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Volume 72, Number 8 (February 17-23, 2020)
FEATURED NEWS STORIES
Russia, Turkey Clash on Libya, Syria
Constitutional Amendments Come Under Scrutiny Click here to read more
THE RUSSIAN FEDERATION
Kamyshov: Kremlin Gray Cardinal Surkov Leaving Putin Administration, but His Legacy Will Remain
Center for Current Policy Poll Finds Russians Worried About Country’s Post-Putin Future
OTHER POST-SOVIET STATES
President Lukashenko Raises Stakes in Spat With Russia
Ekspert: Where Does Ukraine Stand Six Years After 2014 Independence Square Revolution?
Russian Foreign Minister Sees No Reason to Hold ‘Normandy Four’ Summit Any Time Soon
Munich Security Conference Tackles ‘Westlessness’ Amid Growing Challenges From Russia, China
Foreign Economic Relations
Dutch Court Ruling on Yukos Puts Russia’s Foreign Assets in Jeopardy
Arms Control and Nonproliferation
Buzhinsky: US, Russia Should Extend New START to Win Time for Further Negotiations
Author: Kirill Rogov
It's Hard to Rule Forever
By Kirill Rogov. Novaya gazeta, Jan. 29, 2020, p. 6. Complete text:
In order to understand the changes to the Constitution that are being adopted in such suspicious haste and potential solutions to the “2024 problem” [i.e., the end of Vladimir Putin’s second consecutive presidential term – Trans.], it is useful to switch from guessing games and assumptions to comparative analysis. In a study titled “The New Sovereign: Undemocratic Power Transfer in the Post-Soviet Space,” I analyzed the entire arsenal that rulers resort to in order to maintain a grip on power beyond the scope of their constitutional authority. This analysis could help understand possible developments in Russia.
What is an ‘undemocratic transfer of power’?
Except for the Baltic states, in terms of political regimes post-Soviet states fall into two groups: Seven of them are established personalistic authoritarian regimes (Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, Azerbaijan, Belarus and Russia), while five others can be described as “competitive oligarchies” (Kyrgyzstan, Armenia, Georgia, Moldova and Ukraine). The differences between the two are clearly noticeable at the official level: The first seven countries have had 13 leaders over the past 28 years (with an average tenure of 15 years), while the five in the second group have had 26 leaders in that time (with an average of 5.4 years at the helm). In the past 12 years, [leaders] of countries in the first group won elections with an average of 88% [of the vote]; the second [group averaged] 55%. This means that elections in the first group are completely predictable, while in the second, results are fairly unpredictable and occasionally result in a power change. Countries in the second group saw seven “velvet revolutions” in the past 16 years – mass demonstrations that resulted in regime change (at least one in each country, and two each in Ukraine and Kyrgyzstan). This shows that grassroots pressure [in this group of countries] is fairly strong and cannot be ignored by the elites.
However, these countries are not consolidated democracies. Despite fairly high competition, they lack government accountability (due to weak political parties) and the supremacy of the law (due to a lack of independent courts). That is why, just as with the first group, power transitions are often subject to manipulation: Taking over the government creates ample opportunities, but it’s only possible to hang on to what you have as long as you remain in power, so every group that ends up on top tries to consolidate its position.
Such manipulation of power transition procedures is what we call an undemocratic transfer. Analysis of such manipulation in the post-Soviet space leads us to conclude that there are four basic scenarios for how to hang on to power when you are supposed to relinquish it.
The first scenario is a despotic transfer of power. It is a familiar scheme in the Central Asian republics, where rulers abolish term limits and become perennial presidents. After their death, power either passes to an heir, who in turn becomes a perennial president (as in Azerbaijan), or to a figure proposed by the most influential groups. Just like the predecessor, the new president also wins 85% of the vote, replaces his predecessor’s perennial image on portraits, coins, tabloids and stamps with his own, and purges law-enforcement officials who were all-powerful under the former ruler (and usually played an important role in the latter’s coming to power). That was the case in Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan. All seven countries in the first (authoritarian) group abolished terms limits – except Russia.
