“Resentment toward the authorities is far deeper than it was before the pandemic,” said Olga Kryshtanovskaya, a sociologist who studies the elite at the State University of Management in Moscow. A recent survey by the independent Levada polling agency gave Putin 59% support, down from 63% a month earlier and his lowest rating since 2000.

In Russia, though, as in some other countries, it may be difficult to separate leadership missteps from those of the state. Heisbourg, the former French official, served on a pandemic preparation committee after SARS-CoV, or Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome, threatened Europe in 2003. On its recommendation, France bought and stockpiled 1.25 billion face masks, among other measures, he says, but then failed to maintain the stocks as they expired over the years.

Rather than acknowledge the mistake and correct it when the coronavirus struck this year, the French government spent weeks arguing that masks – ubiquitous in the fight against the virus in Asia -- had little utility. President Emmanuel Macron’s imperious style of governing, often described as Jupiterian, appeared to exacerbate a weakness that’s deep in the DNA of the French state.

“We have a Napoleonic system,” said Heisbourg, “and in a Napoleonic system the state can do no wrong.”

--With assistance from Iain Marlow, Henry Meyer, Simone Iglesias, Arne Delfs, Muneeza Naqvi and John Follain.

This article was provided by Bloomberg News.

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