ISSN 2330-717X

Constitutions Didn’t Save USSR And Won’t By Themselves Save Russia – OpEd


Facing a situation in which there is growing popular discontent and increasing disfunction in institutions, Vladimir Putin has tried to save the situation by pushing through amendments to the constitution. But just as constitutional arrangements didn’t save the USSR, they won’t, at least by themselves, save Russia, Grigory Vanin says.

The problem is deeper, the Nakanune commentator says; and it is shared by both those who support Putin and those who oppose him. Both believe the system can work only if the man at the top has so much power that he can override any rules and regulations of those below him (

Putin’s supporters believe he is such a man; his opponents are convinced that he is the wrong man and that if he is replaced by the right one, everything will work out. But that attitude, one with deep historical roots in Russia is why Viktor Chernomyrdin’s quip that “we wanted something better but it turned out like always.”

What Russia needs but does not now have is a widespread recognition that the country must develop institutions that function according to transparent rules regardless of who is in charge. Unless the country achieves that, Vanin continues, no amount of constitutional tinkering is going to change things for the better.

The fact that the country has long been an empire only exacerbates this problem. It imposes a burden on each leader often beyond his capacity to cope with adequately and prevents the development of skilled opponents who could do any better.  Empires and emperors are “not eternal for objective reasons,” and mistakes by the center lead to catastrophe for all of Russia.

The post-Soviet Russian system, Vanin argues, has further made the situation worse by linking money and power at the top even as it has made the systemic parties “clones of the late CPSU in structure and methods.”  But they are not the only actors who are simply replaying the past.

“The street opposition,” he says, “is repeating pictures from movies about revolution” and “the numerous parties not in the Duma are interest clubs” rather than real political parties. As a result, there is no one to challenge the leader until he and his system collapse in the face of anger generated by his failures and the population’s expectations that he alone can do everything.

That time may not be far off, Vanin suggests. “According to sociologists, dissatisfaction in society is growing while social-political activity is degrading and emerging into spontaneous movements.” That creates yet another revenant from the past, an uncontrolled rising that will seek to put its man in charge, an approach that will simply continue the vicious circle.

“No constitution saved the USSR and the RSFSR from the events and disintegrative processes of the 1990s,” he argues, because the heart of the matter is “not in written laws but in the objective laws of evolution and their reflection in public consciousness. The material world after all is primary.”

And that leads to “the greatest paradox of all,” Varin says, namely “the Soviet empire just like historical Russia destroyed itself. And this self-destruction alas is continuing ideologically in each of its remnants, including the Russian Federation itself.”

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Paul Goble

Paul Goble is a longtime specialist on ethnic and religious questions in Eurasia. Most recently, he was director of research and publications at the Azerbaijan Diplomatic Academy. Earlier, he served as vice dean for the social sciences and humanities at Audentes University in Tallinn and a senior research associate at the EuroCollege of the University of Tartu in Estonia. He has served in various capacities in the U.S. State Department, the Central Intelligence Agency and the International Broadcasting Bureau as well as at the Voice of America and Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty and at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. Mr. Goble maintains the Window on Eurasia blog and can be contacted directly at [email protected] .

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