‘Nobody knows Putin’s seat after 2024’
Campaign manager Sergey Markelov on “temporary government”, its Kazakh variant and “situational small amendments”
Amendments to the Constitution offered by Vladimir Putin in his address to the Federal Assembly and already approved by the lower chamber of the parliament at the first reading are still discussed in Russia. In an interview with Realnoe Vremya, campaign manager, Director of MarkelovGroup communications agency Sergey Markelov talked about why it was necessary to appoint the premier and ministers by the Duma, to limit the priority of international law over domestic legislation and the new role of the State Council.
“One should always look at politics from two perspectives — public and hidden”
Mr Markelov, why were the amendments to the Constitution designed in general? Is their goal to keep the current president in power longer or can it all be much deeper?
One should always look at politics from two perspectives — public and hidden. From a public perspective, it is completely obvious that understanding that there are already 20 years of ruling the country behind, understanding the tiredness of Russia of one and the same face, federal authorities, Vladimir Putin’s team, including Putin himself are already inspired to complete all transactions and transformations in the most gentle way for the country. In other words, so that the country doesn’t suffer from stress. Now it is seen that the elite, the government, all federal functionaries, all State Duma deputies, senators are under stress. And to end it and impede everybody from having the sword of Damocles and allow the country to keep operating, Putin gave to understand that everything was manageable, approved, all groups came to an agreement with each other — Medvedev gave up his seat as premier to Mishustin “with pleasure”, while the ministers resigned having given up their seats to new people “with pleasure”, while the latter came in with new tasks and ideas, and so on.
As for amendments to the Constitution, the following is the case. When any ruler starts to understand that society is tired of him, of course, he starts to excite himself and his team. He says like “Lads, I have done a lot, and a lot hasn’t been done, and I would like the end of my rule to be as ‘environmentally friendly’ as my coming”. The case is that Mr Putin is receiving signals from some people, though slowly, in little amounts, that it is time to do something with government agencies — with the State Duma, the same Federal Assembly. The first one has done nothing recently but slapped on the wrist, while the second one has turned into a cemetery for former politicians who were hired neither as governors nor Putin’s aides. And the president’s retinue decided that it was necessary to strengthen the institutions so that deputies and senators didn’t sit just in cabinets thinking they didn’t influence anything.
But another thing is more important, of course. The president himself understands that he isn’t eternal, he won’t rule the country until he is 90 years old, but it is necessary to do something to protect the country’s future from stresses, stupid presidents, stupid deputies and stupid politicians. But how to protect it? The mechanism is simple — Putin has transmitted us that radical changes of the major law are impossible over these 20 years, but it isn’t clear why it is impossible (he probably thought that it might have a bad impact on the country). But it is impossible to easily hand over power after 20 years of rule, which means that the Kremlin can turn on its mythology, and Putin can say like “Who knows who will come after me, and a mess will start in the country”. The president would really want people to say that when Putin was in power, the country had been fine for 20 years, while then Putin’s friends cheated him, who knows what they have done, and now we have a disorder”.
The president himself understands that he isn’t eternal, he won’t rule the country until he is 90 years old, but it is necessary to do something to protect the country’s future from stress, stupid presidents, stupid deputies and stupid politicians
And while waiting for the future of the country, analysts and the president’s team decided that Putin should refuse some power to show something to elites, these “Bull Terriers” who wait for his team to resign.
Consequently, the Kremlin decided that it was necessary to weaken the president’s power, redistribute it and correct some flaws that happened in the country. In other words, to strengthen the deputies’ corps, stir up the intrigue of parliamentary elections in 2021 to raise the value of a deputy seat, raise the prestige of the Federation Council and thus weaken elites and lobby groups, besiege groups that configure the government, both the current and future one.
It is necessary to understand well that the government that has been appointed now is transitional, that’s to say, temporary, non-strategic. At least because there will be two stresses in Russian politics in the next years — the State Duma elections in 2021 (maybe even in 2020) and the election in 2024 when there will be a transition and we will see what lobby groups will work and for what candidate. There will be stresses anyway, whatever political transformations take place, while the current power is scared of stresses. In general any power is afraid of them, but ours especially is. What is the solution? I will repeat that to change the Constitution making the deputies’ corps and the State Duma election stronger, that’s to say, by raising the value of a seat in this Duma. Losing the value of a deputy’s seat is a problem, and Putin was said that if deputies are chosen in the way they are chosen now, hiring God knows whom as deputy, he can have trouble. Though this isn’t true, of course.
What does the hidden perspective suggest?
Elites are given a signal that Putin’s team as strong as never, that security officials will never miss a chance.
“Lobby groups that are behind the president and watch out that he won’t disappear anywhere are the problem”
Almost all your colleagues agree with one thing: after Vladimir Putin resigns as president, he will chair the State Council, an article about which he offered to add to the Constitution. What a body will it be? Will it be the main body in the country?
