Friday, January 24, 2020

Right of Ethnic Russian Areas in Post-Soviet States to Join Russian Federation Should Be in the Constitution, Bezpalko Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, January 21 – An example of why a Constitutional Assembly could easily open the doors to disaster – and why Vladimir Putin has rejected that approach – is provided by some of the proposals members of his constitutional amendment working group have made, at least one of which could trigger disaster.

            Bogdan Bezpalko, a member of the Presidential Council on Inter-Ethnic Relations who serves on that working group, says that the right of ethnic Russian lands that are now within the non-Russian post-Soviet states to join the Russian Federation should be declared in a new version of the country’s basic law.

            He declared that such a right, contained within the constitution, would make the assembly of the entire Russian world easier and help Russia solve its demographic problems.  If this right were included in the Russian constitution, he says, then any ethnic Russian region in Ukraine and Belarus could join “and not just on the basis of the right of nations to self-determination.”

            Two Duma deputies reacted negatively to Bezpalko’s ideas, one, Yegeny Fedorov of United Russia, and a second, Oleg Smolin of KPRF -- the first because such an idea might limit Russia’s ability to reabsorb the former Soviet space and the second because it could trigger serious conflicts with Russia’s neighbors and the world (

            Fedorov, who is the coordinator of the National-Liberation Movement, says that it is a good thing to have such ideas put forward because they show that the process of constitutional revision is not a one-time thing as many imagine but rather a process which will involve many steps  and modifications just as the end of the USSR did.

            But Bezpalko’s proposal is “revisionist” and thus unacceptable because it changes the principles of state building “which for more than a thousand years have been developed by our Russia and our ancestors.”  The Russian world is broader than only ethnic Russians: it includes non-Russians and especially non-Russians who identify with the Russian state.

            What those who are talking about constitutional reform should be talking about is the fact that the Russian state should include “all the space of the Soviet Union at the end of World War II, that is, about the borders of 1945 in the framework of which everything can be restored, Fedorov continues.

            Bezpalko’s proposal instead of leading to that could have the effect of “putting a stick in the wheels” of moves in that direction, the United Russia deputy concludes.

            Smolin, who serves on the Duma education and science committee, says that his party had earlier proposed something similar at the time the USSR was falling apart.  But he adds, introducing such a provision now would trigger conflicts with Russia’s neighbors and perhaps with the international community.

            “Crimea literally fell into the embrace of Russia,” Smolin continues, and one “must not exclude the possibility of a repetition of such situations. But we cannot and must not fight with the former Soviet republics over territory. This is a question of voluntary unification if the need in such arises.”

Russians will React with Increasing Anger to Constitutional Changes Once They See They Won't Benefit from Them, Shelin Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, January 21 – Russians care little about the current proposals to change the constitution but they care a great deal about whether their rulers will bring justice to them, Sergey Shelin says. And when they realize that all the current discussions are “only a cover for extending Putin’s power, the prestige of the regime and its head will fall.”

            “The only question is whether this will happen before the ‘general vote’ scheduled in April or after it when the scenario of this operation already will be impossible to conceal” and the reality that the Russian people will again have been deceived by their leaders, the Rosbalt commentator says (

            The key reality is that all these changes are Putin’s “personal project. Not one of the leading institutions which are supposedly to be reformed asked for these modifications. For them, they were just as much a surprise as for ordinary citizens.”  And they aren’t really about transition: Note that Putin has not said a word about that in the last days.

            There may be a few people, perhaps several hundred, who actually care about these reforms, but most do not.  Overwhelmingly Russians view this as the latest manipulation by the elite and they ask themselves whether it will lead to more social justice for themselves or simply be used by the authorities to prevent any moves in that direction.

            Thus, the reaction of ordinary Russians is either indifference or anger. That Russian “has not read the Constitution, doesn’t consider it to have value, isn’t asking that it be changed, and does not see any link between it and his own circumstances.” For the elite, the best thing is for all this to be done quickly. The longer it drags on, the more questions Russians will ask. 

