A new constitution for Russia

According to official figures, 78 percent of voters cast their ballots in favour of the reforms set out in Russia's controversial constitutional referendum on 1 July, while 21 percent voted against. Observers say the vote was rigged. But did the Kremlin do everything right after all?

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newsru.com (RU) /

The Kremlin has overcome all adversities

After a dramatic first half of 2020, historian and political scientist Sergei Medvedev, who is usually critical of the Kremlin, feels compelled to congratulate the state in a Facebook post published by newsru.com:

“What looked like a swarm of 'black swans' in March-April - coronavirus, lockdown, social crisis, global recession, plunging oil prices, a poorly timed referendum, growing dissatisfaction with the leadership - was an unprecedented combination of factors that could have rocked the regime to its very foundations. But the state has weathered the crisis and proven stable: epidemiologically, on the oil markets, in its budget and strategically. Putin even implemented his two major pet projects: the military parade and the referendum annuling his previous terms of office.”

NV (UA) /

A Pandora's box

Columnist Viktor Shenderovych writes in nv.ua that the referendum will pull the rug out from under Russia's feet:

“Everyone has more or less understood that this was an obvious, even demonstrative fake, apart from the strange guy in his bunker for whom the whole scam was staged. ... Rulers only stay in power in Russia because the vassals won't give up their habit of holding out to the bitter end - and are afraid of the secret services. ... Russia is without a constitution. It has been disregarded in the past, but at least it served as a kind of yardstick by which to judge the circumstances. Now the old constitution has been abolished and the new one has no legitimacy. This is an open Pandora's box, a direct invitation to a showdown outside the legal framework.”

Denník N (SK) /

They have done their own country a disservice

Now that a majority of Russians have given their approval for Putin's power to be prolonged almost indefinitely the country will be left lagging even further behind, Denník N scolds:

“The country has only seemingly gotten richer under Putin. And that was only thanks to the once high global prices for oil and gas. ... Russia is basically only competitive in the arms industry nowadays. It is now also lagging behind in the aerospace sector where it once excelled. ... Putin has not brought his country forward in two decades. He relies solely on military symbolism, the memory of the glorious war, a personality cult and the pretence that Russia is as modern and powerful as ever. Voters refused to help their state on Wednesday by putting a clear end to Putin's rule.”

Dnevnik (SI) /

Autocrats better than elected sociopaths

The fact that the constitutional change went through makes Dnevnik doubt the merits of democracy:

“It could be that belief in democratic power mechanisms is declining globally, and that it is therefore better to place one's fate in the hands of known autocrats along the Chinese model than in those of elected sociopaths, including the current US president. ... So a real assessment would be that the Russian constitutional changes reflect not only the current Russian spirit but also the global spirit, which smacks of nationalism, populism and other things we thought were long since alien to us.”

La Repubblica (IT) /

Confrontation with Europe not the best idea

Putin must make a decision, La Repubblica says:

“What will the eternal czar do over the next 16 years as the country's leader? One thesis is that he will continue his course of political and military confrontation with the West, from Syria to Libya, and of incursions of nuclear fighter-bombers in the Arctic to attacks with unconventional weapons (radioactive polonium and nerve gas) in England. There is also another, more theoretical and subtle option, as the Financial Times observes: the president for life should recognise that Russia is in decline, that the real threat to Moscow is China's expansionism on the Asian front and that Russia's fate, as Peter the Great said, lies in Europe.”

Ekho Moskvy (RU) /

Many who voted yes despise the state

In his blog on Echo of Moscow, opposition politician Leonid Gosman sees no overwhelming support for the authorities:

“There is no getting around the fact that over one-fifth of all those who cast their ballots voted against the reform. They aren't the two percent who make up a 'fifth column' or 'foreign agents', but an important segment of the population. ... But even those who voted in favour didn't vote for the changes - or even for Putin. In keeping with old Soviet tradition this was an act of loyalty, an avowal that you don't want to get into any trouble with the state. But that doesn't mean the yes voters approve of this state power. Many feel humiliated and despise it even more than those who voted against it, or who refused to take part in this farce.”

Mérce (HU) /

Putin wanted to boost his popularity

The online portal Mérce believes the referendum was all about popularity:

“Why was it so important to hold a referendum with improvised protective measures in the middle of a pandemic? One that wasn't even necessary for the legality of the constitutional amendment? The original date of the referendum was shortly before the big Victory Day celebrations on 9 May. ... This is a day of monumental celebrations in Russia every year. ... The stirring up of nationalist and traditionalist sentiment would have been a good way to boost Putin's popularity, which has been fading almost continuously since 2017. ... It is now unclear what further consequences the coronavirus pandemic will have in Russia, and whether the referendum will have a positive impact on Putin's situation despite the postponement and the changed circumstances.”

Frankfurter Rundschau (DE) /

Welcome young Russians with open arms

The human factor is missing from relations between the EU and Russia, the Frankfurter Rundschau complains:

“The most important thing isn't goods, oil or gas, it's encounters, and the possibility of more Russians getting to know an alternative way of life. It's the possibility of young Russians studying or travelling freely here, something that would require different visa requirements. But it would also help if more Western Europeans travelled to Russia and not only learned about it through media coverage, which is often focused on Moscow. The EU, and above all Germany, would benefit in the long term from enhanced interaction with Russia beyond high-level politics, with a particular focus on the young. Incidentally, this is also the group that most strongly rejects the annulment of Putin's past terms that the constitutional changes foresee.”