Once Again About the Consequences of Amendments to Russia’s Constitution
Doctor of Military Sciences
In my article “Amendments to the Constitution of Russia. Consequences for the World and Ukraine”, I made a preliminary analysis of the amendments to the basic law of the Russian Federation adopted in July 2020 on the initiative of V. Putin. According to the conclusions, the amendments expand the Kremlin’s abilities to intensify its neo-imperial policy, which was the main goal of the constitutional reform. First of all, such abilities concern intensification of Russia’s foreign expansion and the Kremlin’s moving to a tougher domestic policy.
As expected, all this was immediately put into practice. And in the usual forms for Russia, which are traditionally practiced by the Putin regime. In particular, in the domestic sphere, evidence of this was the July 15, 2020 brutal suppression of the protest in Moscow against the amendments to the Constitution. In total, about 150 people were detained.
Russia’s actions in the foreign sphere are no less significant: from threats of criminal prosecution of foreign (first of all Ukrainian) politicians who refuse to recognize the “legitimacy” of Russia’s annexation of Crimea, and to forceful pressure on other countries which refuse to follow Moscow’s interests.
In particular, this is evidenced by the intensification of conflicts provoked by Russia in the countries of the former Soviet Union. At the same time, more acute became the situation in crisis zones in other regions of the world, which are in the spheres of geopolitical attention of the Russian Federation, including Syria, Libya and, in fact, Afghanistan and Iraq. At this, in all these conflict zones, Moscow openly supports separatists and terrorists, including anti-Ukrainian forces in the Donbas and the Taliban in Afghanistan.
On the one hand, this does allow Moscow to pursue its interests, but on the other, it creates critical problems for the Russian Federation itself. In fact, today it has faced such problems in all strategically important spheres. For example: on the South-Western direction there is a confrontation with Ukraine and NATO in the Black Sea region; on the North-Western — confrontation with the Baltic states, Poland and, again, NATO; on the Southern (Caucasus) — permanent tensions in relations with Azerbaijan and the conflict with Georgia; on the South-Eastern — the bottleneck of Islamic extremism in Afghanistan and instability in Central Asia. As for Syria and Libya — there is de facto a military confrontation between Russia and the United States and Turkey.
…The amendments to Russia’s Constitution expand the Kremlin’s abilities to intensify its neo-imperial policy…
Everything is clear with Ukraine. We can only add that Moscow’s next intensification of hostilities in the Donbas (including the deliberate murder of Ukrainian military medic by the Russian occupiers on July 13 near the village of Zaitsevo) took place against the background of US/NATO and Ukrainian naval exercises in the Black Sea.
Everything is clear with Russia, it has long been neglected international law. But I have a question to everyone: where are our vaunted Special Operations Forces, which are so eager to conduct intelligence abroad, where is our military intelligence and its special operations groups, where is the leadership of the General Staff, other commands and staffs which are so numerous that they themselves cannot figure out who commands whom? And finally, where is our military-political leadership of the country? Why weren’t all the steps taken to save the young man? I remember when I was in the Balkans and an American fighter was shot down over the territory of Serbia, in more difficult conditions on the territory of a foreign country, the US military successfully evacuated a pilot. Technologically, smartly, professionally.
Back to the US/NATO and Ukrainian exercises in the Black Sea, I should point out that the Russian Black Sea Fleet and the aviation of the Southern Military District of the RF Armed Forces again conducted deliberate provocations against the participants, creating a real threat of armed conflict in the region. Especially in the conditions of Russia’s preparation of the strategic command and post exercise “Caucasus-2020”, during which the scenarios of such a conflict are being worked out.
Thus, as part of the preparatory activities in the North Caucasus, a strike group of troops is being formed of the 49th and 58th Combined Arms Armies of the RF Armed Forces. At the same time, under the guise of a “sudden inspection” of the Russian Armed Forces, since July 17, 2020, they began reinforcement of the 8th Combined Arms Army of the Southern Military District in Rostov region. This particular army is entrusted with the tasks of protecting the “DPR” and “LPR”, and a possible expansion of armed aggression into the depths of Ukraine. Besides, battalion tactical groups from the units of the 20th Combined Arms Army of the Western Military District of the RF Armed Forces are deployed at training grounds in Belgorod, Voronezh, Kursk, Orel, and Bryansk regions of Russia.
