In early October, King Salman of Saudi Arabia – with 1,500 members of his private entourage and 459 tons of luggage – landed at the Vnukovo airport for the first official visit of a Saudi king to the Kremlin. At military level, Saudi Arabia has already bought from Russia the S-400 Triumph anti-missile system (NATO reporting name: SA-12 Growler), already fully operational in China, which can intercept aircraft and missiles at a speed up to 4.8 kilometers per second (17,000 kilometers per hour) and has the ability of intercepting up to 36 targets at the same time.
In addition, the Saudi purchase of the anti-tank missile Kornet and other advanced weapon systems is already in an advanced phase of negotiations between the two countries.This is a deal worth 3 billion US dollars, but the sale of weapons is a fundamental strategic priority for Russia.
According to the 2016 data, the Russian Federation produces over one fifth of the weapons sold in the world while, also thanks to Russia, India and China have now almost reached technological and military self-sufficiency.
Hence Russia is looking for other markets to sell its weapons, with the consequent and immediate strategic and economic influences and constraints.
Currently everything works thanks to the unquestionable success achieved so far in Syria.
Hence Russia is looking for new markets in the Middle East, an excellent area for selling weapons.
At military level, however, the commercial relations between Russia and Saudi Arabia had already begun in 2012, when the latter had bought a C-300 missile system, with the tacit agreement that said supply would not be sent to Iran.
The C-300 is one of the most powerful anti-missile systems currently available.
In my opinion, Saudi Arabia is reemerging from the long phase of more or less explicit support to the jihad in the great arc of crisis stretching from Afghanistan to Syria.
In Afghanistan, Saudi Arabia is moving away from the well-known support for the Taliban, backed with the largest amount of funds.
On August 7 last, Mishari al-Harbi, the most prominent Saudi diplomat in Afghanistan, defined the Taliban as “armed terrorists,” while the Saudi Kingdom is seeking in all ways to block the private donations of its citizens to the Afghan “students”.
There is a fully rational reason underlying this new policy line: Saudi Arabia can no longer see a political advantage in arming and supporting the Taliban, but above all it wants to put a spoke in the wheels of the mediation, organized by Qatar, between the Kabul government and the above-mentioned “students” trained in the Pakistani Qur’anic schools.
At the beginning of jihad in Afghanistan, the United States and the other countries present there interpreted the Pakistani and Saudi support as a way to contain the Iranian designs in the Western part of the country, but now King Salman is radically changing the Saudi foreign policy.
Whatever happens, Afghanistan will have wide regional autonomy – hence the jihad to keep Iran and its regional allies out has no longer much reason to exist.
From this viewpoint the radical change, which has long been experienced in the relations between Israel and Saudi Arabia, is significant.
The meaning of this unusual manoeuvre is obvious, namely to join forces against Iran and its old and new proxies.
Nevertheless, as recalled by one of the leaders of the Afghani Mujahidin, before 2013 Saudi Arabia had strongly supported Qatar’s efforts to “open up” to the Taliban. But now that the relations of the “Afghan students” with Turkey, Egypt and the United Arab Emirates have weakened, Saudi Arabia is revising its preferential relations with the old supporters of the Afghan jihad (Turkey, the Arab Emirates and Egypt) and, above all, it is isolating Qatar, the only support left to the jihadist “students”.
It is a fact that the Taliban still collaborate with Iran and Qatar.
Hezb’ollah was born as a movement of Islamic resistance, without any preconceived idea vis-à-vis the various traditional factions of Islam.
However, can the support of these two countries replace the relationship with the Saudi private individuals and their Kingdom? Probably so.
In all likelihood, the Saudi efforts to separate the United States from Qatar – hosting its CENTCOM – could push the United States directly into Saudi hands, while Qatar is putting pressures on the US forces for a quick transfer of their Command, which could possiblybe moved to the Al Dhafra base in Abu Dhabi.
Reverting to King Salman’s State visit to Russia, he has understood that Russia – and no longer the United States – is now distributing cards in Syria and hence he acts accordingly.
In all likelihood, the now old King Salman is also promoting the Russian support for his son, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, who is expected to inherit his throne.
An agreement to increase the oil price, which is essential for both countries, has been still discussed, but nothing leaks out of the Kremlin, while Putin has argued for the need to further use the Saudi sovereign funds in the Russian economy.
