Russia’s Constitution: Empire and Orthodoxy

Russia’s Constitution: Empire and Orthodoxy

Author: Former ambassador Dr.Dr.h.c.mult. Hans-Ulrich Seidt, born 1952, is  fellow of the Berlin Liechtenstein Institute on Self-Determination at Princeton University. From 2014 to 2017 he was chief inspector of the Federal Foreign Office and from 2012 to 2014 headed the Department for Foreign Cultural Policy and Communication at the Federal Foreign Office in Berlin. He was German ambassador to the Republic of Korea and Afghanistan. Before that, he worked at the German embassies in Moscow and Washington and at the German NATO mission in Brussels

At the beginning of 2020, the Russian Federation changed its constitution. The political leadership pursued clearly defined goals: strengthening the center of power under President Putin, defending against Western liberalism in its Anglo-Saxon form and further stabilizing Moscow’s international position. The aim is to maintain and increase strategic efficiency in the global competition of the powers.

It was a coincidence of events: a constitutional revision took place almost simultaneously with the outbreak of the corona pandemic in the largest country on earth. While more than 50 countries worldwide were in a state of emergency, the lex fundamentalis, the basic law of Russia, was changed.

The critical moment and the importance of Russia suggest that the constitutional change should not only be viewed from a legal but also from a historical-political point of view. In addition to the content and procedures, the aim and purpose of the constitutional change, the prior understanding of the Moscow leadership and possible consequences for international politics must be included in an overall assessment. The extent to which the constitutional revision is linked to moral and cultural debates on values ​​and geopolitical concepts of great power not least show the work and impact of pioneers such as Alexander Solzhenitsyn and Andrei Snesarew.

Guardian of the Constitution, Lord of the Procedure

According to Article 80, Section 2, Sentence 1 of the Russian Constitution of 1993, President Putin should be her “guarantor”. This provision is based on the first sentence of Article 5 (1) of the Presidential Constitution of the 5th French Republic. On this basis, General Charles de Gaulle managed to overcome the internal and external crisis of the parliamentary IV Republic. As an occupation officer in Trier from 1927 to 1929, he had learned about the presidential constitution and the political reality of the Weimar Republic. Carl Schmitt’s study „The Guardian of the Constitution“ from 1929 influenced leading French lawyers. Their considerations and suggestions were incorporated into the constitution of the Fifth Republic.

Vladimir Putin, who experienced the end of the Soviet empire as a young KGB officer in Dresden in 1989/90, studied law at the University of Leningrad before joining the Soviet foreign intelligence service. It is not known whether he dealt more intensively with constitutional judicial  or constitutional historical issues during his studies. But one of his professors was Anatoli Sobchak, who after the dissolution of the Soviet Union as Mayor of Leningrad caused the city to be renamed Saint Petersburg and in 1993 helped to draw up the Russian constitution.

Mayor Sobchak appointed Vladimir Putin as his deputy mayor for international relations. In his current position as guardian of the Russian constitution, his former student focuses not least on the interest-oriented and purposeful application of procedural rules. This was already evident in 2008 when Vladimir Putin retired for four years as prime minister under interim president Dmitry Medvedev, who had also studied with Anatoly Sobchak. In this way, Vladimir Putin was able to circumvent the constitutional ban on a third presidency in an uninterrupted sequence in order to become the new president in 2012. An amendment to the constitution that had been made in the meantime then allowed him two terms of six years each.

In his second six-year term, which will last until 2024, President Putin operated the current constitutional change as the unrestricted master of the process. Between mid-January and mid-March 2020, he succeeded in having the law „perfecting the regulation of certain questions of the organization of public power“ adopted and signed. This opens up the opportunity for him to run for president again in 2024. In 2030 he can then be elected again for a term of office until 2036.

