Five Rules for Living Through and Looking Beyond the Putin Stagnation

Map of Russia and Russian Flag adapted from images at

(Paul Goble – Window on Eurasia – Staunton, June 20, 2016)

Those who lived through the Brezhnev stagnation, commentator Dmitry Gubin says, know that “when the chances for change for the better don’t exist, one must particularly carefully filter information and choose one’s strategy of behavior.” Now, Russia is in another such period, and to help them, he offers five “rules of life at a time of stagnation.”

In Russia today just like in Brezhnev’s times, he argues, “we do not have a crisis, because a crisis can be overcome.” Instead, Russians are living in a state of stagnation when there aren’t going to be any changes except for the worse” until a time of radical change after Putin’s death or their own (

And they need to adopt certain rules of behavior, Gubin says, or they will find themselves in the future like some who physically survived the Brezhnev stagnation who proved incapable of adapting to the radical changes that came after his death. To that end, he offers five rules of how to live now so as to be prepared for later.

Rule No. 1: Ignore the Government and Focus on Larger Things. Joseph Brodsky showed how Russians should respond to stagnation, Gubin says. He ignored what Brezhnev was doing and read the poems of John Donne. The first proved to be incredibly temporary; the latter had and have permanent importance. The same rule applies now. Russians should stop obsessing about “Crimea is Ours” and ask some larger questions instead.

Rule No. 2: Buy Property. The experience of post-Brezhnev Russia suggests that just about the only thing that will retain value is property and therefore Russians should seek to own as much as they can. “We are urbanized peasants. Our apartment is our cow.” And regardless of what happens, it, like the cow, will retain its value and save Russians during the coming times of troubles. Russians today really don’t need anything more than an apartment with a computer on an IKEA table.

Rule No. 3: Stop Watching Domestic TV. At times of stagnation, “the main product” the authorities can produce is “information noise.” Avoid it but not watching domestic television. It is better to watch French channels even if you don’t know French, Gubin says, and listening to Western channels like the BBC, CNN, Sky News and Fox are a more profitable way to spend one’s time. Indeed, “if one is honest, the is more useful than many Russian internet media outlets taken together.”

Rule No. 4: Learn English. “The Russian education system imitates education in the same way [Russia’s] election system imitates democracy,” the commentator says. “It is a decoration” and the country’s higher educational institutions are simply designed to keep young people occupied and off the streets. In this circumstance, the only strategy for parents is to make sure their children learn English so that they can study abroad and be ready for the future.

Rule No. 5: Get Ready for the IT Revolution Rather than Re-Fight the Industrial Revolution. Many in the Russian government are fighting a war that is already over everywhere else. They want to make an industrial revolution while the West is undergoing an information technology revolution. Russia will lurch forward in that direction after Putin, and those who prepare themselves for that now will be in the best position to succeed, Gubin says.

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