Had Putin allowed other officials to have more independent responsibility, they would have had to shoulder the blame; but because his power vertical concentrates all powers in his hands, he gets the blame rather more than in the past. As a result, the old paradigm of the good tsar with bad boyars has been replaced by the bad tsar.
At the same time, Shtepa says, there has been two other shifts in Russian attitudes that affect Putin’s standing, again one of his own making because of his continuing promises, left unfulfilled, that Russians will live ever better as seemed possible in the period before the 2008 crisis.
The first involves a shift away from the idea that Russians were prepared to live poorly as long as their country was powerful, an attitude political scientist Ivan Davydov characterizes as “bread and rockets.” That is because ever more Russians have come to recognize that the rockets are eating into their bread and leaving them less well off.
And the second concerns a revision in Russians’ understanding of what it means to be a great power. Prior to 2014, Russians viewed the status of being a great power exclusively in terms of military might. Now, ever more of them feel that being a great power means having a population with a high standard of living. That too works against Putin.
It appears, Shtepa suggests, that today “we are observing a certain repetition of the history of the start of the 20th century. In 1914 … imperial and militarist attitudes were widespread and support for the tsar high. But less than three years later, the compass shifted – and those very same people came into the streets demanding the overthrow of the autocracy.”