The second scenario, based on a successor, is also well known. The power transfer from Yeltsin to Putin in 2000 popularized it in the post-Soviet space. This can be called the administrative-electoral scenario: Unlike the despotic one, where people do not take part in the transfer of power, here the nascent successor, after being endowed with various administrative advantages by the current leader, must nevertheless run in elections, which are sometimes quite competitive. For instance, in addition to successor operations that went smoothly, like the ones in Russia in 2000 and 2008, and in Armenia in 2008, there were also failed ones, such as in Ukraine in 2004.
The third scenario is an institutional one. It presumes an attempt by the head of state (when their [last] constitutional term is about to expire and it’s not possible to abolish [term] limits) to redistribute presidential powers in such a way as to maintain control over the executive branch even after leaving office. In its pure form, this has been implemented in the “competitive oligarchy” countries and presumes a transition to either a partial or full parliamentary republic: The president becomes a figurehead, while executive powers go to the prime minister, who is elected by parliament, with the former president vying for the position. We saw such attempts in Georgia, Moldova and Armenia.
The fourth scenario, used in countries with a noncompetitive system, is a conglomerate of the second and third – namely, the “successor with limits” scenario. By the mid-2010s, limitations on the “successor” scenario appeared: It became clear that successors always betray – sooner or later, they start to reevaluate and change the patron’s legacy. This is characteristic of the very nature of personalistic authoritarianism: The head of the power hierarchy is the sole arbiter capable of safeguarding the elites’ property and privileges. However, if there are certain agreements that [the successor] did not make and cannot reevaluate, then that means the successor’s powers are limited and incomplete.
This creates the idea of nominating a successor with limited (split) powers who can be controlled by the former leader from some other position, such as the premier, head of the ruling party, head of the Security Council, etc. This model was used in Russia in 2008, Kyrgyzstan in 2017 and Kazakhstan in 2019. As these examples show, implementing this scenario is not only complex, but as yet lacks any successful examples. Even in Russia, with Putin’s fairly successful return to the presidency, [pulling off this scenario] was no easy task and made him very nervous in late 2011 and early 2012 – something he apparently never forgave Dmitry Medvedev for.
The differences between the aforementioned scenarios are closely related to the regime’s competitiveness and the potential for grassroots pressure. Here, it must be said that most post-Soviet states split into the two groups as early as the mid-1990s, with two exceptions: In the 1990s, Kyrgyzstan was developing along the Central Asian personalistic authoritarianism model, but in the 2000s transformed into a competitive oligarchy. Russia, on the other hand, resembled a competitive oligarchy until the 2000s, but then began to turn into a personalistic authoritarianism regime.
This explains not only why Russia never abolished term limits, but also the competitive nature of the 2000 presidential election (when Putin received a mere 52% of the vote). By 2008, Russia was already a fairly authoritarian country: The successor’s election was noncompetitive, electoral legitimacy was not real, and scenario No. 2 (“successor”) partially transformed into scenario No. 4 (“successor with limits”). This also means that today, only two scenarios – the first and the fourth – are possible [in Russia]. They correspond to the prevailing distribution of forces and the nature of the political system, which is noncompetitive, extremely centralized, and reliant on security forces and repressive measures. Putin’s result in the last [presidential] election (78%) also corresponds to the levels that occurred when term limits were lifted in a number of post-Soviet states (Kyrgyzstan, Belarus and Azerbaijan).
Scenario No. 4 is also possible, but would require thorough institutional prep work. We must remember that this scenario presumes that the aging patron must compete with a popularly elected successor president. And experience shows that even a weak president could become dangerous if his supporters gain sufficient clout and determination. In that case, it would hardly be enough to have the Constitution merely mention the State Council, which today is nothing more than the president’s consultative body without its own legitimacy or autonomy.
Thus, the constitutional amendments adopted on first reading do not lay the foundation for implementing either of the two scenarios, which are the most likely in modern Russia, if the collective experience of post-Soviet power transfers and institutional conditions is anything to go by. Of course, the amendments will undergo a second reading in February, and some Duma factions have already indicated that they want to make some additions. In that case, we can expect the deputies to submit an initiative on removing the two-term limit (the first, despotic scenario), as well as a proposal that the State Council secretary (chairman) must be approved by both houses of parliament. Both those amendments are possible. Meanwhile, Putin’s earlier remarks on two terms will go to show that this was not his idea.
