A new presidential decree, after necessary legal changes are completed, will allow foreign holders of Fan IDs who attended matches of the 2018 FIFA World Cup to be granted multiple visa-free entry to Russia until January 1, 2019.
According to official reports released by the Presidential Press Service and the Presidential Executive Office, Vladimir Putin had already discussed the initiative to use the Fan ID cards as documents for visa-free entry into Russia for foreigners with his Cabinet Ministers and at a meeting with the Security Council.
The initiative, viewed as a craft to promote public diplomacy and raise Russia’s image abroad, has been supported at the various levels of the state structure where the President held regular meetings to discuss the tentative or preliminary results of the FIFA World Cup. He has spoken publicly about this.
“Let us turn over this page, let us speak and think about the good. All fans behaved perfectly well, demonstrating the best qualities of sports fans. They demonstrated that sport and football can unite people on the basis of common principles and cultural and humanitarian values rather than disunite them,” Putin stressed.
Significant to recall here that at the opening, Putin said: “We prepared responsibly for this major event and did our best so that fans, athletes and specialists could immerse themselves in the atmosphere of this magnificent football festival and, of course, enjoy their stay in Russia – open, hospitable, friendly Russia – and find new friends, new like-minded people.” And therein lies the power of this fantastic game, which brings people together in spite of their differences in language, ideology and religion. Long live football!
Understandably, Putin wants to consolidate the achievements from the World Cup, further use the unique sports platform to promote tourism and broaden public diplomacy. Since the end of FIFA on July 15, he has assertively reiterated that foreign fans have had an opportunity to learn more about Russia and its people, millions have changed their opinion about the country.
While meeting with Russian Ambassadors and Permanent Representatives at International Organisations and Associations, to review and outline the main goals of Russia’s foreign policy, Putin stressed that “the World Cup attracted not only the heads of state and government from many countries, but also, and most importantly, hundreds of thousands of football fans from all across the world visited Russia.”
Putin reminded them about the significance and essence of public diplomacy. “They saw with their own eyes real Russia: open, friendly and modern. It is an obvious success and a major breakthrough – what is known as public diplomacy,” he told the gathering, present were both houses of the Federal Assembly, as well as Heads of Ministries and Agencies involved in international activities plus members of the research, expert and business communities.
Resultantly, Putin has called for using World Cup experience to lift excessive visa barriers and updating Russia’s visa regime rules. In his opinion, it is necessary to consider the practice of using Fan IDs at the World Cup, which enabled foreign citizens to enter Russia visa-free. The Fan ID may be used to update the visa regime rules including renewal, and lift barriers and procedures that are uncomfortable for people.
Earlier at the Cabinet meeting, Deputy Prime Minister Olga Golodets informed that during the World Cup, about 3 million foreigners visited the country over this period from June 14 through July 15, the highest number of tickets among foreigners were bought by fans from the United States, Brazil and Germany.
Golodets pointed out that “the championship was a turning point in breaking a great many stereotypes about our country. This is probably the first time that the people who attended the championship were able to form first-hand opinions about the country. Several million people now see Russia as an open, technologically advanced and hospitable country.”
Absolutely, this was a major achievement and it represented a major boost for expanding tourism in the country, she explained and added that the expectation was to make necessary infrastructural changes, including the construction of new hotels that would provide a stable base for higher numbers of tourists, both domestic and international.
Interior Minister Vladimir Kolokoltsev reported that his ministry has fulfilled in full its task of ensuring public safety during the World Cup. The relevant measures were taken during the football matches and Fan Fests.
Indeed, the World Cup has changed police attitudes too, if not temporarily. “Russian police officers were polite and tactful. Due to our measures, no serious violations of public order were recorded during the World Cup. Fans who committed minor offences received minor penalties,” he told the meeting.
“Given that foreign tourists with Fan IDs may be staying in Russia until July 25, we continue to operate in an enhanced mode. I would like to note that the introduction of the Fan ID cards and the system of access control helped in the efficient provision of public order,” Vladimir Kolokoltsev said in his assessment report.
