Staunton, January 20 – Vladimir Putin’s latest moves almost universally viewed as part of the transition, in fact are something quite different: an effort by the Kremlin leader to “reformat the [Russian] political system under a new ideological project,” that of a corporate state, Vladimir Pastukhov says.
The London-based Russian scholar points out that most of Putin’s message was devoted to the redistribution of powers among the branches of the government, nominally in favor of giving more authority to the parliament and the courts but in fact consolidating even more power in “’the presidential vertical’” (novayagazeta.ru/articles/2020/01/20/83540-pereuchredit-rossiyu).
Having made certain concessions to the Russian parliament on the appointment of ministers, the Kremlin leader “made two enormous steps” in the opposite direction, first by elevating the status of the force ministers by means of putting their approval in a different category and second, by extending this principle to the regions as well.
What these changes mean, of course, is that “the distance between the real rules according to which Russia has lived for a long time and the constitutional Potemkin village” that Moscow has claimed to be operating under but hasn’t at least since Putin came to power “has been reduced.”
In short, Putin has moved to legalize the constitution of “understandings” rather than law and nowhere is this clearer than in his insistence that the State Council be constitutionally established even though it is not part of the division of powers as a clearly defined executive, legislative or judicial branch body but stands above all of them.
“Of course,” Pastukhov continues, “people of older generations know very well what ‘the State Council’ is – it is the CPSU Central Committee.” And Putin already had a Politburo ready to replace even it – the Security Council, “in which Medvedev is being readied to be ‘the ideology secretary’ under ‘General Secretary’ Putin and ‘organizational secretary’ Patrushev.”
Including the State Council in the Constitution, the Russian scholar argues, opens “a little window through which into the Constitution came return the principle of ‘democratic centralism,’ that is the imperial principle of a single channel of personified power constructed from top to bottom.” That is what Putin has been working toward for some time.
Thus, Pastukhov says, this shows that all of Putin’s efforts on the constitution “do not have any relationship to the so-called ‘transit of power.’” They are simply a means to “complete in short order the legal formation of the political system he has been working to establish over the last 20 years.”
And that means something else: the issue of transition remains just as open now as it did before Putin made his latest series of proposals, the scholar argues. More than that, these changes indicate that there isn’t going to be any transit at all, that Putin will remain in power although under just what title remains uncertain.
But that doesn’t mean that the changes he has proposed do not have serious consequences. They provide a new spirit for the interpretation of the basic document and in fact represent a revolutionary or better counter-revolutionary change in the constitution adopted in 1993.
That Constitution, for all its problems “did not arise on an empty place but was a philosophical and political manifesto of the new political force which had defeated communism and a new ideology.” That force and that ideology was liberalism, however uncomfortable recalling that fact makes the current rulers of Russia.
It inserted two principles into the Russian system that had not been there before: the primacy of individual rights and freedoms over the interests of the collective, the society and the state; and the integration of Russia into the Western political-legal space by specifying the primacy of international law over Russian legislation.
With his proposals, Putin is seeking to enshrine in the constitution the rejection of both these principles and to underscore Russia’s antagonism to the outside world and its ideas. But as bad as that is for the future of the country, still worse are the other larger parts of his new “constitutional philosophy.”
Given how radical a shift he is making, Putin should really be calling for “a new constitution.” But he doesn’t want to do so lest everyone see too clearly the direction in which he is moving, one in which the changes he is calling for reduce the constitution to “a puppet” and “a farce” as the Kremlin leader fills it with completely new “content.”
That content is of a corporate state, something signaled by the fact that Vladimir Solovyev’s film about Mussolini appeared “not by accident” at the same time as Putin’s remarks, Pastukhov argues. Mussolini developed the idea of a corporate state as an alternative to a democratic and law-based state. Putin wants to do the same in Russia.
“This is not a revolution from above,” as some think. Instead, “it is the last and highest stage of that creeping constitutional counter-revolution which with small interruptions has been going on since 2001,” a counter-revolution against the changes of 1989-1991 that were enshrined in the 1993 document.
“The empire which appeared to have receded into the past has struck back, becoming again the main principle of the state construction in Russia, one almost elevated into constitutional rank,” Pastukhov concludes.
He then adds as a PS. Russian society has underrated Putin’s “ambitions and pretensions,” the London-based scholar says. Putin wants to change Russia to such an extent that he will stand “in one rank with Lenin and Stalin. And then no unmaskings will be that terrible because there will always remain those who will consider him a God.”
Putin “wants to repeat what the Bolsheviks were able to do but not by borrowing from the West the idea of communism as they did but by taking up another related idea, one which officially in Russia it isn’t acceptable to call by its own name. This is a real transit of power,” Pastukhov says; and he adds that it is the one that is taking place.