The actions of the president met with fierce criticism not only in Russia. The allegation that the guarantor of the constitution had broken the constitution related to the content and procedure of the constitutional change, which had been discretely prepared by the presidential administration since mid-December 2019 at the latest. President Putin then surprised the Russian public in his annual message to the nation on January 15, 2020 with the plan of a constitutional revision.

The 1993 constitution is clearly structured. Chapter 9 regulates constitutional changes and the revision of the constitution. A constitutional amendment is possible in principle according to Art. 134. The President also has the right to initiate a constitutional procedure with a bill. However, Articles 135 and 136 describe and limit the content and formal requirements in an almost classic manner.

According to this, changes can only be made in two ways: Article 135 makes changes to chapters 1 and 2, which protect the foundations of the constitution and the rights and freedoms of people and citizens as the material core of the constitution, dependent on particularly strict requirements. Changes to these chapters and Chapter 9, which regulates the procedures for constitutional change, can only be decided by a constitutional assembly, i.e. a new constituent. They must then be submitted to the people for voting in a constitutional referendum.

The short way to maintaining power

Article 136 of the constitution opens a shorter and simpler route. It only applies to amendments to Chapters 3 to 8. They only require the adoption of a federal constitutional law, which must then be approved by two thirds of the regional parliaments of the Federation members.

President Putin has taken this short route. According to his critics, he has broken the constitution because his proposals to amend the constitution should not be included in the constitution in accordance with the procedure of Article 136. Putin’s proposed constitutional law directly affects the foundations of the constitutional order. There, for example, in Chapter 1, Article 3, Paragraph 4, it expressly states: „Nobody may seize power“. However, the constitutional amendment pursued by the president would haves the goal of extending his term of office contrary to the applicable provisions of the constitution. That is possible , if at all, only through a constitutional amendment according to. Art. 135 .

President Putin nevertheless signed the constitutional amendment on March 18, 2020, the sixth anniversary of the annexation of Crimea. Although it explicitly limits the term of office of the Russian president to two times six years in the future, it precludes the repetition of the 2008 resignation maneuver with subsequent re-election. But for future elections under the amended constitution, and that is the crucial point, Putin’s previous terms should not be taken into account. This is due to the intervention of MP Valentina Tereshkova during the 2nd reading of the constitutional law in the Duma on March 10, 2020. The prominence of the former cosmonaut, the first woman in space, indicated that she represented the interests of the government as a political mouthpiece.

The official interpretation for disregarding Putin’s previous terms is that excluding the president from future presidential elections is legally to be regarded as a retroactive effect of the constitutional law and is therefore inadmissible. The constitutional amendment law is not a Lex Putin and should therefore not be treated as one. The subject of the constitutional amendment is not the extension of the current president’s term of office, but the necessary reorganization of a large number of constitutional provisions and the laws subordinate to them.

In fact, the law contains an abundance of individual provisions, which Otto Luchterhandt, an excellent expert on the Russian constitution, calls a „smorgasbord“. This strengthens the president’s individual competencies, weakens the position of the prime minister somewhat, and extends the rights of the Duma and the Federation Council to participate. In addition, popular social policy measures such as the introduction of a living wage or the coupling of the pension increase to the inflation rate are included in the constitution. This multitude of individual provisions blurs the lines between Articles 135 and 136, which are relevant to a constitutional amendment, and ultimately distracts from the crucial fact that the law allows President Putin to remain President of Russia until 2036.

Belief in God and a millennial history


Special attention was paid to the revised Art. 67 in Chapter 3 of the Constitution, which regulates the federal structure of the country. According to its programmatic formulations, this new version of this article forms part of the foundations of the constitution in Chapter 1. It would therefore fall under the strict procedural provisions of article 135 and would therefore have to be decided by a constitutional assembly. Article 67 (2) reads: “The Russian Federation, united by a thousand-year history and which preserves the memory of the ancestors who have given us the ideals and belief in God and the continuity in the development of the Russian state , is committed to its historically founded unity ”. This albeit unspecific reference to God is at least in a tension-worthy relationship to Art. 14, which is one of the constitutional foundations specially protected by Art. 135. There, in secular tradition, Russia is explicitly described as a secular state and the separation of religious associations from the state is required.