Foreign Ministry Spokesperson Maria Zakharova, during her weekly media briefing, expressed great satisfaction and added that the MFA continues receiving messages about the enthusiasm regarding the organisation of the World Cup, the atmosphere surrounding the event, infrastructure and the country in general.
According to her, Russia in its role as the host of the World Cup had demonstrated yet again that it deserved the highest marks for the tournament. It has left an indelible impression on the memory of fans who arrived in the country from all over the world to support their squads.
Some said many stereotypes about Russia were shattered to pieces thanks to the perfect organisation of this spectacular event, the country wanted the whole world to enjoy, she pointed out at the briefing.
“The World Cup has unexpectedly become a meeting of civilizations for all groups of the population and for thousands of foreign tourists. The world media responded to the FIFA World Cup through the lens of observing our country, comparing myths with reality,” she acknowledged.
Zakharova concluded quoting one foreign media thus: “It’s very easy to fall in love with Russia where people take care of each other and are ready to help a stranger on the street even though they sometimes lack both the time and resources.”
Undeniably, in order to turn a new page and work towards a remarkable change, Russia should provide an example of openness and support the wish of thousands of fans to return again, to experience the culture, nature and traditions with their friends, relatives and children.
And as part of a plan to increase the tourist inflow, promote sustainable and practical public diplomacy, the Fan IDs strategy could be used in other future sporting and cultural events in Russia. According to the results of an independent survey, almost three quarters of foreign guests said they would like to revisit Russia. It’s an opportune time to change the shattered or staggering image abroad, good image that would eventually promote business utilizing the necessary strategies and instruments of modern public diplomacy.
Russia had the first edition of the FIFA World Cup from June 14 to July 15. The 2018 FIFA World Cup took place in eleven cities, namely Moscow, St. Petersburg, Sochi, Kazan, Saransk, Kaliningrad, Volgograd, Rostov-on-Don, Nizhny Novgorod, Yekaterinburg and Samara.
The Solidarity of China and Russia Serves to Contain the Hegemony of the United States
Authors: Yang Yi-zhong & Zhao Qing-tong*
On July 9, Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi revealed that relations between China and the United States were facing the most serious challenges since the establishment of diplomatic ties in 1979. This is primarily due to the fact that the hawk groups in the U.S. view China as a strategic competitor and rival or even an “enemy” out of geopolitical concern and ideological prejudice. For example, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has taken every opportunity to suppress China’s development and obstruct the connection between the two countries: presently the world’s largest and second largest economies. Yet, Wang said simultaneously that “Together, China and Russia have forged an impregnable fortress against the “political virus” and demonstrated the solidarity of the bilateral strategic coordination.”
Just one day ago, Chinese President Xi held phone-call with his Russian counterpart Putin to express Chinese staunch support of Russia’s political course including the efforts to accelerate the development and revitalization of its economy. Then both political strongmen once again vowed to remember history and safeguard peace together with people worldwide. It is held widely that China and Russia, as comprehensive strategic coordination partners, would further close consultation and cooperation amid the fast-changing international situation. Due to this, Xi pointed out that “China is willing to continue working with Russia in supporting each other, rejecting external sabotage and intervention, safeguarding respective national sovereignty, security and development interests and upholding common interests.” In effect, the two Eurasian powers have been supporting each other at the height of the battle against coronavirus, which has enriched strategic connotation to Sino-Russian relations in the new era, and taking the Year of Scientific and Technological Innovation (2020) as an opportunity to enhance solidarity in the fields such as high technology, vaccine and drug research, and biosafety. Internationally, Xi is more frank and firm on the position that Beijing stands ready to work with Russia to coordinate and cooperate closely within the UN and other multilateral frameworks, safeguard multilateralism, oppose any hegemony and unilateral acts and jointly safeguard international equity and justice. All these consensus between Beijing and Moscow aims to make greater contributions to serving global governance and promoting the construction of a community with a shared future for mankind.