Here one should be wiser — it doesn’t matter what functions the State Council will have, in what part of the legal space of the country Vladimir Putin will be in after 2024 matters. If Putin becomes the speaker of the State Duma, it means that the State Duma will be the main body. Though, of course, Mr Putin will say at the same time that we have a presidential, not parliamentarian republic, and Russians need a president’s strong power, the Duma will be a powerful body because everybody will go there and receive signals to rule the country via Putin. Not what it will be called matters but the compliance with the legal construction. Now Putin is said: “If you chair something, the country will understand you, the country won’t get offended and won’t say that Putin is an eternal president”.
The State Council is just an assumed scenario for Putin after 2024, though, in fact, nothing is clear in the case of Putin’s issue after 2024, there is only a theory of uncertainty. First, they tried to unite Belarus and Russia and appoint Putin as head of the united country almost forever, but it didn’t work — Lukashenko had a temper tantrum, and this scenario was abandoned. Then the president was persuaded that unlimited rule was needed like in case of Lukashenko, but he was abruptly against it — no, like “Keep thinking”. And now we see a discussion of the “Kazakh variant”.
The State Council is just an assumed scenario for Putin after 2024, though, in fact, nothing is clear in the case of Putin’s issue after 2024, there is only a theory of uncertainty
Does it mean that it still unclear if Putin will remain in power?
Of course! Nobody knows Putin’s seat at the top of power, nobody knows how the president and State Council’s power will be distributed. But if Putin chairs the State Council, it will be a super body, and it doesn’t matter which factions will be described in the Constitution.
Back to the “Kazakh variant”. What parts of it exactly do you see in our situation?
At the moment are moving in a direction with a write-in person in the president’s seat. Because in the same Kazakhstan everybody perfectly understands that Nursultan Nazarbayev makes all key decisions. According to news people, there is no Kassym-Jomart Tokayev as a president, he performs just nominal functions, while in general we see: “Nazarbayev said this”, “Nazarbayev said that”, Nazarbayev is here, Nazarbayev is there. And note that again Nazarbayev holds talks on Kazakh oil supplies to Belarus. Have you heard about President of Kazakhstan Tokayev in this respect? He isn’t mentioned in this news.
At the moment are moving in a direction with a write-in person in the president’s seat. Because in same Kazakhstan everybody perfectly understands that Nursultan Nazarbayev makes all key decisions
Yevgeny Minchenko is inclined to think that still Tokayev is the boss in Kazakhstan.
Minchenko says what one should say and he wants to say what the authorities will like because this is how he wants the authorities to like him. He won’t say what, for instance, Volodin or Kiriyenko won’t like.
Let’s go back to Putin. A year ago political expert Leonid Radzikhovsky said in an interview with our newspaper that Putin would certainly resign in 2024 and choose a successor because he was very tired. Do you agree with this forecast?
Radzikhovsky isn’t a forecaster, firstly. Secondly, Putin isn’t the problem. Putin was tired a long time ago, but the problem is that he has no power over his position, over his power and so on anymore. Lobby groups, who lobbies whom, who is behind the president and watch out that he won’t disappear anywhere are the problem.
Putin now can influence himself in terms of his political character, like “We don’t change the Constitution, and so on”. And the rest is “Let’s sit down near the fire and have a barbecue”, a talk begins, and lobbyists say to Putin: “Mr Putin, it is just enough to give a nod, and we will organise everything. Just don’t rattle the sabre”. And they start organising everything. They fail somewhere, but in general they fix the situation.
“It is situational, technical small amendments”
As we see, the people hasn’t been very content recently — the rise in retirement age, fall in incomes.
Yes, Putin will be said: there are social problems, but it is important to understand what tools are used to solve them, while again the state solves them.
Citizens of the country must approve the amendments to the Constitution. Neither politicians nor experts doubt they won’t be approved. What will it be? A referendum? Can it then be approved?
The amendments were created for a situation the authorities made up themselves and they aren’t linked with the strategy to change everything for the better, for instance, in 50 years. It is just situational changes
The most important thing here is to confuse everything: voting or non-voting, in this or another form, with the Central Election Commission, call it a referendum or not. There will be voting, of course, but it is unclear what mechanism and logic it will have. You won’t hold voting at such a speed, it is like an election to the State Duma or presidential election: budgets are needed, the people needs to be prepared. I think the voting will anyway be called a referendum on amendments to the Constitution.
Have these amendments of the president changed the spirit of the Constitution?
To tell the truth, in fact, these amendments have nothing to do with the Constitution. It is situational, technical small amendments. All these amendments are verbal gymnastics, which will allow the current top power to do what it designs through 2024, and they aren’t linked with the strategy to change everything for the better, for instance, in 50 years. It is just situational changes.
When will those changes of the Constitution that will really increase the role of citizens in the country’s management and provide them with good social protection become a reality?
The changes are possible when a lot of authoritative people appear in the country, liberal politicians, whom society will listen to and who will feel fine with changes to the major law, transformations in society, recognition of mistakes because they would understand that many things in our got obsolete and it is time to drive a Ferrari, not ride a horse. While state officials, patriots and national patriots, functionaries who love Russia today are afraid of these changes and offer to ride a horse or use a cart at the moment, like the people isn’t ready to drive cars, though the people is. But they don’t think so.