That “utopia” worked, Shelin continues, but only “in the special climate” which existed in Russia, one in which those below “saw in the leader their benefactor” or at least “the lesser evil” as compared to any who might challenge him. But “suddenly the climate has changed,” and the old rules have along with it.
This is “not simply about ratings,” he says. They have fallen back to pre-crisis levels “but all the same are still high.” Two other things are more important. On the one hand, the masses have begun to sense that the leader and his regime “have turned their back on the people” and are pursuing only their own interests.
And on the other, the pension reform which Putin has now come out in support has called attention to the growing gap between rich and poor in Russia, with the rich apparently having won out in demanding that the poor pay more for the continued well-being of the rich, something that many Russians find deeply offensive.
Chairman Mao famously said that the top of society “wants to receive everything without giving anything in return. And this is a violation of heavenly harmony, something heaven always punishes people for.” “This thought,” Shelin suggest, “is completely applicable to [Russian] affairs, albeit with modifications reflecting the specific features of Russia.”
What is happening, he continues, are some strange things that wouldn’t have occurred only a few months ago: the head of the Russian Guard challenging the previously unmentionable Navalny to a duel, sloppy and embarrassing propaganda about the Skripal case, and the scandalous handling of fraud and regime losses in the September 9 elections in the Far East.
But while those developments have received the most attention, Shelin argues, what happened in St. Petersburg with anti-pension meetings on September 9 and September 16 is even more indicative of the new reality, with the regime clumsily and repressively moving against more groups than before.
“If the authorities earlier had been severe to the Navalny people, now, the level of repression has sharply increased” not only against them but against all its critics even if they are prepared to play by the rules, a reflection of a violation of the rules of the utopia that had existed and one that by its nature destabilizes the situation.
“Apparently,” the Rosbalt commentator suggests, “the fear of losing control over events has overwhelmed” officials even in this case. The authorities are denigrating even peaceful opposition figures and refusing them even the small possibilities they had extended to such groups in the past.
Like all utopias whose creators plan for them to last for centuries, the Putin one “has turned out to be short-lived.” The regime has been shaken but not yet weakened, and so the coming months promise to feature many new developments as the regime struggles to come up with “a different cocktail of repressions and concessions.”