Amendments to the Constitution of Russia

Consequences for the World and Ukraine

 

 

Victor Hvozd
Doctor of Military Sciences

 

The main political event in Russia since the beginning of the current year has become the so-called all-Russian vote from June 25 to July 1, 2020, during which it was proposed to approve amendments to the Russian Constitution. As you know, the initiator of changes to the basic law of Russia was personally V. Putin. He made relevant proposals to the State Duma in January 2020.

…The stability of Russia’s oligarchic regime, led by V. Putin, is guaranteed for the immense future by the amendments to the Russian Constitution…

In total, there are 206 amendments concerning the provisions of the Russian Constitution on the federal system, procedure for electing the country’s president, balance of powers and other aspects of work of the parliament, government, judiciary, prosecutor’s office and local governments. Despite such a wide range of issues raised, the amendments to the basic law of the Russian Federation are planned to achieve several main goals, namely:

  • to provide such conditions under which V. Putin will remain in power without time limits. There are at least three such options, including: abolition of the provision that allows the same person to be President of the Russian Federation for no more than two consecutive terms (thus “zeroing” all previous terms of the current President ); giving the State Duma the formal right to independently appoint a government that potentially expands the powers of its head to the level of the head of state (if necessary, V. Putin may be in this position, which is guaranteed by the dominant position of the “United Russia” party in the Russian Parliament); creation of the State Council, which can receive the status of the highest state body with the appointment of V. Putin as its head;
  • to further strengthen the state power vertical in Russia by expanding the powers of federal bodies. In particular, this applies to the country’s security services, which have been given greater opportunities under the guise of combating terrorism and extremism to use repression against opponents of the Putin regime;
  • to turn Russia into a mono-ethnic state through determining the status of Russians as “the state-forming people”. In this way, Moscow is trying to accelerate the process of assimilation of the country’s national minorities and, accordingly, to eliminate the threats of separatism and internal unrest on a national basis. It was through this policy that the former Soviet Union formed a “single Soviet people”;
  • to secure for Russia the “right” to external expansion under the guise of protecting the Russian-speaking population in other countries. At this, in fact, the supremacy of Russia’s own interests over international legal norms is declared;
  • to prevent the legal return of Crimea to Ukraine in the form of a ban on the possibility of separating any territories from Russia.

All this is fully consistent with the principles of the Kremlin’s neo-imperial policy and expands the domestic legal framework for its possible implementation. Besides, the stability of Russia’s oligarchic regime, led by V. Putin, is guaranteed for the immense future. First of all, it concerns the security, welfare and power of both, V. Putin personally and Russian oligarchs from his immediate environment.

As expected, the results of the vote “confirmed” that Putin’s constitutional initiatives were supported by the majority of the Russian population, namely — almost 78 % of the electorate. In view of this, it was also concluded that despite all the problems of the country, the high level of personal rating of the President of the Russian Federation is maintained. On the basis of such results, on July 3, 2020, V. Putin signed the Executive Order “On the Official Publication of the Constitution with the Approved Amendments”.

 

…To resolve the Ukrainian issue is of key importance to V. Putin’s regime. Therefore, in the near future we should expect Russia’s increased pressure on Ukraine…

Of course, all this, as well as the results of all other votes in Russia, was determined in advance. And the real moods of the Russians cannot influence the Kremlin’s policy. At the same time, V. Putin will have to demonstrate positive consequences of constitutional changes in the country. At least in order to confirm the legitimacy of his actions and to improve his personal rating, which during the whole period of his rule has actually fallen to the lowest level.

At this, given the importance of these issues for V. Putin, the demonstration of his successful achievements should cause maximum resonance and, if nothing else, include the restoration of Russia’s international position on a par with leading countries, as well as positive results in the Russian economy. But can this really be done?

As shown by experience, all attempts to establish relations with the West on the basis of a joint fighting terrorism (including through Moscow’s intervention in the internal conflict in Syria), trying to persuade the United States and the EU of the need to join forces to counter the epidemic COVID-19, attempts to bribe or blackmail American and European politicians, and all the other tricks of the Kremlin have failed.

The positions of the United States and the European Union remain unchanged. They provide for the possibility of lifting sanctions from Russia and, accordingly, achieving what it wants only if it fully implements the Minsk Agreements and returns Crimea to Ukraine. As a result, to resolve the Ukrainian issue is of key importance to V. Putin’s regime.

Everything seems to be clear. These issues could be resolved quite quickly. To withdraw Russian troops from occupied territories and return to Ukraine the control of its eastern border. And then it is up to Ukraine how to reintegrate “some districts of Luhansk and Donetsk regions”. Of course, it is harder to deal with the problem of Crimea. Especially given the above-mentioned amendments to the Russian Constitution. However, as the saying goes, where there is a will, there always is a way out.

