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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Revolution in Perpetual Motion

Francois Mitterand, when he was a left-wing opposition deputy, once described the French Constitution as a permanent coup d'etat. At a later point, he himself became president of France and felt absolutely fine acting within that very same constitution.

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These days, however, Mitterand's description increasingly suits Russia better than it does France. In the constitution devised for General de Gaulle, power was concentrated in the hands of the president, but political parties retained some sort of importance and parliament had real influence, albeit reduced. The Russian Constitution repeats all the authoritarian features of the French Constitution, but it has been carefully purged of all the elements that might lead to the emergence of a democratic process.

This system is very convenient for the people sitting in the Kremlin. But our "managed democracy" has one fatal flaw: It does not provide for any handover of power. Everybody realizes perfectly well that the elections are a fiction and their only point is to legitimize a handover of power that has already taken place within the presidential administration.

In countries that became managed democracies before Russia, the power handover occurred either through a decision by the ruling party or through direct military intervention. For example, in Mexico the Institutional Revolutionary Party controlled the elections for decades, getting 80 percent of the votes no matter how voters mark their ballots. Whoever was made head of the party by the outgoing leader automatically became the next president. In some Asian countries it was done even more simply. Military officials would hold a private meeting and announce the name of the winning candidate to politicians.

Alas, in Russia the system of personal presidential power has been taken to an absolute, and, therefore, attempts to create a state party have not been successful. United Russia is too weak, openly unpopular and, most importantly, does not hold the reins of power. Any decision made at one of its congresses will not be viewed as final and may be challenged by other groupings.

As for the military, not only does it not enjoy the same influence as those in Asia and Latin America, it is also not as well consolidated or politically organized as a corporation. In other words, not only can it not impose its will on other political players, it also is incapable of taking a common stance. In these conditions, the power handover depends on court intrigues, or spin-doctoring, as they are known in Russia. In 2000, this operation was carried out surprisingly smoothly, but President Vladimir Putin got into the Kremlin only after apartment buildings were blown up and the second Chechen war took place. The talent of Boris Berezovsky, the best political intriguer of our time, also played a not insignificant role.

After the first Operation Successor had been successfully carried out, people were able to rest on their laurels for while. But 2008 is getting inexorably closer, forcing all the various groups in the ruling bureaucracy and oligarchy into painful searches for a solution.

The very fact that Putin's presidential mandate is running out means that a political crisis is inevitable, even if the socioeconomic situation in Russia remains stable. In 1998 and 1999, the presidential administration was supposed to put down malcontents among regional leaders and this battle was successfully continued during all of Putin's presidency. By abolishing popular gubernatorial elections and centralizing finances, the Kremlin has solved this issue to a large degree.

But at the same time, the presidential administration has turned into a likeness of an early 18th-century tsar's court in St. Petersburg. Plots are hatched, people engage in machinations against each other and weave all possible sorts of intrigues of which the only aim is to undermine the positions of their partners. Undertaking Operation Successor with an administration like this will be far more difficult the second time around.

The fact that the Kremlin has no serious opposition only complicates the issue. When they sense no threat from outside, the Kremlin bosses concentrate all their efforts on fighting each other. According to the rules of court intrigue, the victory of one faction means defeat for the other.

The only way of making sure that everyone is kept from getting at each other's throats is to extend the president's term. At the very least this would put off any unpleasantness for another four years. In any case, the people are already used to Putin. But, paradoxically, it is precisely this solution -- the safest from the point of view of those in power -- that would mean a change in the Constitution.

Whichever way you look at it, you can only call it a revolution.

Boris Kagarlitsky is director of the Institute for Globalization Studies.