In echoing Xi’s remarks, President Putin confirmed that Russia and his government firmly supported China’s efforts to safeguard national security in the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region. As usual, Moscow has openly stressed that Russia opposes all kinds of provocative actions that violate China’s sovereignty, and believed it is fully capable of ensuring long-term prosperity and stability in Hong Kong. In addition, he took the occasion to say the overwhelming approval of the constitution amendments in Russia would help maintain its long-term political stability, better safeguard national sovereignty and oppose external interference. Noting that bilateral ties between the two great powers are at their highest point in history, Putin said Russia is prioritizing its diplomatic relation with China. This includes Moscow’s solidarity with Beijing surely serves to promote pragmatic cooperation between the two sides, to strengthen strategic consultation and coordination under the framework of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) and the UN and eventually to safeguard global strategic stability and security.
Here it is necessary to note that China has never ignored the vital relations with the United States simply because the bilateral ties between Beijing and Washington not only concerns the interests of the two-side peoples, but also matters greatly to the future of the world and mankind in the new century. As it has repeated that China hopes the U.S. can build a more objective and calm understanding of China’s rise and formulate a more rational and pragmatic China policy. Yet the U.S. has been critical of China’s handling of its own domestic issues such as Xinjiang, Tibet, Hong Kong, and Taiwan. Beijing has repeatedly warned Washington against meddling in its internal affairs. In so doing, China has been patient and sincere to talk to the United States that both sides should not seek to change each other. Since China is committed to the path of socialism with Chinese characteristics, it is a path only suited to China’s national conditions and a choice made by the Chinese people in taking account of the vast developing country of 1.4 billion people who are still struggling for shaking off poverty and backwardness. Given this, no force has the right to deny the legitimacy of the path chosen by other countries including China, nor will any country change its system according to other government’s dictates. This is the key point of the strategic consensus between Beijing and Moscow, yet the fundamental divergences between Beijing and Washington which is believed firstly to make all efforts to slow down China’s amazing economic growth by denying it access to the large U.S. market; second to adopt the containment strategy of China through building up alliances with its neighbors in order to provide an effective counter-weight to China’s growing power, though obviously exaggerated.
In effect, China, in order to avoid confrontation with the United States, has reiterated that it will neither copy the model of other countries nor export the “China model” as China will not and cannot become another America. In foreign affairs wherein states act and react independently, China never asks other countries to follow its practices. Equally, the U.S. should not seek to change China, rather than to explore ways for peaceful coexistence together. Therefore, they should respect, appreciate, learn from and benefit each other like the bilateral relations between China and Russia. This has been the core foundation of the solidarity between Beijing and Moscow since the end of the cold war in 1992.On the contrary, the United States has been aggressive and even hostile towards China, even though the latter argues for willing to develop its relations with the U.S. with goodwill and sincerity. As Chinese FM Wang Yi said, China never intends to challenge or replace the U.S. and has no intention to engage in an all-out confrontation with the U.S. As many scholars have insisted that what Beijing has cared about most is to improve the wellbeing of Chinese people, what it value most is the rejuvenation of China as one of the greatest powers, and what it expects most is respect and equality in the world. The true requirement for the ruling elite in Beijing is that the CCP is the legitimate party to govern China and the people through the vast territory. Due to this, as the only ruling party of China, it has the very right to defend its sovereignty, security, and development interests and refuse any bullying and unfairness against it. In a power politics, China and the U.S. stand to gain from cooperation and lose from confrontation.
To be sure, under the uncertain and unexpectedly changing circumstances of the world affairs, all Chinese goals depend on its comprehensive and long-term strategic partnership with Russia which is definitely in need of China reciprocally. First of all, China and Russia will turn the COVID-19 crisis into an opportunity which will surely receive a strong boost after the pandemic. Secondly, considering Russia’s tremendous resources and complete industries through which they can pool their relative advantages and caliber to advance their economic power, China’s strong financial and manufacturing capacity will be able to boost the economic recovery efficiently in the post-pandemic era. Moreover, since China and Russia have agreed to advance the strategic connection of the Belt and Road Initiative with the Eurasia Economic Union, they have earnestly expanded cooperation in energy, agriculture, scientific-technological innovation, and finance which will turn out more advantages in software, cybersecurity and big data, regardless of the vicissitudes in the geopolitical landscape.