Out of the 10 billion US dollars promised by Saudi Arabia to Russia in 2015, only one has been provided so far.
The King’s visit to Russia had been promised in a phone call with Putin as early as March 2015, but it had been postponed many times.
Ironically, however, the USSR was the first to recognize the independence of the Kingdom created by King Abdulaziz.
The official relations between Russia and the Kingdom of Hejzah and Nejid – the official name of the Al-Sauds’ Kingdom until 1936 – started as early as 1926.
The strategic reason is obvious and is similar to the one which led Stalin to be the first to recognize the State of Israel, namely to be a thorn in the flesh in a region dominated by the British Empire, by favouring both the “quasi-friends” (Israel) and the “future enemies” (Saudi Arabia).
In 1938, however, following the “elimination” – during the Stalinist purges – of the Russian envoy to Saudi Arabia, Karim Kharimov, who was a personal friend of the King, the relations between the two countries were broken off.
Bilateral relations were resumed only in 1991.
An “Indian Spring”, the distance between Russia and Saudi Arabia, an extraordinary stroke of luck for the US strategic and economic interests in the Middle East – a stroke of luck that today, with the meeting between Putin and King Salman, is virtually over.
King Faisal, assassinated by his nephew Faisal bin Musaid in 1975, when he was Saudi Foreign Minister, visited Russia only in 1933, but it was a visit having scarce bilateral importance.
It is worth recalling that, after discarding the other three previous candidates, last mid-July Russia had provided to Saudi Arabia its agreement on the appointment of Ahmed al Wahishi as Yemen’s Ambassador to Russia.
Russia is interested in not making the conflict in Yemen turn into a war against Iran.
While for Iran the primary strategic interest of the Houthi insurgency in Yemen is to create an expensive, unpredictable, lasting and dangerous engagement for Saudi Arabia.
Well before the meeting between Putin and King Salman, an agreement had been signed between the two countries to further reduce the oil output, thus making the crude oil price increase.
After a long struggle to become China’s first supplier – won by Russia against Saudi Arabia in 2014 with the signature of a 30-year contract with China worth 400 billion US dollars only for natural gas – last year King Salman signed contracts to the tune of 13 billion dollars with Malaysia, Indonesia and Vietnam.
In October 2016, however, the Russian Federation purchased – through Rosnet – a 49% shareholding of Essar Oil, the first private Indian oil company having a 50% stake in Kenya Petroleum Refineries Ltd, which is fully owned by Essar.
India is the primary market where, in the future, Russia and Saudi Arabia will clash for their oil and gas.
Currently Saudi Arabia and Russia together produce a quarter of all the oil used in the world. Obviously, the agreement between the two countries to limit the extraction of crude oil is related to the new extraction of oil and gas in the United States, which is already a danger to all the old OPEC countries or the autonomous countries such as Russia (or Norway).
Reducing the crude oil price means potentially driving the US shale oil and shale gas out of business – and this is the first strategic goal uniting the Russian Federation and Saudi Arabia.
The Russia-OPEC agreement on the reduction of crude oil price has finally been postponed until March 2018, but said agreement will be probably extended at least until the end of 2018.
Saudi Arabia, however, still wants a closer relationship with the Trump’s US administration, which can provide technology to put an end to Saudi Arabia’s economic dependence on oil by the end of 2030, according to King Salman’s plans.
This is key to the current relationship between Russia and Saudi Arabia: the latter agrees with the winner in Syria, namely Vladimir Putin, to reduce the crude oil price and put the United States in trouble. Nevertheless the latter remains the primary market for transforming the Saudi economy – by force, taking the fast track, as was the case with the Soviet “five-year plans”.
Moreover, it is the same plan of the current Russian leadership that can achieve it only by signing effective agreements with all OPEC countries.
The magnitude of Saudi investment in the United States is still extraordinary and unique: last May Saudi Aramco signed a 50 billion dollar contract with the US oil companies, while Minister Khalid al Falih has finalized a further 200 billion US dollar contract to produce in Saudi Arabia goods and equipment that were previously imported from the United States.
King Salman’s plan, however, is to limit Saudi Arabia’s oil dependence and, in the meantime, to turn his country into an active trading platform for the Greater Middle East.
