First of all, Solovey says, life in Russia has “dramatically worsened” over the last several years and people are “very dissatisfied,” especially because “they do not see for themselves any positive prospects” and aren’t being offered any credible ones by the current regime.
Second, “although life for the majority of people has become significantly worse, the life of the elite has not become worse.” People can tolerate the excesses of the wealthy when everyone is becoming better off, but when most see their own lives becoming worse, those excesses become insupportable.
Third, Russians like anyone else are appalled by “administrative stupidity” of the kind that has been multiplying in their country in recent years, including but not limited to the regime’s attack on the Internet, a place where many had thought they could escape their daily lives only to find that they can be jailed for what they do there.
Fourth, Moscow’s war in the Donbass has taught Russians a dangerous lesson: “it turns out that it is possible to take guns in one’s hands and go out to defend the independence or choice of the people … this does not mean that [Russians] are ready to attack police posts. But now they know” that in principle this can be done.
Because “if this was possible in the Donbass and was considered honorable and correct, then why shouldn’t it be viewed in the same way and with the same consequences in Russia?”
Fifth, having made a fetish of promoting stability, Putin and his regime have rocked the boat by destroying “the geopolitical status quo” with Moscow’s Anschluss of Crimea and its continuing actions in eastern Ukraine. “If you violate stability in one subsystem, one must be ready for when this instability will begin to take over the system as a whole.”
Sixth, “regimes have one very curious characteristic,” Solovey says; “they run out of luck.” Everything had been going well for a decade but “suddenly” and such things “always happen suddenly,” everything went wrong: oil prices fell, Turkey “’knifed Russia in the back,’” and “the West turned out to be not as weak” as Moscow thought.
And seventh, and this reflects the fact that Russia is lead by security offers who are professionally paranoid, the regime has sought to maintain itself by fear and by propaganda which it has come to believe in rather than viewing as a tactic that others are supposed to believe in while those putting it out do not.
As the situation in Russia has deteriorated, Solovey says, the regime has increasingly sought to spread fear not just among its announced opponents but among the population as a whole and not just against specific content but against the means by which that content is delivered. Both of these approaches entail disastrous consequences.
“In Russia now,” he continues, “the Internet is considered as a hostile form of communication, as a hostile milieu. This is equivalent to a situation in which one might say that the problem is not in the contents of Mein Kampf but rather in book publishing as a result of which it became known.”
“Printing is dangerous. Television is dangerous. Or the Internet is dangerous. And if earlier the regime tried to control the Internet, now it is following another logic: the Interenet is dangerous in and of itself … and thus must be taken under control.”
In addition to fear, the Putin regime has tried to maintain itself by propaganda; but that won’t work forever because the audience is changing. It has been 25 years since the end of the USSR; young people don’t remember when Ukraine and Russia “were part of a single country;” and older ones who have travelled abroad know the West is not as Putin describes it.
But the regime doesn’t understand this, Solovey argues, because “many of those who are pushing this policy in Russia sincerely believe in the reality which they have thought up,” and that is “the most terrifying discovery” one can make.
“One can laugh over this picture of the world,” he says; “but in sociology there is the Thomas Theorem” and it is operative in Russia today. It holds that “if people conceive a situation as real, then this situation is real in terms of its consequences” because they act as if the world was as they believe it to be.
The Russian leadership is drawn from the world of espionage, Solovey points out, and that is its real tragedy. “Nowhere [else], not in any country of the world are spies trusted to run the state because they are professional paranoids, for whom coincidences and accidents do not exist.”
“For them,” he says, “there exist only intentions.” Some of what they see may in fact be that, but when leaders assume that everything they see consists of the intentions of others, they make decisions which are destructive both to others but ultimately to themselves and their system as well.