Russia, legitimized by a referendum, has a new constitution. It allows Vladimir Putin two more terms until 2036. On the other hand, some of the Amendments restrict the Power of the President office of the future. Immediately after the vote, a regional Governor was arrested. Tens of thousands took to the streets against “Moscow arbitrariness”.
What can be said about these contradictions?
The contradictions first of all mean that any criticism that stops at the evaluation of the referendum as a “Farce”, “circus” or “Manipulation” of the “eternal Putin” contributes little to the understanding of what is happening in Russia at the moment. After all, 77.92 percent of respondents voted for the proposed amendments to the Constitution, 21.27 percent were against.
The arrest of the governor of Khabarovsk, Sergei Furgal, and the subsequent protests against it cannot simply be described as a “popular uprising” against Putin’s “seizure of power.” Although Furgal, a member of Vladimir Zhirinovsky’s more opportunistic “Liberal Democratic party” (LDPR), beat the candidate of “United Russia” (Yedina Rossiya), Putin’s partisan, in the last regional elections in 2019, he is popular among the population; although participation in the referendum on the constitutional amendment was comparatively low at 40 percent, 62 percent agreed. Furgal himself called for the acceptance of the changes.
Finally, it should be borne in mind that Furgal, who is accused of having commissioned assassinations in his capacity as a businessman in the Siberian timber trade 15 years ago, could indeed have dark spots in his past, as many others who had made a career at that time. At best, the question arises why the “compress”, that is, the file that loads it, has only now been opened. His guilt would then be as dirty as the prosecution. This demands judicial clarification.
However, this does not change the outcome of the referendum. In it, even if local peculiarities such as the relative reluctance of the population of Khabarovsk to vote, and even if the violations known from elections in Russia are subtracted, a significant consent of the population to conduct this survey becomes clear. The approval was reason enough for Putin to thank the population for accepting the survey. Putin also included in the thanks the people who voted “no” ; rightly, it must be added, in so far as they have introduced their criticism into the debate, instead of simply boycotting the questioning, as the Fundamental oppositionist Alexei Navalny suggested.
Become more capable of action
But if you look closely, you will see more than a mere “Farce” in the constitutional changes: although Putin will be given the opportunity to run twice more as a presidential candidate after 2024 by “nullifying” presidential terms, which undoubtedly serves to maintain his hold on power. But first, he has kept open whether he will actually run in 2024, second, he would then have to face the upcoming election. Thirdly, the “zero setting” applies only to the present president, not to future presidents. Finally, the Federation Council has been given new powers vis-à-vis the president in appointing ministers for state security, Home Affairs, Justice, foreign policy, civil protection and Public Security. The Duma (lower house, the Second Chamber of the Federation Assembly directly elected by the people) should also be able to appoint the prime minister in the future.
The Reform supplements and corrects a constitution which, under Boris Yeltsin in 1993, was hastily stamped out of the ground according to Western models and, although also legitimized by referendum, was imposed on Russian reality as a Western Import. The current changes undoubtedly meet the need of a large part of the Russian population to finally return to their “own Russian values”. This does not only apply to the ‘elites’.
The changes create a situation in which Putin is still able to find successors in a changing, more precisely rejuvenating political environment without being hampered by the approaching end of his term of office. Only in this way can he hope to avoid open competition from various pretenders that could plunge Russia into Chaos again.
To understand this you have to bring a few aspects into your consciousness:
General Revolutionary Fatigue
Russia does not have an” established " democratic Tradition that knows the peaceful transition from one generation of politicians to another. Transitions usually occur as a"break”. In the Russian popular consciousness such breaks are anchored as “Smuta”, confused time. The last such ruptures were the transitions from the Soviet Union to Gorbachev, from Gorbachev to Yeltsin. The switch from Yeltsin to Putin also took place under critical circumstances in the middle of the Chechen war.
In this respect, Putin’s attempt to secure the next transition in the longer term and through a referendum is not a rupture of democratic culture, but rather an attempt to approach such a culture without rupture. Instead of criticizing the referendum only because of its deficiencies or to criticize in a hostile attitude as a “Farce”, it should rather be seen what are confidence-building elements.
Particular criticism has been made of the changes aimed at strengthening national identity – the primacy of national law over international law, the inviolability of borders, obstacles to leaving the Federation, the establishment of the Patriotic War as a binding cultural asset, the introduction of the word “God” into the Constitution, the protection of the family as a unity of Man and woman.
