Staunton, March 15 – In the course of only four days, the Kremlin secured the approval of the parliaments of all the federal subjects for its proposed amendments to the Russian Constitution, a fact that the Putin regime trumpeted as evidence of the nearly universal approval he and his constitutional changes have in the Russian Federation.
That outcome was never in doubt given that United Russia with its systemic “opposition” dominate all these legislatures and that Moscow has used administrative pressure to ensure that Putin was not going to be embarrassed. But that makes one aspect of the situation that has so far attracted little attention even more significant.
In a commentary for the Svobodnaya pressa portal, regional specialist Anton Chablin points out that despite this approval, “more than 900 regional deputies” – or almost one in every five – either voted against the amendments (albeit only 90 did that), abstained (mostly KPRF deputies), or didn’t show up to vote despite Kremlin pressure (svpressa.ru/politic/article/259835/).
What Chablin calls “this demarche on the part of hundreds of deputies of various fractions,” he argues, is “much more indicative” of where Russians in general and members of the elite are than the bold pronouncements of opposition groups like Yabloko or the Left Front. At the very least, it raises some serious questions:
“Why was there such a high level of non-acceptance of the new edition of the Constitution in the regions among the ruling elite? [And] can one today speak about the existence of a split of this very elite which is usually incapable of withstanding the pressure of the Kremlin?”
Chablin sought answers to these questions from three experts. Aleksey Firsov, head of the Platform Center for Social Prognostication, says that some who didn’t vote may have had other even respectable reasons for not showing up. Their failure to appear suggests more indifference than opposition.
Ilya Grashchenkov, director of the Center for the Development of Regional Policies, says that the large number who abstained were keeping their options open. They won’t be blamed by others regardless of what happens in April. And not showing up is the best way to abstain: one can always point to some other “respectable” reason one wasn’t there.
At the same time, however, Grashchenkov says, this result shows that “the paths of United Russia and Putin will soon finally diverge and that one of Putin’s challenges in the future will be to build a new foundation for himself in the regional legislatures, one more loyal and less likely to resist what he wants to do.
And Konstantin Kalachev, head of the Political Experts Group, says that there has been dissatisfaction among regional elites in the past and that some of their members are prepared to show their disapproval and independence as these 900 deputies have. In his view, the population is far more negative than the elites.
That so many of the latter oppose these amendments does not augur well for the results of the April 22 referendum on the constitutional amendments