming that online video clips of electoral violations were filmed in makeshift studios in apartments.
On December 9, Churov told journalists that he has appealed to police to find the people who “ordered and sponsored” this “fabricated” material, suggesting he remains unswayed by the YouTube videos after his last comments outraged many of Russia's 51 million Internet users.
“There’s a lot of rubbish on the Internet about the elections,” Churov said in an interview with the Itogi magazine ahead of the elections. “Even before polling day, I knew about several fake election polling stations in apartments where they would make videos. I think we will see this film.”
The videos, allegedly shot in apartments, appear to contain footage of multiple storey polling stations at schools, buses shuttling “carousel” voters
around to cast their votes several times, and election officials signing dozens of ballot papers
in favor of the ruling United Russia party.
-- Tom Balmforth