If the State Council secretary must be approved by both houses [of parliament] and if there is a ruling party that controls [parliament], the fourth scenario also looks fairly realistic. However, the megapresidential status that the president would receive as a result of constitutional amendments ([the power to] appoint regional prosecutors, to exert direct control over the security and law-enforcement establishment, to remove higher court judges) does not quite fit into [that scenario]. At the very least, this semimonarchical president will become too big a problem for the elites, who are inevitably going to think about their future after Putin’s influence naturally begins to weaken, no matter what post he occupies.
In general, it’s hard to rule forever. It’s a shell game. Authoritarian regimes never rely exclusively on violence; they require legitimacy – either electoral (institutionalized in the form of a popularly elected leader or a ruling party) or doctrinal (juntas, and totalitarian or theocratic regimes). In my opinion, the amendments adopted so far do not divide legitimacy between two centers of power.
Finally, while the scenarios described above cover all likely developments (plus the option to create a new state by unifying with Belarus), Russia nevertheless hardly resembles a Central Asian republic, or even Belarus and Azerbaijan. That means that sooner or later, this difference will inexorably become obvious.
Author: Vladislav Inozemtsev
How the Covid-19 Epidemic Will Impact the Economy
By Vladislav Inozemtsev, director of the Center for Postindustrial Studies. RBC Daily, Feb. 10, 2020, p. 6. Condensed text:
The world is feverishly watching the growing Covid 19 epidemic in China, which has infected more than 30,000 people in a month and spread to dozens of countries. The panic over this little-known disease is hardly surprising. However, predictions that the illness will cause basically a new Great Depression so far do not look convincing. . . .
On one hand, people have learned to respond to epidemics much quicker than before. While the flu vaccine was created 20 years after the  Spanish flu epidemic, a SARS vaccine was developed 21 months [after the emergence of that disease]. The transformation of health care into one of the biggest sectors of the modern economy has made it possible to greatly reduce epidemic mortality rates.
On the other hand, the speed and scale of reaction to outbreaks is becoming an economic problem. In 1968, [the flu pandemic] killed more than a million peple, yet it had practically no effect on global economic growth, which amounted to 6.3% that year (4.8% in the US), nor on international trade, whose volume grew by more than 6%. Today, a fatality rate of fewer than 1,000 has cardinally affected markets: Chinese stock market indices have dropped by almost 7.5% since the beginning of 2020; since Jan. 1, oil prices have fallen by 20%, while copper prices have fallen by 12% and iron ore – by more than 10%. The quarantine that was introduced in Wuhan and several other cities has affected at least 45 million people, becoming the largest such measure in history. Regions around the world are cutting back on buying Chinese goods, while countries are closing their borders to Chinese nationals and those who have recently been to China. The epidemic’s economic damage to China alone is already estimated at about $60 billion.
And yet, in my opinion, the global economic consequences of the epidemic will be fairly moderate. Here’s why:
Indeed, China may pay a high price to defeat the virus: Given that its economy will be paralyzed for at least a month, growth rates will be below 5% – i.e., 1.5% to 1.7% less than expected (in 2003 [during the SARS epidemic], losses were estimated at 1% to 1.3% of Chinese gross domestic product). This is a fairly serious blow to the global economy as well, simply because China’s share in it [since 2003] has increased from 8.2% to 19.2% (in purchasing power parity). Moreover, in the mid-2000s, the world economy showed more dynamic growth than today. From 2002 to 2007, China accounted for between 8% and 20% of global growth, but in 2019, that figure reached 39%. Obviously, the growing epidemic will leave its mark. However, even if economic growth rates fall by 1%, that is not a catastrophe – on the contrary, it could have some benefits.