…Moscow is arming both Armenia and Azerbaijan on the one hand, and provoking conflicts between them on the other…
Since the beginning of the summer, the situation in the Caucasus has also worsened. First of all, this concerns the next intensification of hostilities between Armenia and Azerbaijan. And, unlike in previous years, this is not happening in Nagornyi Karabakh, where Moscow provoked an armed conflict in the late 1980s, but on a completely different part of the Armenian-Azerbaijani border. The reason for this was the trivial border incident, of which the parties, as always, accuse each other. However, it has already posed a real threat of a major war in the region with possible Russian and Turkish intervention.
Especially as Moscow is an ally of Yerevan in the Collective Security Treaty Organization and has its own interests in both Armenia and Azerbaijan. First of all, they concern preservation of Armenia in Russia’s sphere of influence and drawing Azerbaijan into it (including forcing it to join the Eurasian Economic Union), as well as creating obstacles in the implementation of various projects to transport Caspian energy carriers to foreign markets bypassing Russia. To this end, Moscow is arming both Armenia and Azerbaijan on the one hand, and provoking conflicts between them on the other. At this, Russian troops, in the form of the 102nd Military Base and 3624th Air Base, are already stationed in Armenia.
Turkey, which is an ally of Azerbaijan and a historical adversary of Armenia, has a completely opposite interests, and as a major transit country for Caspian oil and gas to Europe is interested in weakening Russia’s position in the Caucasus. In view of this, Ankara reaffirmed its readiness to provide direct military assistance to Azerbaijan in case of an open attack on it by Armenia, despite the latter being supported by Russia and the CSTO.
In turn, such a situation could lead to NATO’s intervention in the conflict in the Caucasus, stemming from the Alliance’s commitments to members of the Organization, including Turkey. Although without NATO, Turkey’s strength in the Black Sea region is almost twice that of the Russian Federation. All this allows Ankara to firmly defend its interests before Moscow both in the Caucasus and in other regions where their interests intersect.
…Syria and Libya in fact appear to be a “battlefield” between Russia and Turkey…
In particular, this applies to Syria, which in fact appears to be a “battlefield” between Russia and Turkey, despite their attempts to reach certain compromises. The latest most resonant military confrontation between the parties on Syrian territory was the strike by Russian aviation on a Turkish military convoy in the province of Idlib on February 28, 2020. As a result, 22 Turkish servicemen were killed, which almost led to a direct armed clash between Russia and Turkey. At that time, the situation was resolved. However, on July 16, 2020 a Turkish UAV struck a Russian military facility in the Syrian province of al-Hasakah near the northeastern border between Turkey and Syria.
A similar confrontation continues between Russia and the United States and Turkey in Libya, where Moscow is assisting Marshal Kh. Haftar’s anti-Western forces in the east of the country. However, unlike in Syria, Moscow’s actions in Libya are mainly unsuccessful. For example, in the spring of this year, miserably failed the rebels’ attack (with the participation of Russian mercenaries from the private military company “Wagner”) on the city of Tripoli, where the central government of Libya is located. At this, Turkish UAVs destroyed about ten anti-aircraft missile/gun systems “Pantsyr”, which Russia had supplied to the rebels. By the way, exactly the same “Pantsyr” systems are in service of the Russian troops in the occupied Crimea.
Outbreaks of a number of “frozen” conflicts may also occur in Central Asia. In particular, we should not rule out a possibility of another revolution in Kyrgyzstan due to the sharp aggravation of the country’s socio-economic problems as a result of the COVID-19 epidemic and the decline in trade with Russia. In July 2020, Kyrgyzstan’s opposition petitioned for the resignation of President S. Zheenbekov and called on the Prosecutor General’s Office to prosecute him for inaction in fighting the pandemic.
…Russia not only does not cooperate with the United States in fighting Islamic extremists, but supports the Taliban (including financing its attacks on the US military)…
An even more dangerous situation could arise in Afghanistan as a result of further reductions of US troops on Afghan territory, which are planned by US President D. Trump. For example, today the Taliban and other extremist groups are effectively controlling the North of Afghanistan and attacking neighboring Central Asian countries. At this, Russia not only does not cooperate with the United States in fighting Islamic extremists, but supports the Taliban (including financing its attacks on the US military). Instead, Moscow is imposing on Central Asian countries plans to expand Russia’s military presence on its territory, which is supposed to help strengthen the struggle against the expansion of Islamic extremism, but in reality is aimed at strengthening Russia’s position in the region.
