Staunton, January 16 – Behind all the verbiage about changes, Vladimir Putin’s message in his address to the Federal Assembly was simple, Yuliya Latynina says. He was telling the Russian elites and the Russian people to stop babbling about a transition to a post-Putin future. The Kremlin leader plans to stay in power and will say in what capacity only sometime later.
Putin’s words show that “in Russia there will be a tsar,” whatever title he chooses to give himself, the commentator says. Apparently, the Kremlin leader hasn’t made a decision about that or is not in a position to say because the various pieces of the kaleidoscope have not yet fallen in to place (novayagazeta.ru/articles/2020/01/16/83473-nikakih-peremen).
In the wake of his speech, she notes, “experts began to speak about the center of power being shifted toward the prime minister. There wouldn’t have been anything unexpected in such a decision.” But Putin did not say anything indicating that that or any other specific outcome is what he prefers.
He may have been dissuaded by that because of rising discontent with his rule given stagnation and increasing poverty. One measure of that is that RTR reported that during Putin’s address, there had been 46,000 “dislikes” as opposed to only 14,000 “likes” (youtube.com/watch?v=7UGfRURRceY&t=9s).
According to Latynina, Putin has essentially four variants from which to choose: First of all, there is the idea of a union state with Belarus which he has long wanted so that the Kremlin leader could then head a new country but which Alyaksandr Lukashenka and the Belarusian people continue to resist.
Second, Putin could move in the direction of making Russia a parliamentary republic. But that would entail some serious problems. It was proposed by Khodorkovsky and for Putin that is a negative. It would require a referendum in which the idea might get less support than Putin wants. And it would require a functioning party that could be assured of victory.
United Russia isn’t that, Latynina says. And because it isn’t, moving in this direction could open the door to a Maidan in the event that the election did not give Putin and his party an overwhelming majority in the Duma.
Third, the restriction on presidents serving more than two terms in a row could be dropped. But that too would require a referendum, with all the problems of such a competition and vote.
And fourth – and this would seem the simplest and most congruent with Putin’s personal style – he could pull a Stalin. That is, he could retain total power from behind the scenes while others held public office. “Stalin was never president, tsar or emperor;” but no one doubts that he had more power than any of these.
Stalin understood very well, Latynina says, that “cadres are more important than ideas.” And Putin understands that as well. One perch from which Putin could exercise similar powers would be as head of the State Council or the Security Council. Those would be preferable to Putin because neither is elected or has a fixed term in office.