The reference to God in Art. 67 Para. 2 is not alone, but is linked to the explicit commitment to the historically founded unity of the Russian state and its thousand-year history. The concrete event that marks the beginning of Russia’s millennial history is obviously the baptism of Grand Prince Vladimir of Kiev in Crimea in 988. Vladimir, the patron saint of President Putin, is revered by both the Russian Orthodox Church and the Ukrainian Orthodox Church as a saint on a par with the Apostles. The commitment of the Russian constitution to the historical-political continuity of the state from the Kievan Rus through the Grand Duchy of Moscow, the Tsarist Empire and the Soviet Union to the Russian Federation not only maintains the claim of imperial tradition. It connects him, albeit indirectly, with a sacred founding myth that has political explosive power given the current Russian-Ukrainian conflict.

On March 16, 2020, the Russian Constitutional Court in Saint Petersburg declared the constitutional law to be constitutional in a detailed report. Although such an opinion is not constitutionally required, the court was expressly requested to do so. His reasoning turned out to be legal in the sense of the President. Thereafter, constitutional amendments, which must be adopted by a constitutional assembly according to Art. 135, become constitutional, even if they are not passed by a constituent body, if they are approved in a referendum.

In the referendum, which was scheduled for April 22, 2020, the people should also vote on constitutional changesconcerning the regulatory areas according. Art. 136. However, a referendum is not required for such constitutional changes. Nonetheless, the areas of the Russian Constitution that are protected differently in Articles 135 and 136 are treated in the same way in the referendum. Against the background of the entire process, it ultimately appears as an acclamation of an extensive constitutional law that was passed in a very short time and already signed by the President. Ten days after the Russian Constitutional Court’s opinion, the referendum on President Putin’s corona pandemic was postponed indefinitely.

Constitutional guarantee as a historical and geopolitical mandate


There is no doubt: President Putin uses the Russian constitution as a tool to maintain power. But keeping power for what purpose? He obviously does not see his primary task in protecting the rights and freedoms of people and citizens. He interprets his position as a guarantor of the constitution differently, namely as a historical-geopolitical mandate.

Vladimir Putin makes no secret of this understanding. In April 2005, in his State of the Union message, he described the collapse of the Soviet Union as “the greatest geopolitical catastrophe of the 20th century.” Two years later, on February 14, 2007, he described at the Munich Security Conference Russia as a country with more as a thousand-year history that almost always had the privilege of an independent foreign policy. Nothing will change in this tradition during his presidency.

In the year of his Munich speech, President Putin visited the Nobel Prize for Literature Alexander Solzhenitsyn in his Moscow apartment. He awarded the former dissident the Russian State Prize. When Solzhenitsyn died a year later, the president publicly paid his last respects. Finally, on the occasion of Solzhenitsyn’s 100th birthday, Putin unveiled his monument on Taganka Square in Moscow.

During the Soviet Union, Alexander Solzhenitsyn had given expression to the memories of the Russian Orthodox intelligentsia, culturally and historically conscious, who, despite or perhaps because of the painful caesura of the 20th century, adhered to traditions and ideas of the 19th century. A policy that follows Solzhenitsyn’s ideas can count on greater approval in Russia than the school of thought of the other great dissident Andrei Sakharov.

For Sakharov, freedom, human rights and the rule of law were the basis of every constitution. But the principles he represented with authority, which were included in chapters 1 and 2 of the 1993 constitution, only inspire parts of the urban population in Russian reality, especially in Moscow and St. Petersburg. Beyond that, however, the tricolor of Peter the Great, the coat of arms with the double-headed eagle or the late-romantic national anthem with their memory of the Great Patriotic War in the sense of Solzhenitsyn create identity. Russia’s thousand-year history, now also constitutionally transfigured, displaces the defeat in World War I, the revolutionary year of 1917, the bloody civil war, Stalin’s concentration camps and the collapse of the Soviet empire.