Hence no more trouble spots in Saudi Arabia’s neighbouring countries.
With the exception of Iran and its allies, at least for the time being.
They are the only oil, political and religious competitors capable of attracting and pushing the many Shiite minorities throughout the Sunni Middle East to rebellion – including the Saudi largest oil extraction region.
Another bilateral economic system, which was certainly not disrupted – at least for a short time – was that of military supplies between the United States and Saudi Arabia.
While, according to 2016 data, Saudi Arabia currently absorbs 35 billion US products and services, it is worth noting that the Saudi Kingdom is the fifth largest arms buyer in the world.
In 2017 the Saudi military spending alone has accounted for 61 billion US dollars, namely 21% of the country’s current budget.
As is well-known, the United States is currently the largest exporter of weapons in the world.
Hence it is by no mere coincidence that the first meeting between King Salman and Putin has been held precisely for the purchase of a Russian weapon system that the United States has not at such an advanced level and that could block its missiles.
Therefore Saudi Arabia fears the possible reactions of Middle East countries which have US-made missiles available.
A goal that defines Saudi Arabia’s utmost strategic autonomy from the United States.
Not to mention a globally important project – certainly designed by the Saudi leaders to “make money”, namely Aramco’s new presence on the stock market.
Next year Saudi Arabia is expected to start selling a 5% shareholding of Aramco on the market – the largest takeover bid in the stock market history.
The competition between the New York and the London Stock Exchange to obtain this transaction is already fierce, but – at this juncture – nothing prevents the Russian Federation from acquiring oil companies of the Saudi network.
Yet another level of contrast between the two old bilateral competitors, namely the old United States and the old Soviet Union, in the new guises prepared for celebrating globalization.
King Salman, however, does not want to put all his eggs in one basket.
In fact, last May the Crown Prince, Mohammad bin Salman, already visited Russia to discuss the Syrian and oil issues.
As far as Syria is concerned, Saudi Arabia recognizes the de facto victory of the Russian-led coalition and accepts the possible construction of the South Pars gas pipeline from the sea between Qatar and Iran across the Syrian territory- probably in exchange for a financial compensation.
In all likelihood, Jordan – a traditional ally of Saudi Arabia – will play a special role in the new gas pipeline.
Later Saudi Arabia and the Russian Federation signed a 3.5 billion US dollar military cooperation agreement, preceding the one previously mentioned, envisaging technology transfers that are extremely important for the new Saudi local industry.
With specific reference to Syria, it is worth recalling that, only thanks to Saudi Arabia, Russia could have a platform for the negotiations – through Egypt – between the Russian forces and the Syrian opposition for Ghouta East and Rastan – an agreement that would have never been possible without the Saudi mediation.
In short, King Salman does no longer want clashes around his country. He only wants a peaceful route for the new future trade that will characterize the Saudi non-oil-dependent economy.
Moreover, the rapprochement between Russia and Saudi Arabia is viewed favourably by Israel, which – as many people say – is Russia’s “silent ally” in the Greater Middle East.
It is worth recalling that Iran is using the clash in Yemen to push Saudi Arabia into a very long, expensive and unpredictable war.
Russia has no reason to support Iran in the Houthi insurgency against the Yemeni Sunnis. Russia does not need many clashes around its immediate strategic interests in the Middle East oil fields.
Not even in Syria, Russia and Iran shall have the same goals in the future.
Iran wants an allied and dependent Syria, while Russia does not want only Westerners near its military ports in the Mediterranean exercising hegemony over a traditionally friendly country like Syria.
Neither does it want Syria and any other Middle East country to be too closely dependent each other, because this would deprive the Russian Federation of its autonomous line of communication with its Mediterranean ports.
Not to mention the control of jihad – a contagion that could spread to Chechnya – and the creation of a rampart towards the Arabian peninsula.
Another Russian essential goal in Syria.
Obviously while Russia is particularly interested in a new relationship with Saudi Arabia from the oil, economic and strategic viewpoints, it has no reason to disregard Iran.
The common interests between Russia and Iran are decisive and inevitable in Afghanistan, Iraq and also in Syria.
Russia cannot certainly lose these strategic axes only to rush to embrace Saudi Arabia.
