Putin as the architect of all Russian victories has the right that any other further president wouldn’t have: Edvard Chesnokov
Edvard Chesnokov, who is the Deputy International Editor of the largest Russian newspaper Komsomolskaya Pravda believes that to make the system more stable and democratic, we enlarge the rights of Parliament, giving its Chambers the right to assign the PM or to resign the Supreme Court’s judges. He said, “Our society is enough grown-up to be ruled not by a single leader, but by a leader delegated by one part of the society which would have to negotiate with another part of the society beforehand — that is democracy.”
Below is ILNA’s interview with him about proposed amendments to the Russian constitution:
ILNA: What is the reason for the emphasis on the implementation of Article 117 of the Russian Constitution in recent months and its relation to the resignation of the Medvedev government and the need to amend the Russian constitution?
1. According to most of the sources, the January 15, 2020 resignation was unexcitable for Medvedev. Yes, according to Article 117 the PM and his cabinet have the right to resign, but actually, in that case, it was Putin’s intention to retire Medvedev. Why?
Since the imposing of sanctions in 2014, the Government didn’t manage to transform the economy and perform stable GDP growth: -2,5% in 2015; 1,7% in 2018; 1,5% in 2019 — it’s not enough for strategic development. In US dollars, the average net income for a typical Russian has degraded from $814 in 2013 to $521 in 2018. In Rubles, which course has fallen to the dollar since this time due to sanctions and oil price volatility, the image is not so critical, but since 2015, the personal net income has been decreasing by 0,5% every year. Thereby, the main reason of PM quit is economics. IMHO, combining it with constitutional reform was a good pretext ‘to kill the two hares by single shot’ (a Russian saying).
2. There are several interpretations of Putin’s goal for constitutional amendments:
Official version: to make the system more stable and democratic, we enlarge the rights of Parliament, giving its Chambers the right to assign the PM or to resign the Supreme Court’s judges. Our society is enough grown-up to be ruled not by a single leader, but by a leader delegated by one part of the society which would have to negotiate with another part of the society beforehand — that is democracy.
Oppositional version: It is a secret plan of Putin to maintain power using legislative tricks — say, according to the new rights, in the future he can build up his political party, won the elections as the most popular politician in Russia, legitimately assign a PM and stay on power.
The version of Russian nationalists: the new Article 61 sets the Russian language as the language of the State-forming nation (=83% of ethnic Russian) — thereby Putin pays respect to the Russian nationalists and partly turns to the majority of the nation.
Hybrid version: the main problem for the Russian political system is the problem of transit of power in 2024: who will succeed Putin (or maybe it will be Putin himself, but in another status?). This uncertainty causes political turbulence. Thus, maybe Putin tries to build up a special transit system that would provide successful transit from Putin to his predecessor. The Parliament controls the President, and both are being controlled by a reset body — State Council. What geometrical figure stands best of all? A triangle!
ILNA: Vladimir Putin, on the one hand, wants to lift restrictions on the presidency, and on the other, he insists on not seeking a re-presidency. How do you evaluate his position on the subject of the future government of Russia?
He still has no decision whether to remain or to leave (and in what status). That is the answer. Also, Putin as the architect of all Russian victories (such as reunification with Crimea) has the right that any other further president wouldn’t have. Quod licet Jovi non licet Bovi [What is permissible for Jupiter is not permissible for a bull].
ILNA: The vote on constitutional amendments which was supposed to be held on April 22nd has been delayed because of the coronavirus. Do you think this delay will affect the results of the referendum?
Actually, Putin's personal rating among the society is 60-80% (in days of the Crimean reunification, it was maximal). Thus, the people consider the amendments suggested by Putin as the part of his policy and they will anyhow vote pro/contra Putin personally (mostly pro, rather than contra), but not pro/contra any amendment. If Putin's rating in the referendum day (whenever it take place) would be high — it will likely be high as well as 20 last years — the amendments will be approved by the nation.
In his March 25 national address, Putin has combined both restrictive and stimulative measures such as postpone for loan payments, holidays for the whole next week, and welfare for 5000 Rubles for every child in a family for further three months. Imposing a 13% tax for the benefits of your bank account or securities (financial assets).
On the other hand, some indoor Russian actors who do not want to lose power due to governmental reconfiguration by the amendments will be pushing to decline the referendum totally. Now this fraction has lost, but the balance between different actors depends on intensity and scale of coronavirus, which is, like Thaleb's dark swan, is unpredictable and can spin everything wide multiple times during the upcoming months
ILNA: Some believe that the referendum which has been canceled for now, is merely a formality and Putin's presidency is established until 2036 after Duma's green light. How accurate is this analysis?
Since 2000, every all-Russian election is, in fact, a referendum for supporting Putin. It is usual for most countries. Say, in 2016, after defeating his constitutional referendum, Italia’s Matteo Renzi has resigned.
ILNA: To what extent is speculation about Mikhail Mishustin's inaction with Putin and his role as a smoothing-out of the president's policies accurate?
1. Initially, President and PM really seemed to avoid statements or actions regarding the coronavirus outbreak. There were no national addresses, as in the USA or Germany. According to rumors circulated in the opposite resources, in the 20s of March, Putin had ostensibly departed from Moscow — possibly to his residence in Sochi or Valdai to avoid pandemic. But on March 24, Putin accompanied by the Mayor of Moscow Sergey Sobyanin visited the largest Russian coronavirus hospital in Kommunarka (Moscow). Putin’s photos in vac suit amid the infectors have pivotally changed public opinion: now people believe that the authorities are really concerned by the pandemic and take measures to combat it. Also, it was the rise of Moscow Mayor Sobyanin who posed himself as the second main virus-fighter and also gained glory by fast Chinese-style building of another large infection hospital in Moscow.
2. By most of the political scientists, Mishustin is considered as a technical figure distanced from all Russian political clans. For ten years, from 2010 to 2020, he was working as the Head of the Federal Taxation Service. As a technocrat, he builds a modern digitalized taxation system. Thanks to Mishustin, now you can obtain most of the government fiscal/taxation services remotely, via the website of Federal Taxation Service.
Thanks to Mishustin, the taxation raise was only 20% during the last five years, while tax collection had increased by 150%. One of the reasons was that Mishustin had implemented an external control system by making all small business (such as street retail) to install the so-called online cash desk: a special tool which fixates all its financial operations — it was a good way to control and increase taxation.
Russian economy still remains in recession so one of Mishustin’s goals was to ‘reload’ it using its technocratic approach. Some of these measures could likely be painful — such as cost-cuts, pension reform (Russia is in process of pension age increasing from 60 to 65 years), or further configuring of tax system. Thereby, he has no any political ambitions and, according to one scenario, could be a ‘kamikadze PM’ in the future: to conduct painful reform, stabilize economic growth and in some years leave his seat for some another person — a real Putin’s successor (it is only a hypothetical scenario, not the fact).
Interview by: Kamran Baradaran