Meanwhile, the key issue of Russia’s confrontation with the West was reduced to a geopolitical interpretation of Rudyard Kipling’s Jungle Book, with “all sorts of petty Tabaquis” (the name of the obsequious jackal in the story — a reference to Russia’s critics abroad) “howling along to please their master” — the United States, or in this reimagining, Shere Khan, the wicked and dangerous tiger. This is the level at which the president is prepared to discuss the real agenda with his voters.

Putin was even less willing to talk about another important and widely discussed topic: the opposition. Neither the issue of the imprisoned opposition leader Alexei Navalny’s health (he is believed to be dangerously ill following a lengthy hunger strike), nor discussion of that issue in the West, open letters in support of Navalny from diverse public figures (including Nobel laureates), the hardline crushing of protests, or plans to categorize the non-system opposition as extremist got a look-in in Putin’s address. 

Indeed, the Kremlin wants to distance itself entirely from the non-system opposition. A day before the state of the nation address, Peskov said he would no longer be answering questions about Navalny, citing a lack of information, and added that all questions should be directed to the Federal Penitentiary Service instead.

Consequently, the communication channels between the president and society are shrinking further and further. Some events are too important for the president to discuss seriously with the public, so discussion is substituted with simplified images from a children’s book. Other issues are, on the contrary, uninteresting or unpleasant for the president, so they aren’t discussed either, no matter how big those issues might be.

The end result of this is that Putin is removing himself from the current reality — which will increasingly be determined by outside factors — and leaving himself with fewer and fewer opportunities to show that he is up to the job of dealing with it.

This article was first published by the Carnegie Moscow Center.