In my opinion (and I apologize in advance for sounding so insensitive), the Covid 19 virus emerged at the best possible time in terms of the economy. The global economic boom that started in summer 2009 has already been the longest in history. Stock markets tried to adjust in late 2018, but optimism persevered. Speculators’ unbridled expectations in the last few months are increasingly cause for concern. In light of this, the slowdown of the Chinese and global economies caused by the pandemic could be beneficial if it forces investors to see the relatively random nature [of the decline]. In other words, the significant decline in economic growth for the first and second quarters of 2020 that’s inevitable in this situation will not be considered the start of a cyclical recession. Instead of starting mass sell-offs and reevaluations of strategic plans, businesses may regroup and view the events as a temporary setback instead of the start of a long-term decline. The economies of several developed countries (including France and Italy) were already in recession in the fourth quarter of 2019 and continue their steady decline. But the inevitable positive growth dynamic in the second half of 2020 after a successful fight against the epidemic could bring back growth. In other words, the Covid 19 virus, which so far lacks a vaccine, could itself become a sort of inoculation for the global economy, preventing it from overheating competely and catching an even more dangerous “infection.”
Author: Fyodor Krasheninnikov
The Futility of Putin's Potsdam
By Fyodor Krasheninnikov. The New Times, Feb. 4, 2020, https://newtimes.ru/articles/detail/190556/. Complete text:
[Russian President] Vladimir Putin has recently on several occasions talked about holding a summit of the five victorious powers of 1945 to discuss the most pressing issues of our day [see, for example, Vol. 72, No. 5, pp. 14‑15 – Trans.]. Kremlin propagandists are touting the idea as a gamechanger, and perhaps Putin himself is under the impression that the other leaders of the [World War II victor] states will like it as much as he does. Moreover, he has already declared the 75th anniversary of the [World War II] victory the main event of 2020. According to that reasoning, it would be rather quaint and even sort of logical to reconvene the Potsdam conference. But would that be worthwhile? Do the five founding countries of the UN play the same role in the world today that they did in 1945?
The P5 not what they once were.
The plain truth is that, in 2020, special rights for the five victorious powers in World War II look rather out of touch with the modern world. And to be perfectly frank, this turns the UN they founded and the Security Council they lead into forums of endless talk and no action, so new formats must constantly be come up with.
It is easy to see that since 1945, all five victorious powers – well, except perhaps the US (with some major caveats!) – have changed quite a bit.
The USSR disintegrated in 1991, capping the collapse of the pro-Soviet bloc of European countries. No matter how many toasts and pledges of continuity and allegiance to a nonexistent country may whirl about our nation, Russia is still a far cry from the USSR in terms of its global political, military and economic clout, and it’s definitely not the USSR of 1945.
China is also completely different from what it was in 1945 and [when it] joined the UN Security Council. When World War II ended and the UN was formed, the government of the Republic of China, headed by Generalissimo Chiang Kai-shek, was the only recognized government of China. Even after the victory of Mao Zedong’s Chinese Communists in the civil war, the proclamation of the People’s Republic of China in 1949, and the withdrawal of the remnants of the army and government of the Republic of China to the island of Taiwan, it was the Republic of China that was represented on the UN Security Council until 1971.
It was only after the normalization of relations between the US and China, and clearly in defiance of the USSR, that Beijing received a vote in the UN Security Council. Do we even have to mention that it is rather inappropriate to compare China’s economic and political might in 1945 to the current state of affairs?
France in 1945 was still a huge colonial empire possessing a good chunk of Africa, Indochina and several other territories. France was numbered among the victorious countries in 1945 largely because some French colonies did not recognize the Vichy government and had become a center for consolidating the anti-Hitler forces. In 1945, colonies were still commonplace, and European France was far from the whole of France; so in Yalta and Potsdam, it represented not only the European metropolis but also a good part of the rest of the world that had no political voice.
The same goes for Great Britain, except the contrast is even greater. While France is still a very large and influential European state that besides its own weight, to a certain extent represents the European Union on the UN Security Council, the Great Britain of 2020 is not at all like the British Empire of 1945.
In 1945, the British prime minister represented not only his native island but also half the world – including India, Pakistan, Canada, Australia and Africa – whereas today, [British Prime Minister] Boris Johnson does not have nearly as much influence on the countries of the British Commonwealth of Nations. And Queen Elizabeth is hardly the person with whom to discuss the fate of the world, which is what Putin dreams of. And in any event, Queen Elizabeth cannot represent India, even though she is the daughter of the last Indian emperor.