Hence the Russian Federation will maintain its ties with the Shiite Republic. It will accept some Saudi interests in the Middle East region, between Jordan and the Lebanon, but it will support Iran in the Central Asian system, which Russia cannot certainly neglect.
Nevertheless it will not even disregard the new oil and military system, established in the new agreements with Saudi Arabia, which could also be a stabilizer of Russian interests in the Middle East and an economic partner to be taken away from the United States.
If all goes well, Russia could create a strategy based on two options between Saudi Arabia and Iran, without either of them being in a position to threaten – too closely – the Russian interests stretching from the Greater Middle East to Central Asia.
The Battle for the Indian Ocean and Island States
Russia has taken an increasing interest in strengthening consistently its diplomacy with small island States especially Cape Verde, Mauritius, Maldives and Seychelles. Late December, the Kremlin appointed Deputy Director Artem Kozhin at the Foreign Ministry as the new ambassador to the island of Seychelles, signaling the strategic importance it attaches to this island state of Seychelles with an estimated population of 85 thousand, located in the Indian Ocean, northeast of Madagascar and east of Kenya.
Former Russian ambassador to Seychelles, Alexander Vladimirov said the relations between the two countries have been extremely cordial since the two countries established diplomatic relations following the independence of Seychelles in 1976. Russia and Seychelles have seen remarkable developments between the two countries, including the arrival of many Russian tourists. Russian investors have been investing in the country.
On June 30, 2016, Russia and Seychelles marked their 40th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic relations between the two countries. Over the years, both have pledged to forge mutual cooperation in many spheres, but little is tangibly visible.
Notwithstanding that little progress, an agreement between the Russian Federation and the Republic of Seychelles waiving visa requirements for short-term trips by citizens of both countries was signed in Victoria, Seychelles, on Sept 2, 2015. Under the agreement, citizens of Russia and Seychelles with a valid passport, including a diplomatic or official passport, are exempted from visa requirements and may enter, stay or transit the territory of the other state without a visa for a term of up to 30 days.
As expected, both countries have exchanged official visits and held meetings at different times. During one of such meetings, Russian Foreign Minister, Sergey Lavrov, underscored the mutual interest in and readiness for the development of a joint plan for partnership, including transport and energy between Russia and Seychelles, and that would include the Southern African Development Community.
As far back as March 2015, on the topic that appeared that Russia planned to open military bases in Seychelles, Vietnam, Nicaragua and Cuba, Lavrov vehemently responded: “It is absolutely wrong. We have no plans to create military or marine bases abroad, but to resolve specific tasks: fighting piracy, pirates have appear in many parts of the world. Our fleet makes long-distance voyages. We agreed with some countries, that our ships use the existing infrastructure for calling into ports for maintenance and small repairs, supplementing food and water reserves, and for recreation of crews.”
Seychelles has over the years, suffered from sea piracy. However, the island is a key participant in the fight against Indian Ocean piracy primarily committed by Somali pirates. Former president James Michel said: “The pirates cost a great percentage of the Seychelles GDP, including direct and indirect costs for the loss of boats, fishing, and tourism, and the indirect investment for the maritime security.” These are factors affecting local fishing – one of the country’s main national resources.
As a support base, the island is currently strategic zone for the United States¸ China and India that are already competing in the Indian Ocean. But Sanusha Naidu, a Senior Research Associate at the Institute for Global Dialogue based in Pretoria, South Africa, thinks that it is very strategic for Russia to strengthen engagements with these island States, especially Seychelles.
“Part of this will enable Moscow to have an important maritime security presence from the Indian Ocean Rim on the East Coast to the Atlantic seaboard on the West Coast. This could offer important sea-lanes for Moscow’s economic transactions. But, it also represents crucial footprint to keep up with competitors like China and the United States in terms of geo-political interests,” Naidu told Modern Diplomacy.
In July 2019, President Vladimir Putin accepted the credentials of 18 newly appointed foreign envoys, among them was Louis Sylvestre Radegonde (Republic of Seychelles). Putin pointed to the fact that Russia maintains friendly relations with the Republic of Seychelles. It counts on further joint work to expand cooperation including tourism, trade, economic and humanitarian spheres, noting strongly that the tourism sector is the primary industry of that country.
