Putin Touts Russia's Response to COVID-19 as Better Than U.S., But Country's Low Death Count Draws Scrutiny Abroad

Russian President Vladimir Putin touted his government's ability to contain and minimize coronavirus deaths better than the United States, despite his country's reported death toll being widely criticized internationally.

Putin highlighted the Russian government's ability to keep its reported COVID-10 death toll lower than 7,000, even though the country had 528,964 confirmed cases -- the third most in the world behind the U.S. and Brazil. Speaking with state-run TV stations Sunday, Putin and several Russian Federation health officials rejected accusations they are falsifying death count totals.

The Russian president said political bickering involving President Donald Trump prevented the U.S. government from responding effectively to the coronavirus pandemic.

By comparison, Putin said, the Russian government has responded "smoothly," while U.S. officials put "party interests" over their people's health and safety.

"We are working rather smoothly and emerging from this situation with the coronavirus confidently and, with minimal losses... But in the [United] States that is not happening," the Russian president told state TV Sunday. "I can't imagine someone in the [Russian] government or regions saying we are not going to do what the government or president say."

"It seems to me that the problem (in the United States) is that group, in this case party interests, are put above those of society's as a whole, above the interests of the people," Putin added.

The Russian Federation has drawn international controversy over the methods in which they record official coronavirus pandemic statistics, including total cases, deaths and recoveries. International scrutiny was increased in Russia after their reported April death toll more than doubled, just hours after the World Health Organization (WHO) questioned how Russia could have both the world's third-highest number of cases and yet a record-low mortality rate. Russia's current death toll stands at only 6,948--far lower than the 115,000 U.S. fatalities tied to the coronavirus.

A top official at the WHO last week responded to Russia's low death total as "unusual." But Russian government health officials have repeatedly rebuked any suggestion they've fudged their numbers. "We have never manipulated the official statistics," said Deputy Prime Minister Tatyana Golikova, The Associated Press reported Sunday.

The news wire recounted the story of one Moscow man who said his father's death was linked to COVID-19, but an underlying condition is what was listed as the cause in official records. Dr. Natalia Belitchenko, a pathologist in the St. Petersburg medical examiner's office, said autopsies are mandatory and that in some 20 percent cases a patient's underlying condition was the primary cause of death.

"In the vast majority of cases, the pneumonia itself wouldn't have led to death, had the underlying conditions not flared up to a point of becoming fatal," she told The Associated Press.

Newsweek reached out to the Russian embassy in Washington for additional remarks Sunday afternoon.

Russia is not alone in being accused of producing potentially skewed coronavirus statistics. Trump has repeatedly said China, the country where the pandemic originated at the end of last year, is also not revealing its real death toll.

russian president vladimir putin coronavirus
Russian President Vladimir Putin touted his government's ability to contain and minimize coronavirus deaths better than the United States, despite his country's reported death toll being widely criticized internationally. ALEXEY DRUZHININ / contributor/Getty Images