In light of this, it is not exaggerated to argue that the solidarity between China and Russia, two permanent members of UN Security Council and responsible powers of the world affairs, would certainly benefit the two countries’ interests, the peace and stability of the region and also global development.
*Zhao Q. T. is a post-graduate student majored in Diplomacy at China Foreign Affairs University.
Russia’s geopolitics and strategy in the future
Russia’s military doctrine is clearly closely related to European security – which is obvious even after the Cold War– and is in any case completely independent of the internal political configuration of the Russian regime.
Therefore, studying the evolution of Russia’s military doctrine means predicting, a contrario, much of the strategic future of Europe and obviously of NATO as well.
A strategic future that is still tied to the USA’s – and not only within the Atlantic Alliance – but which experiences situations that would have been unimaginable during the Cold War: the destabilization of the Mediterranean; the jihad; the Iranian-Saudi tension; the new role played by Israel; the more or less artificial “Arab springs”, the new immigration from sub-Saharan Africa and, finally, China’s New Silk Road.
All possible sub-military threats – obviously except for Israel’s role – which, however, multiply the hotbeds of tension, while NATO is focusing again on the East-West confrontation, thus providing to the East a wide range of possible instruments which are automatically taken away from the West.
The last complete Russian military doctrine, however, was made public on December 25, 2015.
Before Russia’s participation in the war in Syria and hence even before the new projection of Russian power onto the Mediterranean, partly resulting from Russia’s relative success in Syria. In essence, Russia’s last doctrine was conceived in a very different phase of the East-West confrontation.
We should not even forget – as happened in the West in 2018 and afterwards – the Russian development of advanced medium-long range weapons, capable – at least according to the Russian technical experts – of hitting the Atlantic Alliance and the United States with the maximum speed and effectiveness without warning and without triggering nuclear-type equilibria.
In this case, we are talking about as many as seven strategic weapons programmes, most of which are already known.
Furthermore the United States have put the INF aside, as well as the Intermediate Range Nuclear Forces Treaty. The new Strategic Reduction Treaty (START) is currently far from being defined and the rhetoric of the clash between the two former military empires seems to have reached its apex, now placed between rhetoric and reality.
Two cycles of sanctions for Syria and Ukraine have already been decided by Trump’s Administration, both in relation to the poisoning of the former FSB agent Skripal, occurred in Great Britain in 2018, and to the use of the nerve agent Novichok, also in other situations.
We are obviously not in a position to ascertain whether these accusations are grounded, but it is interesting to note how these two sanction phases have been originated by a probable or alleged attack by the Russian Intelligence Services (not Armed Forces) against some of their former agents.
In any case, 2020 is always an end point for Russian military planners. Many things will be decided in the relations between East and West, based on the military doctrine developed this year.
Previously, with the start of the Serdyukov-Makarov military reform, 1.35 million military had as many as 52,000 elements dealing only with command and control activities, albeit of the traditional and bureaucratic type.
However, the real power and quantity of truly combat-ready Russian forces did not exceed 100,000 units.
Hence, on average, only 13% of the forces were combat-ready. In the Army the average rate was 17%, while it was 7% in the Air Force and 70% in the Navy.
In the Space and Strategic Missile Forces, however, 100% of units were combat-ready.
However, 55% of weapons were obsolete, at various levels. After that reform, however, Russia’s geopolitical and strategic ideas are still the same: NATO’s containment can be achieved only with the deterrence ensured by nuclear weapons; the doctrineis evolving towards the US-style network-centric warfare and finally the future of the Russian Forces will be based on their specialization in the counter-guerrilla warfare and the technological and operational organization of small units.
Moreover, the operations of the future are not designed to eliminate the enemy only physically, but also psychologically, culturally and in its stable relations with the civilian population. This is a typically “hybrid” factor.
According to Russia’s current planners, in the hierarchy of threats there arethe clashes in the Post-Soviet Space.