Seychelles is ranked high in terms of economic competitiveness, a friendly investment climate, good governance and a free economy. It has strong and friendly relations with various African and foreign countries. Based on this fact, Professor Dmitry Bondarenko, Deputy Director of the Institute for African Studies, explained to me that “as part of the sustainable efforts by Russia with individual African countries, Russia and Seychelles could cooperate in the priority areas such exploring the seabed for minerals, fishing and seafood processing, aquaculture and marine services (including marine finance and marine biotechnology).”
In an emailed interview for this article, Punsara Amarasinghe, who previously held a research fellowship at Faculty of Law, Higher School of Economics in Moscow and now a PhD Candidate in Law from Scuola Superiore Universitaria Sant’Anna di Pisa in Italy, discusses some aspects of Russia’s relations with Seychelles.
The diplomatic relation between Russia and Seychelles does not have a long history compared to the robust relations between Russia and other African states. Nevertheless, in its brief history staring from 1976, Seychelles had made a rapport with the USSR. In particular, USSR ships anchored in Seychelles and Seychelles supported Soviet invasion of Afghanistan. However, Russian influence in Indian Ocean waned in the aftermath of the collapse of the Soviet era and Russia’s interest in Seychelles consequently diminished.
Recently, Russia’s interest in Indian Ocean and African states have been escalated as a part of its global agenda to restore Russia’s role. Especially just a week before the assassination of Iranian General Solemani, Russia participated in a naval exercise along with Iran and China in Indian Ocean proving its interest in the maritime expansion in Indian Ocean.
Amarasinghe wrote in his email: “The indispensable importance of Indian Ocean appears as a key factor for any state interested in power expansion. It was not an exaggeration that Robert Kaplan vociferously exclaimed that one who controls Indian Ocean, will control the geo-political center of the world. Currently the only active military base of the US is located in Diego Garcia, 1800Km away from the Seychelles. The geographic position of Seychelles is alluring for Russia’s blooming military interests and if Seychelles allows Moscow to initiate a military base in the island, the maritime hegemony upheld by the United States will be undoubtedly challenged.”
More importantly, the crucial location of Seychelles parallel to African continent makes it a unique destination as a military base. However, realistically we cannot assume the possibility of seeing a Russian base in Seychelles in near future. Indeed, it is true that Seychelles’ main port Victoria was opened for Russian vessels for refueling and other logistical issues. Yet, the same offer was given to many other nations including China and the United States.
On the other hand, Russia’s internal economic chaos have significantly hit the military expenditures of the Russian army and it is a fact beyond dispute that the Chinese and the United States military budgets are forged ahead Russian annual military budget. The practical circumstances may not make it an easy task for Russian Federation to build a military base in the Seychelles, even though it has a significant strategic importance, according to Punsara Amarasinghe.
Nevertheless, if Chinese can pursue its fortune in Seychelles, it would be much significant for them as a military access to Indian Ocean and an apt strategic position for maritime Silk road. China has already established a military base in Djibouti and its proximity to the Seychelles will secure Chinese military presence strongly in Indian Ocean challenging the US hegemony. It seems to indicate that rather than thinking of a military base fully controlled by Russia, it is likely to see much of Chinese presence in Indian Ocean, or perhaps, in Seychelles. It will inevitably assist Russian interests too.
Maldives, independent island in the north-central Indian Ocean, while Mauritius is further south, located about 2,000 kilometres off the southeast coast of Africa. Seychelles is ranked high in terms of economic competitiveness, a friendly investment climate, good governance and a free economy. It has strong and friendly relations with various African and foreign countries.
By demographic developments down the years, Seychelles is described as a fusion of peoples and cultures. Seychellois, as the people referred to, are multiracial: blending from African, Asian and European descent creating a modern creole culture. Evidence of this strong and harmonious blend is seen, for instance, in Seychellois food that incorporates various aspects of French, Chinese, Indian and African cuisine. French and English are official languages. Seychelles is a member of the African Union, the Southern African Development Community, the Commonwealth of Nations, and the United Nations.
Searching for a New World
The assassination of Iranian General Soleimani upon the order of the President of the United States on the territory of another sovereign state once again undermined the legal foundations of the entire system of international relations.