In a difficult present, hope for the future is strengthened by symbols and models of an imperial past. In a country without a pronounced constitutional tradition, the constitution of Russia is not perceived as a fixed normative framework, but rather as an opportunity to build on a supposedly better past based on history and tradition. In Alexander Solzhenitsyn’s work, this idealizing retrospective gained literary form before President Putin publicly declared it a geopolitical mandate in 2007. Finally, with his commitment to the thousand-year history and ancestors who conveyed faith in God and the continuity of the Russian state, he gained constitutional status. It was probably no coincidence that this was to be voted on on April 22, 2020, Lenin’s 150th birthday. The history of Russia leads over him.

The center of power and his thinking

The question of the purpose of maintaining power draws attention to that constitutional area that was formerly viewed under the old-fashioned concept of the military constitution (Wehrverfassung) . This meant constitutionally regulated institutions and procedures for foreign and security policy, such as have been part of the presidential domaine réservé of the 5th French Republic since General de Gaulle and can be found today in Chapter 4 of the Russian Constitution.

It places foreign and security policy in the hands of its guarantor, the President. Its tasks include protecting Russia’s sovereignty, independence and state integrity. He directs foreign policy and ensures coordinated cooperation between the organs of state authority. Even in peacetime, he is commander-in-chief of the Russian armed forces, appoints and dismisses their high command and confirms the military doctrine, the country’s strategic guiding document. The President forms and heads the Security Council, the Russian state’s center of foreign and security policy.

Its leading personalities form a largely homogeneous group from their CVs and are referred to as silowiki, as representatives of power. Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu and Chief of Staff Valery Gerasimov were born in the first half of the 1950s, just like President Putin. They began their careers in the Soviet Union, experienced their disintegration and the turmoil under President Boris Yeltsin with their laissez-fair capitalism, the rule of the oligarchs, the unfortunate first Chechen war, the financial crisis in 1998 and the decline in average male life expectancy by almost ten Years.

The representatives of the center of power owe their responsible position today to no party membership, a group or regional proportion. It is probably going too far to speak of a meritocratic elite, but the persons mentioned, who must also acknowledge the critical view, are characterized by competence and professionalism. A Security Council decision is not the result of a broad social or parliamentary discourse, but a political decision based on expert advice.

Compared to the Soviet Union, the chief of staff of the Russian Armed Forces is of greater importance in crisis and conflict situations. He was not a member of the Politburo during the Soviet era, but is now a member of the Security Council headed by the President. Valeri Gerasimov has been chief of staff and first deputy defense minister in Russia since November 2012. He was responsible for the operational planning of the occupation of the Crimea in 2014 as well as for the preparation and implementation of the Russian intervention in the Syrian civil war in September 2015. His keynote speech before the General Assembly of the Academy of Military Sciences has the same importance for the armed forces‘ leadership staff as the political President’s Message on the State of the Union. It shows the strategic state in which Russia is located.

Gerassimov’s first keynote speech in January 2013, which he gave shortly after President Putin took office, was of programmatic importance. It outlined the threat that Russia faces from the perspective of its political leadership. It corresponds to the doctrine of hybrid  war developed under President George W. Bush in the USA. Thereafter, conventional and unconventional means are mixed in the international competition of the 21st century. Economic wars, sanctions, calls for boycotts, disinformation and propaganda, cyber war and covert military force are used in accordance with the situation and interests, effectively connected and blurring the line between the prohibition of perfidy under international law and permitted cunning.

Against this background, the operational actions of the Russian armed forces during the occupation of Crimea a year after Gerassimov’s keynote speech were a revealing example of hybrid warfare. Although the associations used were at first glance recognizable as Russian special forces, as Speznas, they did not wear any sovereign badges. This at least gave the Russian leadership the opportunity to deny direct military intervention.

