Tuesday, January 21, 2020

Putin’s Constitutional Reforms May Speed Reintegration of Former Soviet Space, Pavlenko Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, January 18 – Russian commentators have been so used to an “either-or” approach to the Putin succession question: either he will remain in power by changing the institutions of the Russian Federation or he will do so by changing the borders of the country and thus becoming the head of a new country, Vladimir Pavlenko says.

            But despite that widespread assumption, the Regnum commentator continues, there are compelling reasons to think that the two in fact are not antithetical but in fact reinforcing and that changes like those Putin has announced will not slow but rather accelerate the reintegration of at least part of the former Soviet space (regnum.ru/news/polit/2831435.html).

            Raising the issue of transition as Putin has done, Pavlenko argues, “objectively works for the universalization of the Russian political system and its adaptation to the interests of other former Soviet republics.”  And in so doing, the Kremlin leader makes it easier for these countries to cooperate and even integrate.

            That Putin did not talk about dispensing with the Russian presidency is a signal that this is part of his calculation given the centrality of presidencies in Belarus and Kazakhstan; and “it is possible that precisely here one should look for the key to the broadening of prospects for integration on the post-Soviet space.”

            To be sure, Pavlenko continues, Putin’s words raise more questions than answers as to what is going to come next not only within Russia but also in its relations with its neighbors. But they clearly were calibrated not to preclude but quite possibly to make it easier for integration of at least some of these states possible.

            Aleksandr Shpakovsky, a Russian commentator, expands on  these ideas, noting that the changes in Russia reflect Kazakhstan’s experience and could well drive Belarusian ones (imhoclub.lv/ru/material/izmenenija_v_rossii_i_interesi_belarusi_novaja_realnost_sojuznih_otnoshenij).

            “Russian political scientists consider that in the future the State Council will become the main center for the development of strategic decisions as far as government policy is concerned while the government itself will become to a greater degree technocratic.” They point to Mishustin’s appointment as evidence of that.

            These analysts also suggest, he continues, that this is designed to insulate the government from political parties, “including United Russia,” which must bear the burden of popular reaction to policy initiatives. This shift, of course, reflects calculations about the 2021 Duma elections, Shpakovsky says.

            “With regard to Belarus, one must stress that the reform of government administration in Russia just like the earlier ‘transition of power’ in Kazakhstan, offer Minsk priceless experience” of how to carry out transitions without confusion or chaos, transitions that allow for change but only for carefully managed change.

            Despite their differences, “the Belarusian, Russian and Kazakhstan systems have in common the presence of a strong institution of presidential power and leaders who have been in office for a long time and with whose personalities the state itself has gradually begun to be associated,” he argues.

            Such arrangements are “more stable” than “oligarchic parliamentary democracies of the post-Soviet kind,” but they are “vulnerable” to sudden changes caused by the working of the calendar. What Putin has done, he suggests, is to reaffirm this commonality and make it easier for these three countries to work together.

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