Russia after the Reform of the Constitution – What will Come Next?

Being too late because of COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic Russia finally realized its main political agenda of the current year. Here we can name two major things – a pompous celebration of the Victory Day (to tell the truth, t…

Being too late because of COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic Russia finally realized its main political agenda of the current year. Here we can name two major things – a pompous celebration of the Victory Day (to tell the truth, the parade in the Red Square was postponed from 9 May to 24 June) and approval of amendments to the Constitution. The latter process has also turned into some kind of a show, with electronic voting that lasted one week and creation of some kind of a ‘political consensus’.
Does it mean that Russia now will start a new, quieter stage? Probably we can actually talk about a new stage, however it is not enough to expect it will be quieter (both to Russia and its neighbours).  The essential analysis of the discussed events let us state that.
Let’s start with the amendments to the Constitution. They slightly changed configuration of the structure of the Russian government, however there is no need to discuss it more seriously, because in this case non-official configuration (or, in other words, the real one) of the Russian government is more important than the official structure. We can say that the whole process of the amendment to the Constitution was initiated just for one purpose – to enable the current president of Russia Vladimir Putin stay in power. Actually we saw a solution of so-called ‘Problem 2024’. We can remind that according to currently applicable rules V. Putin would not be able to run for president during election of year 2024 when his second term of office expires (altogether, the fourth). However, after  realization of the ‘Constitutional reform’ V. Putin in 2024 will go to election as if for the ‘first time’, i.e. he will be able to run for the president again for two terms of office. There are no doubts that he would take a chance. It means that now V. Putin may stay in the office of the President until 2036.
Such steps and solutions should not surprise us. Actually, this is realization of the final V. Putin’s personal regime.  If we look at political evolution of Russia (maybe we should better call it regress), this is a natural step. Almost from the moment when V. Putin came to the Kremlin, he strongly led the country from weak and imperfect democracy at that time towards authoritarianism
How will the current established Russian authoritarianism look like? Here we should remember another mentioned event – celebration of the Victory against Nazi. An important aspect is that on the eve of the parade on 24 June V. Putin in the publication The National Interest posted the article designated for these historic events has already written about this article – https://www.voras.online/naujiena/politika/Vladimiras-Putinas-kaip-dydis-istorikas/). We can say that in this text an official approach of Russia was presented not only about the past but also about geopolitical presence and future. In the article actually all negative sins of the pre-war and post-war period of all Soviet Union were denied and return to interpretations formulated during Soviet period was made and sometimes they stepped even further (actually, the fault for the outbreak of World War II was laid on Poland). Incitement of the biggest countries of the world (namely, permanent members of the UN Security Council that have a nuclear weapon) was made to come to the negotiation table and actually agree on a new order of the world.    
When we look at the text of V. Putin’s article we can try to anticipate what ideological direction will be taken by Russia. To tell the truth, this direction actually is not new but it is the continuation of the selected way of Russia. The basis of this way is some type of Soviet revanchism (only without communist ideology). It is not a coincidence that not long ago V. Putin in one of his interview reproached that the former Soviet republics after collapse of the USSR left with ‘gifts of Russia’. Here we are talking about some territories. Here we have nothing new again. We can remind that propaganda of the Kremlin used to raise a question before regarding ‘Vilnius region and Klaipeda’ as territories that the ‘Soviet Union gave to Lithuania’. Actually, Crimea is also interpreted in Russia as the same ‘gift that has to be taken back’. Thus, we can presume that a hostile rhetoric in regards to the closest neighbours, especially when we talk about post-Soviet area, will just increase and the idea of ‘taking back the gifts’ may become one of the geopolitical engines in the current Russia.         
We also have to mention that it is not enough to simply ‘implement’ the authoritarian regime. Although in a formal point of view voting for the Constitution showed that the Kremlin had public support we cannot say exactly how strong this support was and whether it was actually true. Experiments in Russia showed that at least in some regions voting results had been falsified. Nobody knows how many people actually voted ‘for’ amendments from inertia or from fear. In other words, any authoritarian regime actually is a colossus (giant) with clay legs and Russia is not an exception here. It means that the Kremlin will have to solve the problem how to encourage internal mobilization for support of the regime. This is particularly important after additional knock-down effect of pandemic on the economy.
We can anticipate that the government of Russia may first of all remember the so-called Crimea effect, which arose patriotic euphoria to the public for some time and increased support of the government (V. Putin, personally) to new heights. Thus, Russia can continue playing a harsh game. This may raise anxiety to the closest neighbours of this country, to begin with. For instance, antagonistic rhetoric directed to the Baltic States and Poland may increase, although most probably in this case everything will be limited just to rhetoric. A bigger conflict with NATO or even the EU would be too risky to Russia.     
Probably other countries will find themselves in a bigger threat. Here the Kremlin has a big choice. Firstly, Moscow can escalate a conflict in Donbas region. Moldova with all its problematic regions (e.g. Gagauziya) can become the focus. Political and other (hybrid) measures can be used for trying to ‘swallow’ Belarus, especially because in the background of the approaching presidential election in this country the division in the society is getting more obvious. In other words, there are a lot of versions. It would be important to the Kremlin to show its power and feed the public with new ‘victories’.  
On the other hand, we cannot forget fragility of the mentioned authoritarian regimes. The fact that now B. Putin has a possibility to stay in power until 2036, does not mean that this will happen. However, in this case it is getting more complicated to make forecasts. Probably we can anticipate that if V. Putin’s regime will collapse, unfortunately we have little hope that the power in Russia will be taken over by progressive democratic power. They are actually rather disoriented and actually, weak. It is likely that after the fall of V. Putin’s regime, a group that now is in the government would try to take over the power by imitating transformation of the regime or even opposition to V. Putin. In other words, we should talk about cosmetic changes only.
We should not forget that the reality sometimes is less expected than the most courageous scenarios and forecasts of the future is actually a very unrewarding thing. Current changes in the Constitution of Russia without any doubts form a certain development of events, however because of a number of real or potential factors (V. Putin’s age, mood in the Kremlin environment, actual mood in the public of Russia, economic instability) scenario of the development of future of Russia may be completely different from the one that is being anticipated in this text. Here we can make a philosophical round up that the time only will show what is what.     .
Viktor Denisenko    

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Autorius: Voras Online