Furthermore, Russia is particularly interested in the stability of Abkhazia and South Ossetia. Russian planners also imagine a “Falklands scenario” for the Kuril Islands, put in place by Japan.
Not to mention even an explicit “containment” of China which, obviously, cannot be achieved by connecting it to a nuclear threat.
The two external scenarios of primary interest for the Russian military planners are the Democratic Republic of Korea and the tension in Iran.
These are two possible points of entry into a narrow Russian strategic area, in which Russia’s response would be immediate, probably even nuclear and direct.
Still today, other potential threats are operations such as those which were carried out by NATO in the two Balkan wars, as well as the French-Italian-British presence in Libya, and some Western direct operations towards Belarus and the Russian borders, especially in the old area between NATO and the Russian terrestrial area.
Despite this historical tension, which is now well-known, Russia does not believe there is any acceptable probability of clash between NATO and the Russian Federation, since Russia still thinks that nuclear deterrence is more than sufficient in this case.
Therefore, the other strategic goals of the reform started in 2008 were the reduction of the available Forces to only 1 million military; the elimination of the low usable Forces; the reduction in the number of officers and a new command and control chain.
Certainly there were also the goals of reaching a 100% rate of combat ready forces, as well as increasing the outsourcing of materials and non-essential activities to civilian structures, and defining a new weapons program for 2020 designed to update 70% of material. Now we are already in 2020.
It should be clearly underlined that- to a large extent – these reforms implemented since 2008 have been successful.
Therefore, also some non-negligible aspects of the Russian strategic doctrine are changing.
In particular, Russia thinks that the U.S. and NATO attitude has radicalized.
Above all with the “enhanced” use of sanctions, as well as with the spreading of the so-called “colour revolutions” in the post-Soviet area -which the Kremlin interprets just as if it were the “hybrid warfare” of the Westerners – and finally the increase of inter-State conflicts in the disputed areas between Central Asia and the borders of Georgia, Ukraine and Belarus.
In fact, some military groups, especially in the United States, have explicitly stated they want to “intimidate” the Russian Federation again, and later contain it according to the tradition of the Cold War and of the old “Telegram” sent by “X”, alias George Kennan, in 1947.
Russian distrust towards the West which, however, Russia has already widely shown both in the military doctrines of 2015 (the year of its engagement in Syria) and in the subsequent “Concept of Foreign Policy” of 2006.
Here the small changes in terminology and doctrine are always decisive.
As early as 2015, the above stated General Gerasimov’s doctrine underlined that “the use of non-military measures for the whole range of new conflicts is increasing”.
That was, in fact, the mechanism used by Russia in Syria, at first, then in the Ukraine and, probably, also in Venezuela and in other countries of the world.
Hence, an “integrated defence” strategy, which combines political and not directly military actions with conventional operations or even visible or invisible advanced psywar or commando actions.
General Gerasimov defined it “a strategy which proactively weakens and defuses the threats to State security”.
Hence we find here a strengthening of territorial defence, besides the coordination of the actions made by various State agencies, halfway between intelligence services and the organizations of the so-called “civil society”.
In this sense, it was also referred to as the “strategy of restrained action”.
It is a term that was originally used to define precisely the Russian operations in Syria. It means to wage and fight a war always with limited goals, using only a part of the military potential and only certain groups of the Armed Forces, as well as selectively hitting only some enemy’s targets and groups which, however, are not necessarily military ones.
These are always joint operations, also with the use of nuclear weapons, which must be employed at such a level as not to trigger the enemy’s equalizing countermove.
Moreover, the Russian doctrine of 2014 mentioned, for the first time, also private military companies, generically defined as “a characteristic of modern conflicts”.
As General Gerasimov always maintain, private companies will be “a component of the increasing number of military players on the field”.
Like the guerrilla groups, the “quasi-States”, the various countries’ Armed Forces. All operators on the battlefield at the same level as the “classic” ones.
In this context, Russia will increasingly use private military companies, which enable the Kremlin’s planners to avoid being directly responsible for the operations and particularly to have the possibility of attributing important tactical operations to the sole willingness of their private “collaborators”.
