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

Jan 22, 2020 - World

Putin’s stock market soars

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

Despite "tough" U.S. sanctions, Russia's economy is picking up steam, and its financial markets are delivering massive rewards to investors.

Why it matters: In an era in which the U.S. has made economic punishment its foreign policy weapon of choice, Russian President Vladimir Putin and others continue to defy the U.S. and are finding the consequences to be quite bearable.

Robert Mueller speaks out on Roger Stone commutation

Former Special Counsel Robert Mueller testifies before the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence on Capitol Hill on Wednesday July 24, 2019. Photo: The Washington Post / Contributor

Former special counsel Robert Mueller responded to claims from President Trump and his allies that Roger Stone was a "victim" in the Justice Department's investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election, writing in a Washington Post op-ed published Saturday: "He remains a convicted felon, and rightly so."

Why it matters: The rare public comments by Mueller come on the heels of President Trump's move to commute the sentence of his longtime associate, who was sentenced in February to 40 months in prison for crimes stemming from the Russia investigation. The controversial decision brought an abrupt end to the possibility of Stone spending time behind bars.

Trump dons face mask during Walter Reed visit

Trump wearing a face mask in Walter Reed National Military Medical Center on July 11. Photo: Alex Edelman/AFP via Getty Images

President Trump wore a face mask during his Saturday visit to Walter Reed National Military Medical Center, according to AP.

Why it matters: This is the first known occasion the president has appeared publicly with a facial covering as recommended by health officials since the coronavirus pandemic began, AP writes.