No matter how hard the U.S. Administration attempts to justify the decision of its President, it is perfectly clear that the situation in the Middle East and the Persian Gulf has become even more tense and unpredictable. Washington’s actions in recent years continue to destroy the legal foundations of international relations and demonstrate the increasingly defiant attempts of the United States to impose its terms, interests and “rules” of conduct on the rest of the world. Consequently, the assassination of the Iranian general is not so much a challenge to Iran as it is a challenge to the entire global community.
This begs the obvious question: Where might Washington’s politics lead and is there a way of opposing them without plunging the world into global disaster?
In the United States itself, many people are starting to realise that the course currently being steered by the U.S. Administration may do irreparable damage to the country’s own long-term interests. The American public was mostly restrained in its reaction to President Trump’s decision to eliminate the Iranian general. The provocative actions of the United States are increasingly isolating the country. Even its traditional allies are beginning to distance themselves, as they feel the consequences of Washington’s imperious unilateralism. The implications of the internal struggle currently unfolding over U.S. foreign policy will become apparent after the November presidential elections. However, whatever the outcome, we must concede that it will take a long time to redress the damage that the U.S. Administration has caused to the entire system of international relations.
As for the Middle East and the Persian Gulf, we can expect stronger anti-American sentiment and a general weakening of Washington’s influence on regional developments. The general lack of enthusiasm in the Middle East about the regional settlement plan touted by the U.S. Administration as “the deal of the century” suggests that the settlement is likely doomed to failure. In reality, the idea was just a way for the United States to retain its presence in the region.
Most of the United States’ allies are taking a “wait-and-see” approach following the dramatic events in the Middle East. Their stance is in some way understandable: they cannot come forward as one and directly criticise the United States, yet individual voices will go unheard. Consequently, most European capitals confined themselves to vague formal statements and general pronouncements. Nevertheless, the United States’ allies are becoming increasingly vexed by the unilateral actions of the country’s Administration, for which the “America above all” principle has become a way of life. However, for various reasons, the countries of Europe, as well as other allies of the United States, are not ready to oppose Washington’s politics on their own. That said, the process has begun, although it promises to be a long and arduous road.
In this context, particular responsibility lies with those few international actors that are capable and, just as importantly, ready to oppose Washington’s unrelenting pressure in the interests of global security. The only fully sovereign and independent actors that come to mind here are, of course, Russia and China, permanent members of the UN Security Council that enjoy significant weight in many global and regional issues and have massive combined military containment potential. Russia and China command respect in the global community and therefore bear special responsibility for the future world order.
The international community today—both at the level of public opinion and heads of state and international organisations—is listening with particular attention to the signals coming from Moscow and Beijing, recognising them as essential landmarks for adjusting their own stances and strategies on the key issues of international politics. Given the increased instability and unpredictability of the global environment, the importance of such landmarks increases significantly.
The model of Russia–China bilateral relations is seen as such a landmark in itself, as a demonstration of the feasibility of building ties based on carefully balanced interests without sacrificing national sovereignty and without opposing these relations to other foreign policy priorities. Equally relevant is the practical experience of new multilateral unions, including BRICS and the SCO, which allow states with highly divergent interests (for example, India and Pakistan) to interact successfully and constructively.
The special responsibility that rests on the shoulders of Russia and China entails additional, loftier requirements for the global political cooperation between the two states. Today, the question is how to coordinate the two countries’ long-term foreign political strategies more closely and promote joint initiatives that concern the fundamental issues of the future world order.
Naturally, Russia and China cannot claim a monopoly for developing new rules of the game for the future global political system. These rules should emerge from negotiations, consultations and discussions within a wide variety of multilateral formats, from global platforms such as the United Nations to the narrow-format meetings of public organisations and expert communities. Yet, the deeper and more strategic Russia–China coordination is, the more productive multilateral formats can become.
From our partner RIAC
Putin’s “January Sermon”: Is it a path to democratization of Russia or a hoax?
The volatile political trajectory and its subtle actions in Russia have always created awe among the political pundits in the West who are immensely obsessed with the geopolitical space in Ruski Mir. However, history has always aggrandized Russia as a state that cannot be easily fathomed. Just like how a dull and calm plot reaches its most unexpected culmination in a Dostoyevsky’s novel, the political trajectory in Russia has always been thrilling. The most recent political events followed by president Vladimir Putin’s annual speech in the state Duma on 15th of January is an epitome for the uncanny political nature of the world largest state.
