Russian President Vladimir Putin gave his annual inauguration speech on Wednesday, announcing a welfare package for women and children which would put the average western democracy to shame. But it wasn’t the social reform which caused shockwaves across global media. Instead it was the changes to the constitution aimed at giving more power to parliament and less to the President, as Putin sets the scene for Russia’s democratic future once he leaves his post (as it is widely believed he will) in 2024. Putin’s speech yesterday was followed by the resignation of Prime Minister Medvedev and his government, a procedure which, although took many by surprise, was a natural follow-on from the announcements.
Western media however was aghast. ‘What is Putin up to?’ read the headlines as Russia watchers frantically tried to work out what was going on. There must be something more to this, the narrative was spun. ‘The details are murky’ professed The Economist, as it bought time to figure out what it all meant. The Twittersphere was completely unprepared and perplexed by the government’s resignation. Many commentators couldn’t work out whether it was a good or bad thing. The general line was ‘we’re not quite sure what’s happening; more details to follow.’
This then evolved quickly into the line that the constitutional reforms were all part of Putin’s strategy to stay in power indefinitely. ‘Vladimir Putin proposed sweeping reforms that could extend his decades-long grip on power beyond the end of his presidency.” boasted CNN. This particular article even went as far as to misrepresent what the Russian President had actually said, by taking it completely out of context. Although Putin said regarding the resignation of the government: “I want to express satisfaction with the results that have been achieved. Of course not everything worked out, but nothing ever works out in full”, the CNN piece quoted him as saying ‘not everything worked out’ which by itself gives a completely different meaning, implying Putin was dissatisfied with the government’s work.
The Economist followed suit, taking up its usual antagonistic stance towards Russia with the headline “How Vladimir Putin is preparing to rule forever.” Furthermore on Twitter it alleged ‘Vladimir Putin’s regime has killed too many people to make it plausible that he would voluntarily give up power’, to which journalist Mary Dejevsky rightfully responded: ‘why would a president who, according to you interpretation, is intent on staying in power, be preparing a transition?’.
Wednesday’s events in Russia really proved problematic for the western commentariat. For what in essence was clearly an attempt by Putin to further democratise Russia: reducing the number of terms a President can run to two, and ensuring the parliament appoints the Prime Minister as opposed to the President; was perversely portrayed as a sign of authoritarianism, in a desperate attempt to fit the narrative. Absent from most analysis was the fact that Putin wants to put his proposals to a public vote: if that’s not democracy then I don’t know what is.
What has also been largely ignored by the western media was the implications of certain constitutional reforms on the future government and President. For arguably most significant of all was Putin’s proposal that any future President ought to have lived in Russia continuously for a period of 25 years and that civil servants should be barred from holding foreign citizenship.
So what should be regarded as a positive attempt to consolidate democracy in Russia, is being unfortunately, and rather predictably, interpreted as the opposite. But even if Vladimir Putin does continue a central role in Russia’s future, with record approval ratings I don’t see many people having a problem with that. This is the man who restored Russia as a world power to be reckoned with after the collapse of the USSR and the ensuing deep economic crisis during the 1990s. Russians won’t forget that.
The statements, views and opinions expressed in this column are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of The Duran.