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Window on Eurasia — New Series: Unable to Absorb Belarus, Putin will Try to Make Russia a Formally Unitary State, Slosberg Says

Paul Goble
            Staunton, April 7 – Vladimir Putin and his entourage would like to absorb Belarus and thus open the way for the Kremlin leader to remain in power over a “new” country, Lev Shlosberg says. But the Belarusians won’t accept that arrangement and so the Kremlin will change the constitution to make Russia formally a unitary rather than a federal state.
            In an interview with the Kazan Reporter on the occasion of his first-ever visit to Tatarstan, the Pskov opposition politician says that Putin is a man of the Soviet past with no vision of the future other than that past (
            “Our country has completed the period of post-Soviet modernization,” Shlosberg says. “And it has completely failed. Our country, unfortunately, has not been able to shift from the Soviet state system to a contemporary one.” And that is leading to “an objective contradiction” between the state and the needs of the population.
            As a result, “we are on the eve of major social and political changes,” the Pskov deputy says.
            “After Putin’s election,” he says, the Kremlin wanted to change Russia’s state system. But because of the regime’s “illiteracy and incompetence,” it struck out first with the pension reform and lost much of its former support.  That this happened, of course, reflects the nature of Putin himself.
            “Putin is a man of the 20thcentury and of ‘the cold war,’” Shlosberg says. “He is so raised that this is his worldview and it has only intensified over the course of his rule.”  His entourage, of course, wants to extend this as long as possible; and it would like to create a new union state with Belarus that he could head.
            But that won’t be easy or perhaps even possible. “Belarusians have a very high level of national identity … They won’t give up Belarus to Russia.”  Consequently, to remain in power, Putin will change the Russian constitution and “make it officially a unitary state.”  From his perspective, “the name ‘Russian Federation’ has one excess word.”
            Putin is “an absolute supporter that the center of power on the entire territory of Russia must be one. He can divide authority but categorically does not intend to divide power. This is his idee fixe. Therefore, the destruction of the federal bases of the state is not a mistake but intentional work.”
                That involves the destruction of non-Russian languages and non-Russian institutions. Putin may allow some to remain as decoration but without content.  You want to call yourself a president, fine; but just don’t expect that to mean anything, Shlosberg says is Putin’s thinking. 
            Shlosberg says that he would favor making all the heads of the federal subjects presidents and giving both them and the subjects real authority and power.  But unfortunately, he continues, at present, “no one takes political decisions besides ‘the consolidated Putin.’”
            “Putin after all is not one man but a definite group of people. They keep for themselves the right to make decisions; everyone else is merely an executor.  This is a completely dead-end model,” Shlosberg continues.  But that is the direction the Kremlin has been and will continue to move under this “Putin.”
             “This is a very dangerous policy,” he says. One can’t rule a country as large and diverse as the Russian Federation is for long in this way. “It won’t work”

Window on Eurasia — New Series