Maybe Putin should have weaponized democracy

I am still not sure what to think exactly about that’s happening in Ukraine. Because I cannot actually know for certain what is happening. I cannot follow the other side. Russian sources are being censored. This level of online censorship is a dangerous issue which I will try to tackle another time, I honestly just hope to get VPN soon and to circumvent this totalitarian nonsense.

But for now, I do know that Russia confirmed a number of dead recently that is consistent with what the BBC provided. I also know that partial mobilization shows that the war is more difficult than Putin had hoped and this looks like an ad hoc response. It is also an extremely risky political gamble.

While Putin has again threatened with nuclear weapons (making Pope Francis look even more silly for having used kid gloves on him for so long when proclaiming nuclear weapons wrong is one of his self-proclaimed doctrinal changes) this remains a bluff as long as the West isn’t stupid enough to infringe on the Russian homeland in any way.

The Ukrainian counter-offensive has ushered in a new phase. Mobilizing troops takes time though. Russia is at least now trying to preserve the independent republics it helped into existence.

But what is going within Russia itself? Any notion of an externally influenced regime is idiotic. Russia has been very nationalist again for more than 20 years. Most off the big opposition parties are anti-Western.

Putin will only be ousted or retired by the secret services and/or the army and neither really likes the West. Whoever replaces him (whether he gets ousted or eventually dies) will almost certainly not be a Yeltsin 2.

But I maintain that Putin seems to have changed over the years. He ruled as a hybrid regime ruler during his first 2 presidential terms. Experimented with a (partial) successor. It seems as though Medvedev didn’t work out completely. Putin returned as president and his regime’s dictatorial elements increased.

Then United Russia did stupid things like increase the retirement age after failing to prevent economic stagnation. Its popularity dipped. Putin’s support remained stronger in comparison.

During last year’s parliamentary elections, United Russia was likely to remain by far the largest party and get at least 35 % off the vote and probably a higher portion of seats in the lower house. But opposition parties would have gained more votes according to elections polls. Specifically the neo-Communists, the Socially Conservative Social Democrats and the neo-Fascist of the so called Liberal Democratic Party. These parties are still Nationalist and anti-Liberal. They are constructively critical but overall supportive of Putin. The neo-Fascists are strongly suspected of de facto working for the Kremlin though.

But instead of refuting Western criticism and enhancing his democratic legitimacy, by allowing the elections to take place fairly, Putin had massive voter fraud take place, inflating the votes for United Russia.

United Russia would have easily remained the largest party. Even if it lost a majority, the other parties could have constructively worked with it. A coalition government of several Nationalist and anti-Western parties could have served as the ultimate middle finger to Western critics. Why didn’t he go for that possibility? United Russia has suffered a decrease in votes before without it humiliating Putin too much. What was the danger of a coalition government.

Putin would have remained president till 2024 regardless. Impeaching the president is virtually impossible in Russia. Presidential powers are extremely strong. Ironically Putin weakened presidential power somewhat with his 2020 constitutional amendments, but even then, his power remained huge. Especially since he’s been appointing secret service, military, governors and judges for the last 20 years.

United Russia would have still been the leading party in a coalition government. The other parties are all smaller. Putin could have played divide and conquer with who gets which share in the government.

Why didn’t he? With a government of national unity, there would be shared responsibility for the war in Ukraine. The Liberal Democratic Party would always support the war. Either the communists or the moderate Socialists could be successfully coerced into supporting the war as well.

The only reason I can think of is that Putin didn’t want to deal with the complexities of coalition politics. That he didn’t want to have to work with former rivals. That he wanted completely obedient cronies.

Although perhaps, it was more generally to ensure a United Russia dictatorship. With the constitutional amendments ensuring his successor as president won’t be an autocrat, but a strong leader who shares power with the head of the party and the prime minister.

But does Putin have a group of heirs he trusts to lead a collective leadership when he is gone? And with support for United Russia eroded, and few recognizable successor faces, he’ll have to allow them to develop their own reputation sooner rather than later.

If Putin hasn’t prepared a stable succession for his dictatorship, then he was stupid to allow democracy to be further undermined last year, especially when Russian democracy has become dominated by the general principles of Putinism anyways.

Ramon Giralt

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