Empire and orthodoxy

According to Art. 83 of the Russian Constitution in the Security Council under President Putin, strategic and operational thinking of the 21st are combined with orthodox-imperial ideas of the 19th century. The conceptual basis for this is developed in institutions such as the „Scientific-Methodical Center for Patriotic Military Strategy called A.E. Snesarev“. This think tank of the General Staff is named after Andrei Snesarew (1865-1937), a general of the Tsar and the Red Army, whose writings have been published systematically since the beginning of Putin’s presidency. On March 15, 2017, Chief of Staff Gerassimow praised the annual general assembly of the Academy of Russian General Staff Snezarev as one of the thinkers who are instrumental in Russia’s strategy in the 21st century. It is therefore worth taking a closer look at this extraordinary personality, because, like Alexander Solzhenitsyn, it helps to grasp the intellectual foundations of today’s Russian constitution.

Snesarev combined military skill with geopolitical analysis and constitutional considerations. Born in 1865 in the Donkosaken area, the gifted son of an orthodox rural clergyman studied mathematics at the University of Moscow. He spoke 14 languages ​​and was an excellent singer, who even took on representations at the Moscow Bolshoi Theater. As a mathematician or orientalist, he could have had a successful academic career. But he chose the military career. A business trip to British India and a stay in London shaped his worldview. He returned to the Russian General Staff as a keen critic of British colonial and world politics.

During the First World War Snesarew was deployed on the Russian western front, most recently he commanded an army corps. After some hesitation and careful consideration, he entered the service of the Bolshevik government in early 1918. He had come to the conclusion that it was supported by the majority of the Russian people and that it defended Russia’s interests against outside intervention. Snesarew took over the military leadership of the Red Army in the North Caucasus military district. During the defense of the city of Zaryzin, later Stalingrad and now Volgograd, there was an argument with Stalin, who had Snesarew arrested. He narrowly avoided the execution.

From 1919 Snesarew headed the General Staff Academy of the Red Army for two years. Awarded the highest Soviet order “Hero of Work” in 1929, he was sentenced to death a year later in the course of the first wave of repression under Stalin. In a handwritten order, Stalin „pardoned“ him for 10 years of forced labor. After being seriously ill, Snesarew died in 1937 with his family as a Russian Orthodox Christian.

A philosophy of war

In 2003 Snesarews published a previously unknown work „Philosophy of War“ in Moscow. He had designed it as a lecture manuscript for the general staff academy. The 2003 commentary explicitly emphasized that the author served the state interests of Russia and not the Bolshevik party: “This means that for him when studying war geopolitics is the most important method, since the state is the product and the most important subject of geopolitical processes.

The chairman of the editorial board was Colonel General Professor Sergei Stepashin. He too belongs to the Moscow center of power and was predecessor of Prime Minister of Putin for a short time in 1999 as. Stepashin has been President of the „Imperial Orthodox Palestine Society“ since 2007. Founded by Tsar Alexander III. in 1882, it owned valuable land in the Holy Land and played a remarkably active role in Moscow’s Middle East and especially Syria policy. The society supports President Assad as the patron of Syria’s Orthodox Christians. Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov belongs to the committee of her honorary members, and the committee is headed by Patriarch Kirill I.

However, it would be completely wrong to consider the Russian intervention in Syria as a post-secular, religiously motivated crusade because of these personal ties. Rather, it is a cleverly calculated great power policy that combines the traditions of realistic diplomacy of the 19th century with operational possibilities of the 21st century in a results-oriented manner. The prerequisite for this is a differentiated picture of the situation, which, unlike the diplomacy of some Western countries, takes the strength and possible coalition formation of the various religious groups into account as a strategic factor. Without Russia’s participation, a political settlement of the Syrian civil war is no longer possible today.