For Russia, the primary point between propaganda and strategy is the U.S. abandonment of the INF Treaty.
With the next doctrine, Russia will reaffirm its interest in resuming a complete START-type Treaty with the United States. With specific reference to the nuclear issue, however, the criterion is the classic one: “the launch, immediately after an attack,” of a nuclear strike or of a conventional operation putting the Russian State in crisis.
Here the role played by the new weapons will be decisive anyway. Russia has the new Khinzal missile available, i.e. a ballistic air-to-ground or air-to-air, self-propelled, hypersonic and high-precision missile.
Russia has also the Avangard, previously known as Objekt 42020, available, i.e. a hypersonic glide vehicle that can be carried by continental ballistic missiles. The Burevestnik, previously known as Novator 9M730, a nuclear-powered surface-to-surface missile, is still operational, but there are some other weapons in advanced testing phase.
There are also significant evolutions in military robotics, in supercomputers and in semi-automated decision-making systems. This is another face of the future war, i.e. the use of “high-precision weapons and robotic instruments” – just to quote again General Gerasimov.
It is the technological face of hybrid warfare.
On the other side, in a mix of old and new theories, the U.S. strategists argue that “whoever controls Russia, rules the world” – a new version of Mackinder’s old formula of power.
In the next Russian doctrine there will probably be no reference to NATO or the United States as “military threats on Russian borders”, but both Western strategic entities will be regarded as mere “dangers”.
The next Russian military doctrine will also deal with non-military instruments, which will probably be coordinated by an ad hoc structure combining traditional military commands and intelligence, as well as – most likely – an integrated command for psyops operations of a political nature.
In particular, the new hypersonic and high-technology weapons will be used for “sub-optimal” threats towards the enemies, without having to resort to weapons of mass destruction (WMD) or small or large nuclear weapons, and to change not only the military and strategic space, but above all the political complexion of the enemy forces on the ground.
We will have a theory of the strategic threat and political hegemony of the military spectrum, which will imply a set of instruments, organizations, and operations that is currently even hard to imagine.
The Russian constitutional referendum of July 1, 2020
With specific reference to the health situation, Russia is still in a severe situation with over 350,000 Covid-19 cases.
Brazil, however, has replaced the Russian Federation as the hardest hit country in the world, while the United States is now firmly at the top of the ranking. Nevertheless, what really frightens the Russian decision-makers are the medium and long-term economic consequences of the health crisis.
Russia’s GDP had already recorded a 1.6% increase in the first quarter of 2020, but all Russian economists expect GDP to fall by at least 16% in the second quarter.
Two-thirds of this GDP contraction, however, can still be attributed to the lockdown, but only one-third to the related fall in oil prices.
With specific reference to the quarantine management, Prime Minister Mishustin thinks that 27 regions can now reduce quarantine restrictions, while the leaders of Rospotrebnadzor, the Russian Consumer Protection Agency, have asked the Governors of the Sverdlovsk and Smolensk regions to restore or even tighten quarantine requirements.
The national average growth rate of viral infections in Russia is currently 3.9%, but a “Plan 2” for the definitive recovery of the Russian economy is already supposed to be in place.
However, there will be three recovery phases: in the third quarter of 2020, the government will ensure that recession does not spread to the sectors which are still scarcely affected and will then refinance, one by one, the hardest hit economic sectors.
The real Phase 2 – hence the real recovery – will take place from the fourth quarter of 2020 to the second quarter of 2021, with Russia trying to recover the pre-Covid 19 standards of living for the entire population. In the Phase 3, which will begin in the fourth quarter of 2021, the economy is even expected to start growing again.
Pursuant to Russia’s current regulations, all proceeds from oil and gas exports are directly deposited into the National Welfare Fund (NWF).
This Russian Sovereign Fund currently holds 11% of the whole Federation’s GDP. When the oil barrel prices are below 42 U.S. dollars, the Fund directly covers the difference by depositing what is needed directly into the federal budget. Above the threshold of 42 U.S. dollars, everything goes smoothly.
