20 years under Putin: a timeline

In this week’s media highlights, Republic.ru discusses the specifics of television consumption in Russia; Yuri Saprykin writes about the public debate surrounding the planned handover of Saint Isaac’s Cathedral to the Russian Orthodox Church; Mikhail Karyagin argues that the Kremlin needs a genuine opposition for the 2018 presidential elections; Nikolai Kashcheyev defies the temptation to draw parallels between 1917 and 2017; and Alexander Losev reports on the key theme of the recent Davos forum. If you are interested in receiving this weekly roundup in your mailbox every Friday, let us know at info@imrussia.org.


The share of the Russian television audience aged 55+ is 42 percent. Photo: Dmitry Feoktistov / TASS


Republic.ru: Keeping a Hand on the Remote Control: Why the Internet Will Not Replace Television for Russians

  • Republic spoke with Anna Novikova, professor of the Higher School of Economics (Moscow), and Irina Poluekhtova, professor of Moscow State University and head of sociological studies at the National Advertising Alliance (the largest TV ad seller in Russia).
  • Poluekhtova notes that over the last 10 years Russian television has shown significant technological progress. The average number of TV channels per household has increased from about 10 in 2005 to over 60 in 2016.
  • As a result, the two leaders, Channel One and Rossiya, are losing mass audience (the record high was in 2002). More services are offered, and the audience is getting more fragmented and niche-like.
  • The number of people who still watch television is stable at 70 percent, but there are changes among the various age groups: young people, especially males below the age of 30, watch TV increasingly less often (3-4 times a week as opposed to 5-6 times for older groups). Among the growing consumer groups are females (60 percent of overall TV audience) and the elderly.
  • Novikova argues that the reason people watch television is to have a common agenda and a sense of unity, which is especially crucial for a country the size of Russia. There are also individual reasons, e.g. the habit or desire for news, entertainment, or just a background noise.
  • Poluekhtova agrees on the notion of unity, adding that this is what helps television win the competition with other media. People in Russia prefer linear watching (as opposed to on-demand), which is a passive type of TV consumption that can be easily accompanied with other types of activities.
  • The majority consume news and talk shows, but few understand that talks shows employ attention-holding scenarios. TV content provokes plenty of emotion at the expense of reflection: people don’t try to understand what they are watching and easily forget everything.
  • The manipulative nature of Russian television is so strong that even people who understand how it works still become emotionally hijacked. Plus some shows masterfully weave in facts and falsehoods in the same narrative, thus creating a completely new reality.
  • Novikova argues that the influence of Russian propaganda should not be overestimated: people catch onto precepts that are already part of their thinking—ideas and values learned at school or maintained in the family. Propaganda cannot change this thinking; it only offers concrete channels for frustration.
  • Over time, projects Novikova, television consumption will change as the audience develops a taste for more services and content choice, but radical change should not be expected for at least another 20 years, when the older generation (people aged 55+) will be gone. 

Republic.ru, Держать руку на пульте. Почему интернет не заменит россиянам телевизор, Полина Потапова, 24 января 2017 г.


New Times: Dual Faith

  • Author: Yuri Saprykin, journalist and New Times columnist, editor-in-chief of Afisha magazine.
  • Saprykin writes about the recent development surrounding the planned handover of Saint Isaac’s Cathedral in St. Petersburg (currently a museum) to the Russian Orthodox Church.
  • There are many unknowns: What would the handover actually mean? Should the museum be preserved and its collections refurbished? Why place the cathedral in the hands of the Church, whose services attract on average 30 people, yet 2.5 million tourists a year visit the cathedral?
  • The news of the proposed handover broke in early January and sparked a fierce debate centered on the question of “two opposing faiths,” writes Saprykin, and there seems to be little room for agreement.
  • One faith wishes to return St Isaac’s to the Church, but it is this same faith that ignores the hundreds of half-ruined churches in Russia’s small towns. It is a long way from sympathy for the weak. On the contrary, it is the faith of power and property.  
  • On the other side of the argument stands the fragile, not entirely modern idea of intellectual faith. Faith in culture and beauty, which have the power to affect the human spirit regardless of whether they are perceived as religious or not.  
  • Saprykin writes that for most people intellectual faith in culture is the genuine belief system of our ancestors, rooted in traditions that helped the country to survive the harshest periods of its history.  
  • At the bottom of this debate, argues the author, is not the question of restoring historic justice or returning an illegally seized church. This transfer is about confirmation of power and property on one side, and the destruction of the most pious and religious feelings on the other.  

New Times, Двоеверие, Юрий Сапрыкин, 23 января 2017 г.