Russian state and civil society

Snesarew’s „Philosophy of War“ was created during the Russian Civil War. In his view, the weak Tsar Nicholas II and his government were jointly responsible for the collapse of the state order. But, like Alexander Solzhenitsyn later, he saw the February Revolution of 1917 as the decisive, fateful turn. He experienced it as a regime change operated by irresponsible politicians and supported by the Western powers, which made Lenin’s seizure of power in October 1917, funded by the German Reich by the way, only possible. For Snesarev, revolution and civil war were the consequences of political failure, not a moral judgment in world history or the result of an anti-Russian world conspiracy.

The “philosophy of war” drew conclusions for the future from the break in 1917. They were not based on the universal idea of ​​an ideology, but on the concrete tasks of the state, which has to ensure peace internally, but protection and, if possible, the development of power. This thinking is no stranger to today’s Russian leadership. It is reflected in the distrust of social self-organization and the political participation of Russian civil society. Their appeal to Chapter 2 of the applicable constitution and the human rights and civil rights guaranteed there were confirmed by the constitutional change of 2020, which was not heard in the Moscow center of power.

The ubiquitous concept of Zivilgesellschaft, according to the German translation of civil society, owes its popularity not least to the demand for the state to withdraw from society. Its subordination to civil society is even seen as a prerequisite for the rule of law and political participation, because an opinion-forming discourse, such as Jürgen Habermas, presupposes an area free of domination. Kant had already demanded the submission of the state to the Court of Reason.

Snesarew is also concerned with this power struggle in the „Philosophy of War“. For him, the term civil society, which inspired the liberal Russian intelligentsia, was a product of the British Enlightenment of the 18th century. He valued their early pioneers, because in the first century after the Bill of Rights was passed in 1689, he believed that the ideas of sensible, enlightened citizens could develop. This applies both to Adam Smith, „the great Scotsman“, and to Adam Fergusson, who in his „Essay on the History of Civil Society“ emphasized for the first time the difference between commercial and warlike societies, the tension between Mars and Mercury.

On the other hand, Snesarew sees the civil society propagated by British liberalism of the 19th century only as a popular ideology and as a political instrument of an Anglo-Saxon-Protestant cultural hegemony that is sought worldwide. He cites Henry Thomas Buckle’s five-volume „History of Civilization in England“ as an example, which was widely received in liberal circles in Russia. The first volume appeared shortly after the end of the Crimean War in 1857 and was understood as a morally justified justification for the war against the autocracy of the Tsar.

Ideology and state authority

For Snesarew, this criticism was nothing more than moral hypocrisy and propaganda. The Tsarist Empire had exercised its protective rights for the Orthodox Christians against the Ottoman Empire, while the liberal British Empire had become an allied with the Sultan in Constantinople and Napoleon III., the French usurper who came to power in a coup. London and its civil society were not about civil liberties, but about blocking the Russian fleet’s access from the Crimea through the straits to the eastern Mediterranean.

Liberal civil society was not a social role model for Snesarew, but an essential social element of the British colonial and financial empire, which governed a well-educated elite driven by material interests. Thinkers like Henry Thomas Buckle were just as much a part of their circle as John Stuart Mill and his family, who owed their wealth and social position to close ties to the British East India Company, which had systematically plundered India since the 18th century.

Snesarew saw the alternative to the constitutional and social understanding of the Anglo-Saxon civil society in the German constitutional theory of the 19th century, which he received in the sixth chapter of his „Philosophy of War“. Following Georg Jellinek’s three-element doctrine of state people, state territory and state authority, he contrasted the universalist ideas of an ideology with the territorial attachment of every constitution and the need for effective state authority. Only she was able to connect the state and society through laws and pacify them as a neutral power. According to Georg Jellinek’s formulation, only she can develop „the normative power of the factual“.

