Last week, Russian President Vladimir Putin approved a public referendum on a set of proposed amendments to the country’s constitution. The vote was originally scheduled for April 22, though it was moved because of the coronavirus pandemic, which has also impacted Russia.
Ironically, the initial date of April 22 would also mark the 150th anniversary of the birth of Vladimir Lenin, an ideologue and the Soviet Union’s first leader. However, the choice of this date is unlikely to be driven by an attempt to appeal to Russia’s communist minority. On the contrary, it may signal Russia’s incoming counter-revolution.
The proposed amendments to the constitution, which saw life in 1993 (two years after the Soviet Union collapsed), are not revolutionary but still significant. They are supposed to reflect some profound changes that shaped up Russia over the past two decades under Putin’s leadership.
Russia’s Constitutional Amendments
The amendments include the consolidation and restoration of the country’s territorial integrity, important to Russia’s socio-economic situation and the national economy’s resilience to sanctions. The changes also include a rapid rise of Russia’s military potential and power projection capabilities and the overall return of Russia as one of the global centers of influence and strategic decision making.
Additionally, the amendments aim to establish an institutionalized social contract between the state and its people. These changes would guarantee a minimal welfare state and are likely to be welcomed by Russians. The adjustments include the guarantee that minimum wage match approved living provisions, pensions will be regularly indexed, and that much-needed birth rates will be stimulated through generous welfare programs.
The proposed amendments allow the government to argue that Russia under Putin is a socially-responsible state, which places people and their needs first. By introducing these changes, the government is targeting not just Putin’s traditional electoral base – including low-income families, government employees, and retirees – but also a new generation of Russian voters who grew up under Putin.
Russia as Traditional Conservative State
The proposed amendments intend to cement Putin’s repositioning of Russia as a conservative nation that supports core values such as traditional families, respect for the elderly, patriotism, and religion. For the first time since the 1917 fall of the Russian Empire, the country’s constitution may include a reference to God.
These amendments aim to achieve two principal goals, one internal and one external.
First, the Russian government has a clear domestic target to consolidate society through a systematic appeal to traditional conservative values. This includes the attempt to balance the obvious need to retain Russia’s declared status as a secular state with the growing power and influence of the religious institutions, notably the Russian Orthodox Church.
The sweeping constitutional changes, set for a national vote, would also ban same-sex marriage and list 'belief in God' as one of Russia's traditional valueshttps://t.co/9gsmfjZFrw
— Haaretz.com (@haaretzcom) March 11, 2020
Second, the proposed amendments can also be viewed as part of Putin’s international strategy to challenge western liberal values by positioning Russia as a global neo-conservative power, thus signaling that Russia’s power contest with the West is now being extended into a new ideological paradigm, this time driven not by Leninism but by traditionalism.
Fortifying Mother Russia
The growing power contest with the West pushes Putin’s government to institutionalize a set of measures, which, in the Kremlin’s view, would offer the Russian state an extra degree of immunity from foreign influence.
The most profound proposal is the calling for Russian law to prevail over international norms and treaties. There are also provisions to ensure that Russian lawmakers and key decision-makers (such as ministers and senior government officials) don’t have foreign citizenship. No Russian ministers or governors will be allowed to have property abroad, foreign shares, or accounts in foreign banks.
Finally, Russia’s future president should not have foreign citizenship and should be permanently residing in the country for at least 25 years.
Pathway for Putin
The above set of key amendments is topped with a proposal that, if the public referendum supports the constitutional amendments, any future eligible presidential candidate would be allowed to place their name forward regardless of previous presidential terms. This means that Putin would be eligible to run for the presidency in 2024 and 2030.
This is likely to happen. The first three sets of proposed amendments are expected to resonate well with the majority of the Russian electorate, which is both conservative-oriented and has a strong socio-economic dependency on state support.
Adding to that is the reality of Russian politics. There are no real viable alternatives to Putin in the nation’s current political kaleidoscope. The country’s real liberal opposition is too self-isolated from the majority of the Russian electorate, too self-absorbed, and not well organized to pose any challenge to Putin or his possible political heir.
Above all, the majority of the Russians are scared of any possible revolutionary changes, and, in the absence of a viable, appealing alternative, are likely to support Putin’s counter-revolution.Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial position of The Globe Post.