Staunton, March 13 – The Duma’s decision to “’zero out’” all of Putin’s earlier presidential terms so that he can run again in fact “’zeroes out’ the entire era of post-Soviet Russia which arose as a result of free elections in 1990 and returns it in a literal sense to the USSR “with its general secretaries for life,” Vadim Shtepa says.
In an oped for Tallinn’s Eesti Paevaleht, the editor of the Region.Expert portal argues that Putin moved so early to give himself this option because he fears becoming a lame duck, something that in an authoritarian regime can be dangerous (epl.delfi.ee/arvamus/vadim-stepa-putini-riigipoordest-venemaa-nullitakse-tagasi-breznevi-aega?id=89195583 ; in Russian at region.expert/zeroing/).
Now that Putin is president for life, Shtepa says, “it is obvious that conflcits with the West will continue and even grow because only on the basis of that can the Kremlin propagandists advance the imperial image of Russia” they want. And Putin thinks in the terms of earlier ones and defines great power as having nuclear weapons rather than a strong economy.
For Putin, “the opinions of small countries are in most cases non-existent, and he continues to consider the entire territory of the former Russian Empire to be the zone of his interests.” But the modern world, in the form of economics, may have other plans. Indeed, as he was being made president for life, the collapse of oil prices and the ruble were calling into question his plans.
. Moreover, while Putin could easily get his way with his pocket Duma, he may find the referendum of April 22 harder going: His popularity rating is “below 50 percent,” and many regions are upset with his power vertical “which in fact has destroyed federalism and transformed Russian oblasts and republics into political and economic colonies of Moscow.”
Shtepa points out that “authoritarian dictatorships typically view themselves as ‘eternal,’ but their ends often happen unexpectedly and rapidly. Perhaps,” he says, “in Russia everything will change even before 2024, the date from which Putin will begin to count his new presidential terms.”
And he concludes with what he says is “an interesting detail: Kremlin propaganda loves to call other, primarily post-Soviet lands failed states, pointing to their political instability. But in this case, Russia has demonstrated that it is a classical ‘failed state.’” And that too has consequences for the future.
(On the issue of Russia as a failed state, see two articles by the author of these lines: “Russia as a Failed State,” Baltic Defense Review, 12:2 (2004): 76-83 at bdcol.ee/files/docs/bdreview/bdr-2004-12-sec3-art3.pdf and a development of this idea at “Russia isn’t a Failed State: It Doesn’t Have a State at All,” Eurasia Review, February 23, 2019 at eurasiareview.com/23022019-russia-isnt-a-failed-state-it-doesnt-have-a-state-at-all-oped/.)