Sunday, May 31, 2020

Putin’s ‘Constitutional Blitzkrieg’ Blowing Up in His Face, Russian Analysts Say

Paul Goble

            Staunton, May 29 – By holding a referendum on amendments to the Constitution, Putin has given Russians the chance to vote against him and his policies and by rescheduling it at a time when the pandemic will still be going on, he has ensured that they will take advantage of that opportunity.

            And consequently, Russian analysts say, the Kremlin leader’s “constitutional blitzkrieg,” one that he need not have launched or organized with a referendum at all has failed or even more blown up in his face with uncertain consequences but with ever more Russians now asking “what will happen next?”

            Public opinion polls show Russians are increasingly angry at the authorities in general and Putin in particular but not yet ready to go into the streets.  But having the opportunity to vote no, something the regime has not allowed them without negative consequences, gives them the perfect occasion to express their anger and opposition.

            Had there been a vote before the pandemic or had the pandemic not happened or had Putin and the regime handled it more successfully, the referendum might have gone through without particular difficulty. But Ilya Grashchenkov says, that moment was “missed” and the regime can’t recover it (

            Others agree, including Rosbalt journalist Aleksandr Zhelenin, who says that the crux of the matter is that the powers have given the people the chance to vote against the regime without serious consequences and it is a chance that many, including himself, will rush to take advantage of (

            He points out that the Kremlin is only making the situation worse for itself in other ways. It has decided not to hold the vote on the same day as the Victory parade, thus underscoring its importance and apparently the fears of some that Putin may not win, a loss that would be especially embarrassing if it came on Victory Day.

            Moreover, Putin has decided that people will have to vote in person despite the pandemic, not only risking their health and even lives but the first in what many fear is a campaign to manipulate the results by suppressing those most likely to vote against the amendments and him, the young and Internet savvy.

            That will make the opposition even more suspicious and likely to mobilize large protests in the major cities if, as they fear, Putin will stop at nothing to ensure approval of measures that will allow him to serve as president until 2036.

            But the most important element in all this is that the powers that be have given Russians the chance to vote “no” without penalty for the first time in 15 years. (In 2005, Putin eliminated the “against all” line on ballots.)  But it can’t escape this time around because the question is cast in yes or no terms.

            “It would be a sin not to make use of this opportunity,” Zhelenin says. “I for example haven’t voted in more than 20 years and have called for boycotts because I consider that it is incorrect to choose from among two, three or a larger number of evils, especially since the chief one of them will remain in place,” he continues.

            But in this case, the Rosbalt journalist concludes, he “intends to go and vote” without fail.

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