What is Putin Thinking?
The new political season in Russia began with serious transformations of the internal political configuration. President Vladimir Putin announced the preparation of constitutional amendments. After that, Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev declared the dissolution of the government. Clarity of action and quick personnel shifts show that these decisions of the Russian leader were the result of long-term planning. Most Western experts agree that the main motivation is Putin’s desire to maintain power after 2024 when his presidency expires. However, after analyzing the dynamics of the country's domestic policy over the past ten years, it becomes obvious that the reasons for these alterations are much deeper. Putin is a classic geopolitical strategist. He sees national interest in ensuring the state's territorial integrity and returning of Russia as a great power that can play an active part in the formation of the new system of international relations. Therefore, he makes internal decisions considering the trends of the rest of the world.
The first goal is to eliminate weak elements in the system. In Russia, the traditional philosophy is that the ruler is perceived as the father of the nation, a strong and decisive person who protects the interests of the people and the image of the state in the international arena. The first post-Soviet leader, Boris Yeltsin, lost his share of the trust and respect of the population because he could not control those who were close to him and manipulated him. Over the past few years, Putin’s ratings have begun to fall. This happened not due to foreign policy, in which the president is directly involved, but to social problems. Responsibility for reforms to improve the economic situation was assigned to the government that failed to fulfill its task. This affected the level of public confidence in relation to the president. It was necessary to move on to more energetic actions. People believe that the ruler has absolute power, so they do not understand why he does not dismiss those who do not comply with his decrees to improve the life of the population. Gradually, rumors began that the president became weak and was losing control of his retinue.
In the meantime, talk was spreading about Putin's possible successor. Different groups launched campaigns, creating informational background around their leaders that have all the qualities to become a worthy replacement after 2024. Discussing the next leader with the current ruler still in force is considered bad manners and a signal of weakness. The latter is an impermissible luxury in Russian political reality. With his message and personnel replacements, Putin immediately solved two tasks: he showed the people that he was able to punish officials for mistakes, and reminded his entourage that everything was still under his control. It is noteworthy that he appointed Mikhail Mishustin as a new prime minister. The Russian public had little knowledge about him. Such a cold shower should help a certain part of the elite pull themselves together after prolonged dizziness caused by gaining access to big money and power. Russians have a popular phrase “public flogging” and a saying “beat your own ones so strangers are afraid.” In general, this is how the quick and tough actions of the Russian president can be characterized.
The second goal is to strengthen the internal rear. Changes in the Constitution should become the institutional design for what the main ideologist of the Kremlin Vladislav Surkov called the long-lasting state of Putin or the concept of Putinism. What does this mean? Firstly, this implies an emphasis on the further process of the so-called total sovereignty. To this end, the Russian president proposed removing the clause that recognizes the primacy of international law over national law. Secondly, it is necessary to strengthen the central authority as the basis for strategic public administration. At the same time, more powers should be given to the parliament that should take on the social and economic bloc and be responsible for personnel. To do this, Putin proposed an amendment that would allow the State Duma to approve the candidacy of the head of government, deputy prime ministers and all federal ministers. Vladimir Putin is pragmatic; he understands that going through external sanctions and domestic economic instability, it is important to begin the process of sharing responsibility between the executive, legislative and judicial branches of power.
Since 2012, Putin's Russia has returned to a large Middle East policy, has strengthened its presence in Latin America and Africa, is now supporting conservative movements in Europe and is preparing to enhance its influence in the post-Soviet countries. This activity has a specific goal -- to make Moscow one of the centers of power that will participate in determining the future architecture of the world order and the rules of the game. With systematic internal stresses, it is impossible to concentrate on this mission properly.
Areg Galstyan, PhD is a regular contributor to Forbes, the National Interest, and the American Thinker.