What emerged clearly in the wake of the corona crisis is overlooked: there was a President Putin who handed over the direction of the necessary measures to the fifty-two governors of the regions and to the government. On behalf of all those who thus entered into new powers, Sergei Sobyanin, the mayor of Moscow, should be mentioned here. He practically assumed the role of national crisis manager. Sobyanin had Moscow totally shut down. Other cities followed the example. In this respect, at the height of the crisis, Sobyanin was the one who set the tone, not Putin. Another Person would have been the new prime minister Mikhail Mishustin (photo below) – who, however, was temporarily slowed down because he himself fell ill with Corona.
With his current orders, Putin loosened the Central Administrative pyramid, through the introduction of which he had limited the powers of governors when he took office in 2000. He now loosened them in a way that does not say what consequences this will have for the future of the country. It is here that new forces are growing up, but at the same time involved, if the country is in diadochi disintegrate.
Whether such actions as Furgal’s arrest, especially directly after the referendum, are helpful in securing such a path, however, must be doubted. Navalny interprets Furgal’s arrest as an authoritarian action by Putin, who wants to take revenge on Furgal for his victory over the candidate of the “party of power”. Other critics consider the arrest at least an expression of a Putin who fears for his power.
You don’t necessarily have to agree with that. From a factual point of view, however, the mass protests are at least an expression of pent-up regional discontent. Despite all the reluctance towards fundamentalist polemics against Putin, the criticisms of Moscow’s arbitrariness are by no means wrong. They oppose the exploitation of the regions by the Moscow Centre. And this, of course, is not just a problem of the “Far East”. It generally applies to relations between Moscow and the"provinces”. The Problem is a chronic legacy from Russian, Soviet history. Putin has not dismantled it with his stabilization policy, but rather strengthened it.
The general consensus that has held for over twenty years is also crumbling. People remember the crisis of 2008, which could still be overcome fairly easily. You remember the crisis of 1998, when Boris Yeltsin led the country into crisis with privatization. And many, especially of course older ones, even begin to remember the crisis of 1991/92, when the Soviet Union collapsed and all the guarantees dissolved.
These memories may have motivated above all the older population, despite all criticism and dissatisfaction, to agree to the constitutional changes “en bloc”, in the hope of future stability. Eruptions of mass protest, as now in Khabarovsk, on the other hand, have only current, temporary significance.
If the Moscow Centre, however, should Putin allow open Repression against the protests, instead of giving Furgal the possibility of justification, then his Plan to initiate a controlled transition into the post-presidency period by means of special powers tailored to his Person could end in a new rupture, as has happened so often in the history of Russia.
The Referendum undoubtedly received a further boost from the fixing of a minimum wage, the adjustment of pensions to Inflation. The “Shut down” and the collapse of the oil price are the background for this. The crisis also hits the country economically to the heart. People are thrown back on their self-sufficiency structures, where they still exist. Where these are no longer alive, existential hardship threatens. What modest prosperity has been built up for the general population over the past twenty years is now up for debate. People are looking for safety. Of the super-rich Elite is to speak separately.
The fact that the return to the traditional self-sufficiency structures, which in Russia is called “additional family care”, i.e. the basic care provided by the dacha, once again proves to be the resource that enables survival in times of crisis, as so often in Russian history, was also able to mitigate the crash this time.
A dacha or dacha is a plot with a garden or weekend house, which serves the leisure and Recreation and allows hobby gardening. The distance between City apartment and dacha is usually twenty to forty kilometers, in the vicinity of major cities such as St. Petersburg and Moscow often much more.
Names are sound and smoke
Finally, it remains to be noted that all the names currently mentioned for a succession of Putin in these or those publications, whether Russian or Western, are currently pure speculation.
The “mind games” of the “Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung” and the “Zentrum für Osteuropa - und internationale Studien” are symptomatic of this. Under the question of what could happen in 2024, the organizations recently hid themselves in fantasy names of possible successors of Putin. Among others, they invented a “successful Governor of the Siberian Krasnoyarsk Region, Ekaterina Nadezhnaya”, whose name is derived from the word “reliable”. The only thing to correct here is that the word “Nadezhda” is not about reliability, but about hope.
Only with hope can one also meet those who would like to use the current conflict in Khabarovsk to ignite a conflagration, instead of supporting the quiet transition into a post-Putin era. Nothing can be of less use to the world at present than a destabilization of Russia.