Putin is using the upcoming public vote on changing the constitution to make ordinary people his accomplices in the process of extending his rule and sanctioning the predominance of an ultraconservative ideology.
Russia is rapidly approaching a situation in which the public will lose the right to decide anything once and for all, because the authorities simply have no remaining political will or the resources to persuade the people.
Two key mobilizing events—the vote to change the constitution and the Victory Day parade—were supposed to force Russians to temporarily forget about their low incomes and stagnating GDP. The pandemic meant they had to be postponed. Now—as lockdown measures are lifted—the Kremlin is trying to return to the scenario of rallying around the flag.
The current crisis has exposed how the Russian regime has changed in several key ways. It is divided and lacks strategy, and President Putin shows no interest in giving it a new direction.
The foundation of the current Kremlin ideology is a defensive narrative: that we have always been attacked and forced to defend ourselves. Another line of defense is history.
The pandemic has revealed a truth of the Russian government. Vladimir Putin has become increasingly disengaged from routine matters of governing and prefers to delegate most issues.
Whereas Mikhail Gorbachev granted his people freedom and suffered a crushing personal defeat, Vladimir Putin is doing exactly the opposite. But, in the end, it is Putin's legacy that will suffer, and Gorbachev who will be redeemed.
For President Vladimir Putin and the Russian leadership, history—in particular, key events of World War II and the Stalin era—are increasingly a political weapon used to legitimize their rule and mobilize the Russian public. As a result, many Russians are now collectively forgetting historical events that were common knowledge two decades ago.
The fight against the new coronavirus in Russia is being led not by politicians oriented on the public mood, but by managers serving their boss. This is why the authorities’ actions appear first insufficient, then excessive; first belated, then premature.
Putin’s move to extend his rule beyond its expected end in 2024 has worked against the president. Meanwhile, the new coronavirus and falling ruble have proved more effective than any action by the opposition aimed at damaging Putin’s ratings.