Hardly a day passes by without Putin, Russia’s current ruler, being present at the top of every major news channel.

While sometime ago he was lionized on the cover of many glossy magazines nowadays he is the star of a lot gloomier articles.

Happier days (last month). Photographer: Vasily Maximov/AFP/Getty Image

What’s going on there?

About a week ago a prominent Russian journalist addressed an open letterto President Vladimir Putin and Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev, where he discusses his case and the significance its abandonment has for Russia as a nation,

Oleg Kashin, the author of the open letter, which can be read here in English, had been beaten to a pulp some 5 years ago and Last month, on September 7, 2015, after a surprisingly exhaustive investigation by Russian police, Kashin revealed the names of his alleged attackers. The men appear to be linked to Andrey Turchak, the powerful governor of Pskov, and ex-employees of the security department of “Zaslon,” a company owned by Turchak’s family that designs and produces aircraft electronics and weapons-targeting systems. Though the evidence against Turchak and his entourage has mounted in the press, he remains free and in office. He hasn’t even been questioned.”

Well, Kashin’s case is the perfect illustration for what Adam Michnik has mentioned last August: “Russia non è uno Stato totalitario, ma è un sistema autoritario”  (Russia is not a totalitarian state but an authoritarian system).

This observation solves perfectly an apparent paradox. How come the Russian police discovers, after five years, who had beaten – following orders given by one’s of Putin’s own protegees – a political dissenter?!?
Simply because there is an important difference between an ‘authoritarian system’ and a totalitarian state.

The authoritarian leader cannot act, not yet at least, like a totalitarian one. He is not in full control of everything under the sun in his country.

This apparently small thing is of paramount importance. Sooner or later more and more Russians will figure out for themselves that Putin is bad for them. Bad for Russia’s long term future.
Meanwhile the rest of the world has to thread this situation very carefully. Every time one of us wants to say anything about what’s going on in Ukraine or in Syria we must use “Putin” instead of “Russia”. It wasn’t Russia – but Putin – that annexed Crimea, encourages the Ukrainian separatists and supports the Syrian dictator by bombarding the Syrian moderate opposition.

By mentioning them separately – Putin distinct from Russia – we send a very powerful signal to the Russian people. That we understand they are not personally responsible for Putin’s acts and that we know they are not yet able to change anything.

If we fail to do so we’ll fall into Putin’s trap.

Our failure to understand, and insist upon, the simple fact that Putin is not Russia is the only thing that enables him to portray the rest of the world as nothing but a bunch of callous people who are devilishly conniving against Mother Russia – and himself as the only possible savior of the Russian People.

Adam Michnik, La sfida di Mosca al mondo e sempre piu imprevediblie, La Reppublica, http://www.repubblica.it/esteri/2015/08/18/news/p-121206360/
Adam Michnik, While we Praise Ukrainian Restraint, Putin Builds His Neo-Soviet Empire, New Republic, http://www.newrepublic.com/article/117462/adam-michnik-putins-post-soviet-empire-threatens-ukraine
Oleg Kashin, A letter to the Rulers of Russia, Global Voices, https://globalvoices.org/2015/10/04/a-letter-to-the-rulers-of-russia-from-oleg-kashin/Marc Champion, Why Russian Jets are Buzzing Turkey, Bloomberg View, http://www.bloombergview.com/articles/2015-10-08/why-putin-s-russian-jets-in-syria-are-buzzing-turkey,
Better Failling, BBC dropped Clarkson. How much longer till Russia drops Putin?, Nicichiarasa, https://nicichiarasa.wordpress.com/2015/03/26/bbc-dropped-clarkson-how-much-longer-till-russia-drops-putin/
Michael Shaw, Reading the Pictures: Putin &Sochi: Let the FU’s Begin, Huffington Post, http://www.huffingtonpost.com/michael-shaw/reading-the-pictures-puti_b_4699356.html