Regardless of the constitutional referendum, the central government is likely to decide to take the necessary funds for the new economic expansion directly from the NWF.
In a new crisis situation, the federal budget would directly receive all the oil revenues, which shall be allocated to the reconstruction of the Russian welfare and economy.
Again with reference to oil, unlike other countries, Russia needs a basic oil barrel price of 40 U.S. dollars to “recover its costs”.
Furthermore, the high prices reached after the various recent production restrictions within OPEC+ have enabled Russia to increase its reserves, which now stand at approximately 400 billion U.S. dollars.
The Russian Federation’s current resources, however, would still enable the country to sustain even an oil barrel price of 25 U.S. dollars for ten years.
Moreover, unlike Saudi Arabia and other OPEC+ countries, Russia depends on oil and gas exports only for approximately two thirds of its revenues, while the rest is made up of raw materials such as uranium, coal, other metals and minerals, and especially the sale of arms abroad, a sector for which the Russian Federation is second only to the United States.
It is precisely in this geo-economic situation that the forthcoming referendum scheduled for July 1 in Russia will take place.
As you may remember, the announcement of the constitutional referendum made on January 16, 2020, enabled the then Prime Minister, Dmitri Medvedev, to resign on that day and then take on the role of Vice-President of the Russian Security Council, which is obviously chaired by Vladimir Putin.
Medvedev was replaced by Michail Mishustin, who is not a “man of force”, i.e. a former director of the Intelligence Services turned politician, but comes from the Federal Tax Service. When Mishustin himself fell ill with Covid-19, from April 30 to May 19 he was replaced by the economist Andrey Belousov.
Hence what does President Putin want to achieve with his constitutional reform? Not just his mere stay in power, which the leader deems necessary, since he has not yet found his true heir apparent.
It is a particularly effective sign that the second reading of the constitutional reform, adopted by the State Duma at the beginning of March 2020, was dominated by the presence of Valentina Tereskova, the first cosmonaut, now an 83-year-old member of Parliament.
In that vote there were 382 in favour, 44 abstained and 0 MPs against.
Therefore, if approved in the referendum, the current reform will be the real constitutional definition of Putin’s “vertical of power”.
It should be recalled it is a mechanism made up of centre-periphery relations, but also of now stable electoral systems: the prohibition of presenting “independent” candidates; the registration of regular candidates by parties that are officially recognized and have at least 50,000 members in different regions of the country; the 7% hurdle, whereby the votes of those who do not reach said threshold shall always be distributed among all the other parties that have exceeded it.
Certainly the Russian Federation cannot be a democracy. If it were so, it would no longer exist as such.
A great empire, with a surface sixty times the size of Italy, but with a population just below the sum of Italians and Germans, as well as with empty Siberia on the border with the very overpopulated China.
In an “empty country” – as Baron De Custine defined it at the beginning of the 19th century – the fear of foreigners always recurs: Putin’s old video, in the 2012 election rounds, showed the Chinese arriving in Khabarovsk; NATO taking Kaliningrad; the Islamists raiding in the Caucasus and finally the skinheads – an evident symbol of Western stupidity – moving freely around St. Petersburg.
The Russian Constitutional Court, however, has already made it clear that Putin’s reform is legal.
Hence what does Putin want? Firstly, a stronger system of central State controls over the federal and peripheral governments, so as to create the constitutional legislation of the “vertical of power” which is currently based only on Putin’s personal energy.
Secondly the considerable strengthening of the status and role of the Russian Federation’s State Council, which is at present only an advisory body, not prescribed in the Constitution. It shall also be given the powers of orienting domestic and foreign policies, as well as identifying the main areas of future development in the country.
Thirdly, Vladimir Putin’s proposal would mean that the regional Governors could automatically be members of the State Council, obviously after having established a pact with the Kremlin.
Fourthly, the statute of the State Council shall be fully incorporated into the Constitution. The vast “nationalisation of elites” will be strengthened, since those who hold important positions for ensuring the country’ security, such as President, Ministers, members of the State Duma, regional Governors, judges or any other high-ranking State official, shall not have foreign citizenship or even a residence permit in other countries, either at the time of their work in office or, in the case of the President, at any time before.
