Staunton, August 21 – August 2020 has lived up to its reputation in Russia, Sergey Shelin says. “The ship of state is rocking back and forth” because “the people are dissatisfied” with their lives in Russia today and increasingly adopting a critical attitude toward their rulers, and the rulers in response are “getting nervous.”
The Rosbalt commentator prefaces his comments about the results of a new Public Opinion Foundation survey (media.fom.ru/fom-bd/d332020.pdf) with the following remark about the poisoning of Aleksey Navalny. He calls it “the biggest political assassination attempt in 21st century Russia” (rosbalt.ru/blogs/2020/08/21/1859795.html).
To those who would rate the murder of Boris Nemtsov above it, Shelin argues that the powers that be in Russia always viewed Nemtsov as a critical but “hardly as a competitor in the struggle for power. Navalany however looks precisely like a competitor.” As as a result, “he is always in danger” in a country ruled by Putin.
But then Shelin turns to his main subject: the meaning of the results of the latest Public Opinion Foundation poll. He underscores that it shows Russians after a brief feeling of improvement in mid-summer are once again feeling more concern than calm and are focusing on things that must be of concern to the Kremlin.
Not surprisingly, Russians are worried about the coronavirus, having ignored or had grave doubts about Putin’s claim that Moscow now has a vaccine that works. But the two things they say they are most focused on over the past week are the protests in Khabarovsk (12 percent mentioned them) and the anti-Lukashenka demos in Belarus (36 percent).
What is clear from their open-ended comments, Shelin continues, is that “the attention of Russians is being drawn to those news stories which one way or another echo their own attitudes” of distrust in the authorities and support for greater control over their own lives and affairs.
At the same time, the share of Russians expressing trust in Putin and United Russia continues to fall, while the willingness to back opposition parties has increased. The young and the middle-aged are almost entirely opposed to the regime now, while only the pensioners are reliably backing it.
And this reflects the fact that the Kremlin has lost control of the agenda: The young entirely and the middle-aged by two to one get their news now not from state television but from the Internet. Only the elderly continue to have their views shaped primarily by the latter form which the Kremlin controls.
But the poll result that must have shaken the Kremlin the most, Shelin says, was this: Only one Russian in a hundred mentioned Putin when asked to list the most important news of the past week. As during the early days of the pandemic, he has disappeared not only from the media but increasingly from the minds of his subjects.