Regardless of how much someone wants to see this desire in V. Putin’s eyes, Russia does not have it at all. Therefore, in the near future we should expect Russia’s increased pressure on Ukraine at a qualitatively new level. First of all, it will try to force Ukraine to agree with the Russian version of the so-called Steinmeier formula. The essence of this approach is well known, so we’ll focus only on Moscow’s possible actions to implement it. So what should we expect from Russia?

 

First, further use of the Ukrainian leadership’s desire to restore peace in the East of the country as a tool to impose on Ukraine the Russian approach to resolving the conflict in the Donbas. At this, Russia will play on the critical importance of this issue for the Ukrainian government, which is one of the main factors in the Ukrainian population’s estimate of its work.

During the regular talks of political advisers to the leaders of the “Normandy” group on July 3, 2020, the Russian side reaffirmed its demands to Ukraine to grant special status to the occupied territories of the Donbas, with relevant amendments to the country’s Constitution. And already on July 9, this year such demands were confirmed by Deputy Chairman of the Security Council of the Russian Federation, former Prime Minister D. Medvedev. He also called on Ukraine to “accept the loss of Crimea, which should create a basis for normalizing relations with Russia”.

At this, instead of taking real steps to meet Ukraine half way, Moscow habitually demands strategic political decisions from our country in exchange for unsubstantiated promises of a ceasefire in the conflict zone.

 

Second, increasing pressure on Ukraine in the military sphere. In this context, illustrative are Moscow’s plans to hold in August–September this year strategic command and post exercise (SCPE) of the “Caucasus” series (”Caucasus-2020”), during which they will rehearse various scenarios of the armed conflict between Russia and the United States/NATO in the Black Sea region and the attack on Ukraine. Thus, during the preparation of the SCPE, some tasks are similar to Russia’s actions on the eve and with the beginning of the armed aggression against Ukraine in 2014. In particular, they include: deployment of the wartime command and communication systems on the Ukrainian direction; deployment of some units (including battalion tactical groups) on training grounds near the border of Ukraine; dispersal of army aviation at operational and advanced airfields; intensification of operational and combat training of the troops of the Western and Southern Military Districts of the RF Armed Forces.

At the official level, the Russian leadership denies its intentions of a military invasion of Ukraine. At the same time, the preparation of the SCPE is accompanied by a special information campaign of the Russian media, within the framework of which Ukraine is openly intimidated by such a possibility. Moreover, in order to create a pretext for possible military actions against Ukraine, “Kyiv’s plans to attack the Donbas” and “deliberate provoking an environmental catastrophe in Crimea by refusing to resume water supplies to the Peninsula” are being thrown in.

At the same time, Moscow will continue to resort to armed provocations in the Donbas. For example, it directly links the possibility of a ceasefire in the conflict zone to Ukraine’s granting special status to the occupied territories. As always, such provocations will be especially active on the eve of important international events to resolve the situation in the Donbas, or on European and Euro-Atlantic integration of Ukraine.

Russia may also resort to other forms of action against Ukraine. In particular, it is quite probable that Russia is involved in the large-scale forest fires in the territory of Luhansk region controlled by Ukraine. Thus, commenting on the situation around this event, Russian politicians and the media purposefully pushed Ukraine into a direct dialogue with the “LPR”, at least on issues of cooperation in overcoming the natural disaster.

 

Third, resumption of “gas” wars against Ukraine. To do this, Russia will use its actual exit from transit dependence on Ukraine after the commissioning of the “Nord Stream 2” gas pipeline. Despite the USA’s being strongly against the project, Russia is making every effort to complete it. According to Russian media reports, Denmark, which had previously opposed it, has already joined the project. Referring to this, it was reported that the Russian Gazprom has already begun partial dismantling of the infrastructure of the Russian gas transportation system in the direction of Ukraine.

 

Fourth, Moscow’s large-scale actions to undermine the unity of Ukrainian society with the help of the Russian lobby, pro-Russian and other anti-Ukrainian forces in Ukraine. Today, the manifestations of such actions are: information “blurring” of Ukrainians’ attitude to Russia as an aggressor country, which annexed Crimea and occupied part of the Donbas; another attack on the Ukrainian language through the attempts to revise the language law; spreading pro-Russian ideology among the Ukrainian population; pushing the Ukrainian leadership to make concessions to Russia.

At this, Moscow will rely on a possible internal conflict in Ukraine, which will allow Russia to continue implementing the 2014 scenario, now in Odesa, Kharkiv and other south-eastern regions of our country.