A presidential candidate, however, must prove he or she has been permanently living in Russia for at least 25 years (currently 10 years) and cannot serve more than two consecutive terms. Ex post, of course.
The Constitution shall take precedence over international law and over the provisions of international treaties. Here the Russian concept of “sovereign democracy” is reaffirmed, which sometimes departs from the Western mythology of “human” and hence “universal” rights and states its clear opposition to dealing with the internal affairs of any other country.
In the proposed constitutional reform, there is also the clear prohibition to transfer and alienate part of the Russian Federation’s territories.
The Federation Council (the Upper House of Parliament), which now becomes the primary government body, shall also have the right to propose to the President to dismiss federal judges by providing a reasoned assessment and motivated opinion on their activity; in some cases, upon the proposal of the President, the Federation Council shall have the right to remove judges of the Constitutional and Supreme Courts.
The State Duma (the Lower House of Parliament) shall have the right to approve the Prime Minister’s candidacy (currently it only gives consent to his/her appointment). The State Duma shall also approve the candidates of Deputy-Prime Minister and Federal Ministries; the President cannot refuse their appointment, but in some cases he/she will be able to remove them from office
Hence the two directives of “United Russia”, Putin’s traditional party, become constitutional rule, i.ederžavnost’ – the ‘great power’ – and gosudarstvenničestvo, the ‘strong State’.
Moreover, as always happens in current political propaganda, there is the issue of family relations.
The new Constitution proposed by the President defines marriage as a relationship between a man and a woman – and even the TV propaganda of the referendum underlines this aspect.[
Furthermore, the State has the explicit duty to “preserve and honour the memory of the Defenders of the Fatherland, as well as honour the pan-Russian cultural identity and show faith in God” as a value sacredly received by ancestors.
Sobianin, the mayor of Moscow, the city which is still the epicentre of the COVID-19 infection, wanted to hold the referendum in September, but Putin wants it now.
Why? Because Vladimir Putin is aware of the political and personal tensions within the apparata.
In the Secret Services and in the Armed Forces – which, over the last few months, have been the origin of indirect and veiled attacks on him. A series of events has also revealed how the Military Secret Service (GRU) is no longer entirely in Putin’s hands, as was previously the case.
Certainly, now that the Covid-19 is in a phase of controlled expansion, Putin has anyway regained popularity.
Still today, 63% of the Russian population shows strong support for Vladimir Vladimirovic Putin. In the referendum case, however, the voter turnout is estimated at 65%, which is always too little to ensure a real and definitive success to the President. Nevertheless, by paraphrasing Blaise Pascal, it should be recalled that democratic elections have ways “of which reason and the heart know nothing”.
About 47% of Russians, however, states to be in favour of the reforms proposed by Putin to the Constitution.
Too few? We shall see what the future has in store. Only 53% of young people is expected to vote, while 77% of elderly people is expected to go to the polls.
Nevertheless, 41% of young people will always vote against Putin’s amendments to the Russian Constitution, with 45% of them living in Moscow.
It is currently foreseen that 35% of voters will not go to the polls.
Is Putin in danger? We do not believe so, considering that – if this happens because of his poor electoral performance – the President will find a way to recover. However, we do not think this will be the case.
Hence centralization of true power in Putin’s hands, up to two terms and even beyond but, on the other hand, distribution regulated by the central power to the regional governments.
A new configuration of power in Russia, until Putin finds his true heir apparent.
If he ever finds him, of course.
The State is “a work of art”, as an old and valuable book by Jakob Burkhardt, “The civilization of the Renaissance in Italy”, reads.
Therefore, every State does not reproduce as a photocopy, but only through the Author, the Artist.
If voted and adopted, the amendments to the Russian Constitution will enable Putin to be regularly re-elected for over two consecutive terms, but, with the current changes, we can think of additional 12 years and more in power, but only for Vladimir Vladimirovic Putin.
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