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The split in Putin’s regime

In July, the Kremlin held a constitutional referendum. This can be seen as the end of a long political cycle, one that started in 2014 with the annexation of Crimea, and ended with the emergence of a new Putin regime: one that is more repressive, intolerant, ideologised and conservative. This regime actually lives on an external agenda. All internal political processes are subordinated to geopolitical circumstances and a ‘besieged fortress’ logic. Its institutional foundations have been enshrined in the newly amended Constitution, which significantly strengthens presidential power, introduces elements of official ideology and blurs any prior separation of powers. This new constitutional rubrik also has another, more pronounced feature: an increasingly noticeable split between real decision-making processes and the official structure of governance.

Putin’s regime has always relied on shadow mechanisms for discussing and making political decisions. Indeed, this mechanic was not alien to Boris Yeltsin either. In Yeltsin’s time, it is enough to remember the influences of his notorious ‘family’. However, the overall trend in recent years has been to ‘dry up’ the official authorities politically; deprive them of political independence; and shrink the space for independent and autonomous operation within their functions. This happens when the Ministry of Foreign Affairs ceases to engage in diplomacy and turns into an advocate for the Kremlin instead. It uses rhetoric not very different from that applied by the most odious propagandists. This happens when the cabinet, instead of following a clear, strategically aligned economic policy, plunges into a contradictory implementation of ‘national projects’. This happens when social policy comes to life only on the eve of the constitutional referendum or before federal elections, and boils down to simplistic distribution of cash. And this also happens when the elections turn into an administrative routine — devoid of meaning, competitive struggle, or conversations about the future.

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