 

Fifth, Russia’s use of new forms and methods to discredit Ukraine in the eyes of its Western partners. In particular, Moscow has launched a political information campaign accusing Ukraine of involvement in protests in the United States and Europe based on oppression of national minorities.

Besides, the possible deterioration of the political situation in Ukraine as a result of the actions of the Russian lobby and pro-Russian forces can be used by Moscow to prove Kyiv’s “incapability ” for choosing a constructive position to resolve the situation in the Donbas and therefore “non-existence” of grounds for accusing of Russia for the armed confrontation in the region.

 

…Russia is increasing pressure on the United States and Europe (including in the nuclear sphere) and is resorting to “hybrid” actions to undermine the internal stability of Western countries…

All this will be accompanied by Russia’s increasing pressure on the United States and Europe (including in the nuclear sphere) and attempts to weaken the West’s position.

In particular, in early June 2020, Russian 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, if there is an attack on Russian infrastructure or a threat to the territorial integrity and existence of the Russian Federation. In fact, Russia can extend this principle to the situation with the emergence of critical problems in the country under the influence of Western sanctions or Ukraine’s attempts to regain control over Crimea.

At the same time, Russia is resorting to “hybrid” actions to undermine the internal stability of Western countries. For example, according to US intelligence, mass protests and riots in the United States based on violations of the rights of national minorities were provoked by the fake organization “Eliminating Barriers to the Liberation of Africa”, which is a cover for a group of “Internet trolls” in Nigeria and Ghana. In turn, they are closely linked to the so-called “Antiglobalization Movement of Russia,” which is in active contact with various left-wing organizations in the United States, such as the African People’s Socialist Party in the USA. With their help, Moscow is trying to divide the American society, provoke confrontation in the United States between the whites and African Americans, as well as create additional problems for America in combating the epidemic.

Special services of European countries also warn of the increasing aggressiveness of Russia’s foreign policy. According to a report by the Federal Office for the Protection of the Constitution of Germany, in the context of the spread of crisis processes in the world, Moscow is stepping up subversive activity against Germany. In particular, it means intensification of cyber `attacks and misinformation in order to destabilize the German society. They also point out the growing number of crimes conducted by the left and right extremists connected with Russia.

 

…Russia will not be able to achieve its goals either to restore full-fledged relations with the West or to resolve the Ukrainian issue in its favor…

Today, such actions by Moscow are still unsuccessful. After all, our state refuses to comply with Russian demands related to the Donbas problem, and also continues to implement all programs of cooperation between Ukraine and the United States, NATO and the EU. And even more so, in June 2020 Ukraine was recognized by NATO as Enhanced Opportunities Partner. Despite a number of problems, including “flirtations” of some representatives of the Ukrainian government with Russia, today’s situation in Ukraine is absolutely different to the one when having come to power in 2010, V. Yanukovych completely changed the country’s foreign policy.

Western countries and international organizations are firm in their beliefs. Thus, despite the calls of some European politicians about the need to restore full cooperation with Moscow, in July 2020, the EU leadership extended sanctions against Russia for provoking the conflict in the Donbas. In turn, the US Congress has submitted a bill to impose new sanctions on Russia over a number of other issues, including its support for the Taliban in Afghanistan.

These issues were discussed at the meeting of the Security Council of Russia on July 10, 2020, chaired by V. Putin, who expressed “disappointment” with the positions of Ukraine, which “does not comply with the Minsk Agreements,” and the United States/NATO and the EU, which do not want to meet Russia half way.

In view of the above-mentioned, Russia is unlikely to be able to achieve its goals either to restore full-fledged relations with the West or to resolve the Ukrainian issue in its favor. As a result, the confrontation between Russia and the United States, Europe and Ukraine will continue to escalate, and thus the problems of the Russian economy will persist. Therefore, the population of Russia will increasingly express dissatisfaction with the Putin regime, which will force the Kremlin to tough its domestic policy.

 

…Russia will never abandon its neo-imperial policy and will do everything possible to achieve its goals, including on the Ukrainian direction…

All this suggests a single conclusion, or rather — confirms my earlier conclusions. For example, Russia will never abandon its neo-imperial policy and will do everything possible to achieve its goals, including on the Ukrainian direction. In fact, such a policy is the only way to survive not only for the regime of V. Putin, but for the whole of Russia in its current form. In view of this, as mentioned in my previous publications, Ukraine will not be able to reach any constructive agreements with Russia on Crimea and the Donbas on the basis of Ukrainian interests. This is demonstrated by the amendments to the Constitution of the Russian Federation, which strengthen Putin’s power and expand his capabilities in the matter of aggression against Ukraine and other countries.

 

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