Staunton, February 20 – The Putin regime by its own actions has entered into “a corridor of mistakes which it won’t be able to correct” because its “subjects have ceased to root for it and ever more weakly respond to its signals,” Sergey Shelin says. As a result, one must conclude that not only the people but the possibilities for its success are turning away from it.
Russians are increasingly tired of Putin and indifferent to his rule, the Rosbalt commentator says. Their interest in Aleksey Navalny reflects less support for him than a desire to find someone other than the Kremlin leader to devote their attention to (rosbalt.ru/blogs/2021/02/19/1888510.html).
In a certain sense, this reflects the emergence of a surrogate “two-party system,” but it is one in which “one party is in power and the other is in prison,” something that would seem to guarantee victory for the one in power. But in fact, Shelin says, that is not the case. “Now, the people to the surprise of many rarely takes note of Vladimir Putin.”
Surveys of Russian media by Medialogiya find that except for state television, which is increasingly losing its viewership, outlets in Russia have been carrying far more stories about Navalny than about Putin, something that appears likely to continue (openmedia.io/news/n3/navalnyj-oboshyol-putina-i-stal-samym-upominaemym-politikom-rossii-v-socsetyax-v-smi-on-vtoroj-posle-putina/).
“All that is connected with Navalny, the commentator says, “really interests ordinary citizens even if it does not always please them, while all that is connected with Putin simply passes them by. And this is hardly because the leader is silent.” He appears all the time, but his appearances are ever more formal and less able to dominate the scene.
As a result, as all three major polling services agree, this “obvious growth of popular indifference to the head of our regime is occurring not in quiet times but at a time of the sharpening of an ideological struggle.” That makes indifference to one and interest in the other far more important than might otherwise be the case, Shelin argues.
In fact, precisely because the Putin regime has behaved in the case of Navalny exactly the way it has behaved in other similar situations in the past, “it is possible to say that people are tired from the unending repetition of one and the same thing.” That is one of the reasons to think the competition may lead to a different outcome. But there are others.
Among the most important is the sense among Russians that “the luck of the regime and its leader” has run out. “The people rarely think about this but value it very highly. Luck is the talent of avoiding mistakes or if they are made to correct them quickly.” Those used to be hallmarks of the Putin regime, but “with time, they have disappeared.”
In the past, the Kremlin leader frequently changed course both to keep his opponents off balance and to correct his own mistakes. But now he has doubled down and continued in the same direction again and again. That is costing him attention and support, the Rosbalt commentator says.
“Specialists on autocratic regimes,” Shelin continues, “consider that an eternal presidency does not strengthen regimes of this type but on the contrary breaks them” because over time, personal and narrow group interests come to overwhelm the interests of the system and even its most privileged groups.
Russians can see this, and they can also see and are infuriated by the regime’s constant efforts to manipulate them. And because they are angry, they are ready to consider almost anyone who presents an alternative. Putin created just such an alternative by his failure to adjust his tactics once he began his campaign against Navalny. He simply used his existing playbook.
“What should one expect now?” Shelin asks. “It is impossible to look far into the future, but in the near term, what is probable is some combination of insane use of force and the distribution of money, the only means of responding to the population which the regime has not completely rejected.”
The problem for the Kremlin is that such an approach is ever less effective and may even lead more Russians to conclude that Putin has lost what the Chinese call the mandate of heaven and that they must choose someone else, the kind of conclusion that could upend the Russian political system.