The culprits and accidental victims of 1945.
The senselessness of talking about the fate of the world without involving a country like India in the discussion brings us very close to the key problem of Putin’s geopolitical reenactment.
Many large and even great powers of our day either did not exist as distinct political entities in 1945 or were not perceived as great. So it was possible to seek to establish a new world order back then in their absence, without raising their ire or creating problems by ignoring them.
Take, for instance, Brazil: Why is such a huge country in 2020 not a great power and not on the UN Security Council? Perhaps because that would have seemed like a strange idea in 1945. But is that a reason to ignore it in 2020? Or take Indonesia, with its population of almost 300 million. Why is it not a great power? Maybe because back in 1945 it was a Dutch colony, and it never occurred to anyone to invite it to participate in establishing a world order.
By the way, more than 200 million people currently live in Nigeria alone. Is that not a reason to invite it to discuss the fate of the world, even if Nigeria didn’t even exist in 1945 and was not directly involved in fighting Hitler?
India, Brazil, Canada, Nigeria, Indonesia and Australia were not part of the privileged circle in 1945 because of the Eurocentric colonial world order back then. But in 2020, getting together to talk about the fate of the world without them would be kind of rude and even insulting not only to the hundreds of millions of people living in those countries, but to the idea of the equality of people and countries that has been repeatedly proclaimed in recent years.
For obvious reasons, Germany and Japan were excluded from the club of great powers in 1945. The wounds were very fresh; the war in Europe had just ended with the occupation and partition of Germany, and by the time the UN was created, Japan had also capitulated and become occupied. Seventy-five years have passed since then, so why should Germany and Japan in their modern incarnations and with their current impact on world politics and economics be ignored? Germany in its present form was created in 1949 and assumed its final form in 1990, but why should Germany still be punished for the war that Hitler unleashed? How long should modern Japan be held responsible for the crimes of its long-gone rulers? A century, a millennium?
The dead end of geopolitical reenactments.
You can build a replica of the Reichstag near Moscow and storm it again and again, each time reveling in the same euphoria of victory felt long ago, but it wouldn’t be as easy to reenact the international political situation circa 1945, if only because doing so offers no practical benefit to the other participants: They wouldn’t get a single vote from their electorates for participating in Putin’s historical reenactments.
There are plenty of negotiation platforms in the modern world, and the fact that Putin is not getting invited to many important [international] meetings given the events of recent years doesn’t mean that without him there is nothing to talk about and problems can’t be resolved.
But the main thing is that all these formats like the Group of Seven and Group of 20 emerged because it was no longer possible to reach a decision on some things in the narrow circle of 1945 victors and then force the rest of the world to abide by that decision.
Putin’s idea is plain and simple: to use the trappings of Yalta and Potsdam to stage a comeback to major-league world politics – at least symbolically and in the eyes of his voters. But no matter how the stage might be set in Moscow, the world is living in 2020, and not everyone believes that the 1945-era rules of the game are still valid. The very idea of declaring the division of the world agreed upon in Yalta and Potsdam in 1945 as the pinnacle of the development of international relations, their endpoint and “gold standard,” nullifies the entire postwar development of humanity and represents a desire to replace [a real discussion of] the pressing problems of our time with a historical reenactment festival.
World War II was not the pinnacle of human history, as some would like to think, but the sad outcome of the preceding phase of development of international relations that had emphasized military rivalry and territorial expansion. That phase was painfully overcome, leaving for humankind the memory of the crimes that were committed and a lesson for the future: to avoid by all means any wars that would lead to a conference of victors.
Author: Mikhail Shevchuk
Drummed Up Amendments: The President Can't Oppose His Own Reflection
By Mikhail Shevchuk. Republic.ru, Feb. 17, 2020, https://republic.ru/posts/95928. Condensed text:
The date of the nationwide vote on the constitutional amendments has been set. (By a strange whim, it will be April 22, Vladimir Lenin’s birthday – a weekday that the government is even prepared to designate a day off). An appropriations resolution has been issued. (Spending [on the vote] will be no less than on a presidential election – i.e., 14 billion rubles, maybe more.) But what exactly citizens will be voting on is still unclear.