The speech delivered by president Putin on 15th of January in the Duma was entirely an unexpected political explosion. In his speech, he proposed a serious of constitutional changes that would escalate the powers of the parliament eventually leading to an increase of prime minister’s power. Article 83 and 84 of the Current constitution in Russian federation have vested considerable power in the hands of the president over the state duma and the proposed changes would inevitably revoke them. A legitimate question appears before any inquisitive person on Russian politics is “Why Putin would allow Duma to curtail his power “. Political history of president Putin has aptly proven his sharp political acumen as a politician who properly kept his grip. However, this time he opted for rather a completely a different strategy by empowering the state Duma, which is the lower house of Russian parliament to appoint the prime minister who is currently being appointed by the president with Duma’s consent.
The increasing the power of a national council happens to be the most notable proposition of these recommendations and Putin indicated the need to strengthen the constitutional role as a crucial factor. The state council was a creation of Putin during his first term in Kremlin. Thus far it has served as an advisory body and it is consisted of regional governors, speakers of the both houses in the parliament and the party leaders. The proposed constitutional recommendations will boost its power and it is still unclear the way it would safeguard Putin from a political ebb. It not clear what role president Putin fancies in empowering the national council from nonentity to a powerful tool in Russian state apparatus. The evasive step taken by the former president of Kazakhstan Nursultan Nazarbayev in 2019 seems like a potential strategy Putin determines to implement. The last holdover from the Soviet era Kazakhstan resigned from the presidency and retained the influential job of leading country’s security council as the leader of the nation. Perhaps, Putin will embrace the same strategy of symbolizing an honorable step down while keeping his grip in a different way such a making himself as the head of the national council. Yet, making such an arm chair prediction about his possible strategy to remain in power beyond 2024 may be rather futile as Vladimir Putin has always shown a political unpredictability in his actions.
The appointment of Mikhail Mishustin to the prime minister post after Dmitry Medvedev stepped down along with his cabinet is the next notable incident emerged after 15th of January. Unlike Putin’s protégée Medvedev the newly appointed president holds no significant political activism as an ally or at least as a panegyric. He is being described as a technocrat and apolitical figure who was responsible for transforming the aged old Russian tax service into an era of digitalization. From a vantage point, the choice of Putin appears to be a wise move with the meritocratic capability of Mishustin regardless of his lack of affinity with the politics. Since the Ukrainian crisis in 2014, the economy of Russia has been in the doldrums and some economists have described the last decade as a stagnant decade for Russia’s economy. Given his solid background in economics and practical experience with taxation may prove his competence to become the premier in midst of an economic stagnation. Mishustin’s appointment reminds of the count Sergei Witte’s appointment by Tsar Nicolas II in 1905 whose capacity as an econometrician boosted Russia’s industrial growth for a shorter period.
The democratic reforms have always been sort of tough moves throughout Russian history. Especially the centralization of political power has always impeded Russia from reaching democratization. The confrontation between president Yeltsin and the parliament in the fall of 1993 eventually ended up in Yeltsin’s outrageous move of sending armed tanks to the parliament building. The current Russian constitution which has placed enormous power under in the hands of the president is an offshoot of the constitution adopted in Yeltsin era. Putin’s abrupt decision to reduce that will at least theoretically undo the damage wrought by 1993 constitution. In principle, the transition of power from the president to the parliament will pave the way to increase the high chances of check and balance in power crating a greater change in Russian political culture.
All in all, the ostensible motive of the constitutional reforms will assist Russia to get into better strides as a normal democracy without enabling the centralization of power around one man. But can we believe that country that has never undergone a proper western democracy will be adamant for such a mammoth change? The real politic in Russian history has always shown the rise of lesser known political characters to the zenith of power by taking the advantage of chaos. When Russian state was in a verge of extension Mikhail Romanova came out of nowhere and created the house of Romanovs that lasted for three hundred years. When Lenin died creating chaotic power vacuum in 1924, lesser known Stalin exterminated all his foes and tightened the power of newly born USSR and finally made it a super power. The sudden power shift Putin proposed on 15th of January is simply a tranquil sign before a great political storm in Russia and ironically Russians are no strangers for such political storms.
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