Snesarew probably did not even read the manuscript of the „Philosophy of War“ to his audience in the Academy of the General Staff. In revolutionary Russia, the „philosophy of war“ was out of date. It was only published under President Putin ten years after the adoption of the Russian constitution in 1993. This determines in response to the spiritual hegemony of Marxism-Leninism in its Art. 13: „In Russia, the ideological diversity is recognized“ and continues: „No ideology may be recognized as state or binding“. If Snesarew were still alive, he would subsume the liberalism of civil society under the concept of ideology.

An authoritarian state of our time

With the latest constitutional change, a development in Russia was continued and committed in the first quarter of 2020 that has been observed for a long time. Although the constitution of 1993 postulated civil and human rights as the core of the constitution and wanted to protect it from change in Art. 135 with high demands, the constitutional reality of an authoritarian state unfolded. Its leadership interprets the guarantee of the constitution as a historical-geopolitical mandate, which it intends to enforce, if necessary, against the parliament, the judiciary, the executive organs of all federal levels and Russian civil society by means of state power.

Civil society’s criticism of the authoritarian state is exposed to be suspected as destructive ideological propaganda. This also applies to the discussion about the new reference to God in the constitution. Here, however, the prevailing secular perspective prevailing in European civil society overlooks the fact that the number of people worldwide who are looking for salvation and spiritual attachment is increasing, as is religious fanaticism. The Moscow leadership takes this post-secular development seriously and takes it into account from a strategic perspective. In spite of the constitutional prohibition of privileges and the required separation of religion and state, it is wise from their point of view to give the Orthodox Church a prominent role as the traditional support of the Russian state in social and political life, although the collective, conservative consciousness of the population is less based on it hierarchical institutions as found in still alive popular belief.

In the future, Russia will in any case be considered as god believing. The non-specific reference to God in the constitution can be used as a soft power in the Islamic world, in the evangelical movements that are strengthening worldwide, or in relation to the traditional Christian denominations. The positive reactions from representatives of the Catholic Church, the Islamic clergy, Jewish associations and other religious communities speak for themselves.

Constitutional order and great power competition


Russian politics today is not determined by the secular, constitutional concept of the late 20th century, based on universal values. It is guided by the model of a territorially defined, politically organized, post-secular superpower of the 21st century. From a strengthened defensive position, Moscow’s leadership wants to preserve and expand international influence in competition with other Russian powers.

Clausewitz already knew that the war was a chameleon. The Moscow center of power is preparing for conflicts that correspond to this metaphor. It uses hybrid means in the big power competition and consolidates the central position of the president. In February 2020, against the background of the Russian constitutional discussion, Wolfgang Ischinger, the chairman of the Munich Security Conference, rightly pointed out the efficiency of Russian foreign and security policy. He described it as the result of state authority that knows how to use its limited diplomatic, economic and military resources in a well-informed and cleverly coordinated manner.

A prerequisite for this is a concentration of power, as provided for in Chapter 4 of the Russian constitution. The defense budget of Russia is exceeded many times over by the combined expenditure of the countries of the European Union. But it’s not just about numbers on paper, it’s about the impact-oriented use of available resources. Although the new EU Commission President announced that she would lead a “geostrategic commission”, it seems doubtful whether the European Union in its current constitution is able to develop a common foreign and security policy that is even close to being effective corresponds to the Russian one under President Putin.

However, it remains an open question whether the recent constitutional change can permanently secure or even improve Russia’s position in competition with China, the United States and the European Union. In the longer term, the decline in the Russian population, the dependence on raw material exports and the stagnant scientific innovation outside the armaments sector pose extraordinary challenges for the Russian leadership. However, the countries of the European Union and North America see each other, problems of comparable dimensions, as the Corona pandemi shows. In this situation, the competition between the powers in the next decade will intensify the competition between their constitutional orders and societies.


An abridged version first appeared in Herder’s correspondence: www. Herder-Korrespondenz.de

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