[Russian President] Vladimir Putin met with members of the working group that is drafting the amendments – well, the people charged with pretending to do so, depending on how much you trust the presidential administration’s sincerity – to check on what has already been accumulated in the storage bins of popular wisdom, and the result seems to have discouraged even him.
If you read the transcript [of the meeting], it looks like the participants are taking a test in which they were called one by one to the blackboard and graded on how well they have learned the lessons of the past 10 years. Those who learned them well got high marks; [their] proposals were grade-A statist and patriotic – in the Garibaldian mold of “Out, foreigner!”
Senator Svetlana Goryacheva proposed placing information policy under state control and making it abundantly clear that [this policy] should make it so that all manner of Ukrainians and Poles can no longer disparage us on our television talk shows (although, couldn’t we just stop inviting them [to those shows]?). Her colleague Aleksei Pushkov wants the Constitution to say that Russia is a victorious power. Writer Zakhar Prilepin is proposing that it enshrine Russia’s nuclear power status (“because we have considerable resources”). Actor Vladimir Mashkov wants to ban the transfer of Russian territories (like Prilepin, Mashkov is worried that once Putin is gone, some traitor will come to the Kremlin and immediately start ceding territory). Sergei Bebenin, speaker of the [Leningrad Province] Legislative Assembly, wants to enshrine the federal government’s right to have a hand in deciding the make-up of local self-government. Duma Deputy Olga Batalina is advocating protecting traditional family values.
Naturally, not a word was said about strengthening individual rights or, say, giving regions and municipalities more independence: The Kremlin has not given such lessons. . . .
At some point, even the president himself began to hint that the ideas may have to be dialed back some. We’re not in a rush, Putin said, so the second reading could be postponed a little. Not all of your proposals will make it into the Constitution, he continued. They are all very good, but still – some of them could be regulated with other laws.
And it’s not like Vladimir Putin simply threw up his hands and said: Look I’m a simple guy and will do everything, first, as the lawyers say, and second, only with citizens’ unconditional support. He is disclaiming responsibility ahead of time because he realizes the working group will now come up with something unpredictable: “It is important that citizens become authors of this law of this law by casting their votes,” he said. In one slick move, support for the imposed document is being turned into authorship.
Amending the Constitution was Putin’s idea, someone in the Kremlin will clearly weed out the proposals and the people will vote for everything that’s put in front of them, but it will be ordinary Russians and some behind-the-scenes “lawyers” who bear all responsibility. It doesn’t matter if censorship, monarchy or a holy inquisition is introduced in the country; this is what the people wanted.
But even the referendums on the collapse of the USSR and the declaration of the independence of the republics are still perceived by many not as an expression of the will of the majority, but a con. We’ve been taught for too long that in Russia, the creator of all that exists politically is the central government and no one else, so it can’t just up and hide behind a hastily concocted “popular vote.”
Putin must certainly understand what kind of Pandora’s box he’s opening. But he has now fallen into the trap of his own propaganda, and not just figuratively but literally: Everything that is now being proposed to Putin is thoughts and words that he himself has articulated at one time or another. A mirror is the best civil society an authoritarian president can have; it only reflects and doesn’t talk back.
So [Putin] practically does not dare object to the proposals, only occasionally fine-tuning the most daring ones. A person who has regularly said that if you can’t keep your promises, don’t make them and prided himself on that is now being asked to enshrine the annual indexation of all salaries, pensions and benefits at the highest, constitutional level. And now [Duma Deputy] Galina Khovanskaya is adamantly pushing to add the clarification “taking into account the size of inflation,” which, if you think about it, outdoes all the populism of the “Red Duma” of the 1990s. And Putin is over the fire; he can’t admit that he actually thought of getting by with [just] lofty rhetoric. He has to pretend that this is what he in fact wanted, and appeal to the “lawyers.”
What was conceived as a symbolic act is turning into an obligation. The makeshift propaganda prop, to the surprise of its builders, could very well become a permanent fixture. In two months, it will turn out that Russians really want to live in the TV ad they have been watching for 15 years. . . .
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