Forbes.ru: Renaissance of the Opposition: Why the Authorities Need a Sparring Partner

  • Author: Mikhail Karyagin, Forbes contributor and a leading expert at the Infometer project center.
  • The golden period of the Russian opposition movement happened in 2011-2012 when opposition figures were emboldened by mass protests in the country’s biggest cities. They sought to put together a coordinated and optimistic plan for the future. However, five years down the line, they failed to even form a single mandate for the 2016 parliamentary elections.  
  • The key reasons for the collapse in the opposition are twofold: internal and external.
  • The internal factors are the following: the protest movement lacks solidarity; the opposition was too eager to argue over places in the Coordination Council; it failed to lay out any serious proposals for change.
  • The external factors include: the government effectively used propaganda to discredit the opposition and hinder the protest movement; the government also implemented some liberal reforms to temporarily satisfy the demands of many protestors.  
  • Today, the author argues, the government needs a genuine opposition, which is not a new idea per se. The arrival of Sergey Kirienko to the presidential administration has brought with it a change of approach, and in the coming months one can expect an awakening of political processes from within the country.  
  • Legitimacy is an important resource, particularly in times of crisis when the government is forced to make unpopular decisions. The challenge is to achieve a balance between political competition and the stability of the regime.  
  • At the same time, Karyagin argues that Aleksey Navalny’s surprise presidential bid has wrong-footed the Kremlin. But it may be the case that the 2018 presidential elections need Navalny more than vice versa, as the appearance of an open and honest vote would greatly improve the perceived legitimacy of the government.  
  • The real intrigue is whether or not the political demand for the opposition will spread.  The last elections showed that United Russia can win when no alternative is presented by using administrative resources and changing the electoral system, but can it win under different conditions?
  • Another question faces the opposition: can it bring something different to the political market this time around? In order to take advantage of the potential opportunities, the Russian opposition must get its act together and produce a genuine mandate for change, and resist fighting amongst itself.  

Forbes.ru, Ренессанс оппозиции: для чего власти понадобился спарринг-партнер, Михаил Карягин, 24 января 2017 г.


Vedomosti: 1917 or 1939? Probability of War

  • Author: Nikolai Kashcheyev, director for research and analysis at Promstroybank.
  • Kashcheyev quotes polls in the United States and United Kingdom that say that 64 and 61 percent of people in these respective countries believe in the probability of a real war.
  • One of the reasons for these concerns is the growing gap between the developed, technologically advanced countries and the developing, even archaic, parts of the world. And the Middle East can serve as a detonator of the upcoming horrors.
  • The author poses the question as to whether stability in the Middle East is possible in principle. The answer can be found in Saudi Arabia, where the current set of reforms to 2030 can be described as a covert revolution.
  • However, archaic forces are still strong in this region, a fact easily proven by the existence of the Islamic State.
  • Moreover, archaic impulses can be observed even at the margins of the developed nations, where modernization is squeezing out entire social groups, leading to the rise of populism and isolationism across G7 members.
  • Kashcheyev also argues that in the current circumstances of anxiety and growing destabilization, attempts to draw parallels between the years 1917 and 2017 are futile. Events like Brexit or Trump don’t even come close to the imperial, nationalistic tendencies that were tearing Europe apart a century ago.
  • There are, however, closer parallels with the period between the First and Second World Wars, writes the author. But the crucial question is who will be at war with whom, should another world war break out now? The West against Russia? The United States against China?
  • Kashcheyev believes that these two countries are unlikely military adversaries. Even the war against ISIS and the Syrian conflict are viewed as regional. Besides, two key factors are lacking in the current tensions between the powerful world players—a resource-based perception of competition and the notion of common borders.

Ведомости, 1917-й или 1939-й? Вероятность войны, Николай Кащеев, 23 января 2017 г.


RBC: Premature Funeral: What Was Said About Globalization in Davos

  • Author: Alexander Losev, CEO of Sputnik Capital Management.
  • One of the key themes of the recent Davos forum was the risks facing the global economy. Anatoly Chubais, head of the Russian state corporation Rosnano, even publicly described the general feeling at the forum as “horror at the global political catastrophe.” The Kremlin, however, rebuked the comment, claiming everything was alright in Moscow—no horror, just work.
  • Given the fact that the Russian economy’s share of global GDP is 1.6 percent, and its share in international trade stands at 2.1 percent, Russian perceptions at the forum may not be indicative of the general mood, argues Losev.
  • The key question of the forum, according to Losev, was the following: does the current renaissance of protectionism in international trade signify the end of globalization, the decline of liberalism, and the beginning of a new geoeconomic struggle for hegemony between China and the United States?
  • Davos participants concluded that it does not. Globalization may have slowed down but it is not over yet. Surprisingly enough, globalization even received a rare fillip from the Chinese leadership.
  • Another important takeaway from the Davos forum is that the world is entering a new era of multipolarity, without the domination of a single superpower.
  • The author concludes that if the leading powers, including in this case Russia, manage to avoid serious military confrontation and catastrophic developments in the economy, there is a chance that globalization may bring prosperity and “happiness for everyone,” in the words of the Strugatsky brothers.

РБК, Преждевременные похороны: что в Давосе говорили о глобализации, Александр Лосев, 23 января 2017 г.


Nathan Andrews helped compile this week's roundup.