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Putin has not seemed to enjoy governing by video conference. Photo: Alexey Nikolsky/Sputnik/AFP via Getty Images

Russian President Vladimir Putin has set July 1 as the new date for a constitutional referendum that could allow him to remain in power through 2036.

Why it matters: Putin was forced to delay the referendum from April due to the coronavirus pandemic, and has set the date despite Russia's continued struggles to contain its outbreak. Putin's popularity has fallen in recent weeks amid his response to the pandemic and its economic repercussions.

The backstory: Putin has largely delegated the COVID-19 response to local officials, an unfamiliar approach from a man who has cultivated a strongman image over two decades in power.

  • He did declare a vaguely defined "non-working period," which ended on May 11.
  • The more passive Putin is not particularly popular. His approval rating has fallen to a historically low, if still enviable, 59%, according to the Levada Center.

Where things stand: Russia has recorded the third most COVID-19 cases, behind the U.S. and Brazil, but is believed to be massively undercounting deaths — officially at 4,855 — because only fatalities that can be directly tied to the disease are included in the tally.

  • Last week, Russia's health ministry announced it would only count people showing symptoms as having contracted or died of COVID-19.
  • Russia recorded roughly 9,000 new cases per day over the past week, down from a peak of around 11,000 in early May but still among the highest rates in the world.

What to watch: The referendum would allow Putin, 67, to seek two additional six-year terms following his current mandate, along with other changes to the constitution.

Go deeper:

Go deeper

Dave Lawler, author of World
Sep 3, 2020 - World

Putin, poison and the pipeline

Merkel in the middle. Photo: Gao Jing/Xinhua via Getty

Angela Merkel’s call to action over the nerve agent attack on Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny has been turned around on her: demands that the controversial Nord Stream 2 gas project be scrapped are growing louder.

Why it matters: The pipeline is nearly complete, and it would double Russia’s capacity to export gas directly to Germany.

Colleges drive a new wave of coronavirus hotspots

Expand chart
Data: The COVID Tracking Project, state health departments; Note: Washington state case count does not include Sept. 1; Map: Andrew Witherspoon, Sara Wise/Axios

America’s brief spurt of progress in containing the coronavirus has stalled out.

Why it matters: We had a nice little run of improvement over the past month or so, but cases are now holding steady at a rate that’s still far too high to consider the outbreak under control.

Ro Khanna accuses Biden of quitting Middle East

Rep. Ro Khanna. Photo: Cody Glenn/Sportsfile for Web Summit via Getty Images

An outspoken progressive Democrat is wary of President Biden’s approach to the Middle East, arguing it’s like “conceding defeat of the aspiration” to win a Nobel Peace Prize.

Why it matters: A number of members of Biden’s own party dislike his Middle East strategy, as his administration signals the region is no longer the priority it was for President Obama and his predecessors.

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