Sunday, January 19, 2020

Putin Wants a Referendum Not to Reform Constitution But to Set Stage for New Aggression, Piontkovsky Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, January 16 – No one should have been surprised that Vladimir Putin has indicated that he will remain in power for the rest of his life, Andrey Piontkovsky says. Ordinary Russians had operated on that assumption for some time.  Nor should they have been surprised that Putin doesn’t care what his title is as long as he is charge.

            What analysts should have been focusing on, the Russian analyst who lives in the US says, are two other things: why did Putin choose to make this declaration now, given that the end of his current term is four years away and why did he talk about having a referendum on constitutional changes when that could have been avoided?

            “It seems to me that for [Putin], a referendum is a kind of all-people approval. And therefore, Putin will point to it during the foreign policy adventures which he is preparing” to carry out after he stages the celebration of the 75th anniversary of the end of World War II in Europe. That and the referendum thus come together.

            According to Piontkovsky, the Kremlin leader “is planning to increase pressure on Ukrainian President Vladimir Zelensky and his Belarusian colleague Alyaksandr Lukashenka” and sees the coming months as a perfect time for that. Angela Merkel’s visit to Moscow left a bad impression because “she wagged her tail like Putin’s little dog.”

            That means that in the Normandy format about Ukraine that Putin favors, the balance of forces is now three for Moscow against one, Kyiv, for Ukraine.  “And if Zelensky won’t be able to fulfill the obligations to join Ukraine to [the Donbass occupied by Moscow forces], then Putin will move to escalate,” confident that he will not be opposed.

             Similarly, Putin plans to put pressure on Lukashenka to finalize the Kremlin’s plans for a new union state not because Putin needs it so that he can stay as president but as another step in his plans to rebuild something like the Soviet Union. And to these ends, in Piontkovsky’s view, Putin will also seek to put more pressure on the Baltic countries and the West as well.

            Thus, the timing of Putin’s words about constitutional change and his preferred method of approving them, a referendum, have far less to do with domestic arrangements in the Russian Federation than they do with the Kremlin leader’s calculations about the realm he cares more about, foreign policy. 

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