But other regime moves, against the Internet and young people, Karyagin says, point in the opposite direction, suggesting not a thaw but a new wave of repression. These include ever greater restrictions on and moves against the Internet and new laws restricting the participation of young people in demonstrations and youth culture more generally.
According to the analyst, it is a mistake to draw sweeping conclusions from either of these trends. Instead, he argues, it reflects where “the authorities see the greatest potential” now as opposed to the past. If earlier the regime was concerned about one set of problems, now it is focused on another.
The regime now sees the greatest danger not in liberal writers but rather in young people and the Internet, two spheres which it feels it has not established the necessary level of control. But “the paradox of the situation is that young people and the Internet are phenomena which on the whole are hard to control.”
“Young people are always inclined to protest and opposition, and the Internet as a result of its decentralized structure has no one “switch” which the government can turn off in order to establish central control over that space, as the case of blocking Telegram showed yet again,” Karyagin continues.
And he concludes: “Of course, this doesn’t mean that the authorities will stop their efforts to affect these spheres. Instead, it is obvious that the battle for the Internet and young people will be one of the main trends of 2019 and the entire period of the transit of power.”