…Russia is put in an extremely difficult situation, really similar to the state of a besieged fortress…
However, as the saying goes, “the boomerang returns” or “you reap what you sow”. In general, these circumstances put Russia in an extremely difficult situation, really similar to the state of a besieged fortress. While in previous years Moscow managed not only to contain external threats at the expense of excess profits from oil and gas exports, but also to generate them for its opponents, today it can no longer do so. And, most likely, it will never have such an opportunity again.
The reason for this is the stagnation of the Russian economy under Western sanctions, which has lasted for more than six years and escalated into a sharp decline in the spring of 2020 due to falling oil prices and the coronavirus pandemic. Thus, according to different estimates, in the first and second quarters of this year, Russia’s GDP fell by 10–15 % compared to similar periods last year, which is the worst index in the world. At this, since the beginning of summer this year Russia’s Central bank has been forced to move from accumulating to selling the country’s gold reserves.
All this objectively leads to a further aggravation of socio-economic problems in Russia and a decline of the authority of Putin’s government, which is already taking the form of confrontation between the regions and the federal center. Thus, in 2018–2019 during the local elections in a number of regions, territories and autonomous republics of the country, the ruling party “United Russia” lost to the opposition. And the Kremlin’s attempts to suppress its rivals by prosecuting new local opposition leaders only led to mass protests in the regions.
Manifestations of such processes were mass protests by residents of Khabarovsk and other cities in the Far East of the RF against the arrest by federal agents of the governor of the region S. Furgal, who is a representative of the Liberal Democratic Party of Russia. He is formally accused of involvement in the murders of several local businessmen in 2004–2005. But, in reality, this is how Moscow is trying to remove him from power, which causes outrage among the region’s population.
At this, the number of such actions participants (35–40 thousand people in Khabarovsk alone) did not allow Moscow to use force to suppress them. In fact, the situation of Maidans in Ukraine is repeated, when the scale of protests exceeds the government’s ability to suppress them.
And this already poses a real threat to Putin’s ruling. Thus, the events in Khabarovsk are actively used by all political forces of the country: from far-right nationalists to communists and liberal democrats, to shake up the situation in Russia. At this they count on increase of the potential in the Russian society (both due to the complexity of socio-economic problems and due to the Kremlin’s anti-democratic repressions), which could “trigger” mass protests in Moscow and throughout Russia.
…V. Putin will never give up his power and will do everything to maintain control over the situation in the country. Including by armed aggression against neighboring countries…
Of course, V. Putin will never give up his power and will do everything to maintain control over the situation in the country. Including by armed aggression against neighboring countries, which on the one hand will be aimed at distracting the Russian population from internal problems, and on the other — will allow the Kremlin to suppress the opposition under the pretext of imposing a state of emergency or martial law.
All this is well known and has repeatedly been reported by the media. However, the reality is much more complex and dangerous. This is yet again shown by Russia’s actions and the development of the situation in the zones of conflicts provoked by it. For example, let’s look at just two examples that show where the Kremlin’s policy can lead to.
For one, as noted in my previous article, in early June 2020, RF President V. Putin signed a decree on the foundations of Russia’s policy on nuclear deterrence. According to the document, Moscow reserves the right to use nuclear weapons, including against non-nuclear countries.
And in July 2020, as part of the preparation for the “Caucasus-2020” exercise, on the Ukrainian direction Russia began to deploy its artillery units, which could be armed with tactical nuclear munitions, in particular, heavy self-propelled mortars “Tulpan”. By the way, in the summer of 2014, a number of Russian politicians already threatened with the possibility of using tactical nuclear weapons against Ukraine.
Against this background, during the next escalation of the conflict between Azerbaijan and Armenia, both sides made some hostile statements. In particular, Armenia threatened Azerbaijan with a strike on the Mingachevir Dam, which would lead to flooding of large Azerbaijani territories. In response, Azerbaijan warned Armenia of the possibility of destroying the Armenian nuclear power plant, which would create an even greater environmental catastrophe in the region.
Indeed, as one of the leaders of the Russian Bolsheviks, L. Trotsky, once said, “if we have to leave, we will slam the door so hard that the whole of Europe will shake”. This is exactly what Putin is leading Russia to now. As for the fate of the Russian people, and even more so — other countries, when did Moscow worry about this? One way or another, however, the boomerang always returns, as shown by current events in Russia.