            “In spite of the popular myth,” Shelin continues, “the people are not at all indifference to the legitimacy of the power of the leader.” But they do not measure that by “constitutional categories.” Instead, they rate it in terms of whether they are being treated well and whether those in power are trying to pull the wool over their eyes.

            They were not happy about the way in which Putin and Medvedev exchanged offices in 2011, and the situation in Russia today is much worse – and they are thus more critical of any appearance as now of manipulations from which only those in power will benefit but not the people in general.

            Those in power who engage in such manipulations may remain in power for a long time, but with each passing year and especially each passing case of such manipulative behavior, they lose support in the population. On the one hand, that makes their rule more dependent on coercion. And on the other, it leads them to make geopolitical moves to try to recover backing.

Thursday, January 23, 2020

Putin Ending Post-Soviet NEP, Pavlova Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, January 21 – Almost exactly a century ago, Joseph Stalin ended the New Economic Policy in order to launch collectivization, industrialization, and the construction of a totalitarian state. Now, Irina Pavlova argues, Vladimir Putin is ending the post-Soviet version of NEP, thus opening the way for a renewed totalitarianism in Russia.

            Pavlova, a US-based Russian historian, says the current discussions about Putin’s constitutional amendments and his own continuance in office ignore the reality that his Presidential Administration determine what happens in Russia, just as Stalin’s Central Committee Secretariat did 100 years back (

            The Soviet constitution then and the Russian constitution now are a façade, the historian continues, and proposals about them have importance only to the extent that they can provide clues as to how those with real power view the country and its future. Otherwise, the language in the constitutions then and now is meaningless.

            Pavlova argues that the real meaning of Putin’s words can best be understood by the recent statements of his ideologists that Sergey Kurginyan that Russia must take pride in the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact and that Moscow must always insist that Stalinism and Nazism are in no way equivalents (

            Those in the West who want to blame Moscow for the Pact and who argue that the two totalitarian systems resemble one another are simply trying to put Russia at a disadvantage and into a box, Kurginyan argues.  And as his most recent remarks confirm, Putin fully shares that view.

             A committed great power leader, Putin “must make a transition to a new stage in its realization,” Pavlova continues. That provides the basic clue to what is going on now, which is in fact, as she notes she predicted a year ago, “the end of Putin’s NEP,” an arrangement that like its predecessor did not make Russia like the West but rather for its move in the opposite direction (

            “Just like the NEP of the 1920s, the contemporary NEP did not lead to civilizational changes of a Western type. “ Instead, it opened the way for the state to absorb ever more of the economy and society. “And just as in the 1920s, the regime used NEP for its own goals not only economically but politically. Beyond this façade, the creation of a new edition of Stalinism was taking place.”

            “The most intriguing question remains how will this new attack in the economic sphere occur and what the new dispossession of the population will look like?”  One indication of the ways in which Putin intends to move is his installation of Mishustin as prime minister. The latter is “ideally appropriate for this role.”

            Pavlova says she does not expect “any resistance” from the population. People have gotten used to the criminal state, to their own inability to change anything, and they recognize that no efforts have been taken to strengthen private property rights. And because that is the case, “today, like almost a century ago, a signal ‘from above’ is sufficient for the siloviki.”

Both will enthusiastically attack “the contemporary kulaks – the rich Russians who have been declared saboteurs and guilty of corruption.  Such attacks will fill the state treasury and allow the state to buy off the poorest strata of the population with new social benefits even as the state makes sure that its military industries continue to grow.

All this will give the Putin regime “a second breath,” Pavlova concludes. “And Putin will remain at his post – it isn’t important whether as president or national leader – for an indeterminate time.”  That is what this week has been about; not the modification of a document which does little to determine the shape of the Russian state or the decisions it takes.