Although 4 July 2020 saw the coming into force of constitutional changes in Russia, this was far from the end of the story. Most clearly, these changes to the 1993 constitution required implementation, including through amendments to, and the writing of new pieces of, federal legislation. In part, this process was the mundane work of legal bureaucrats, tweaking and creating many pieces of legislation to reflect the new constitutional text. But the implementation process also reveals much more about the broader constitutional reform project. This article reviews the implementation process, discussing its complexity, the improvisation shown when fleshing out certain new constitutional details, its relationship with other political developments, and the chasm laid bare between Putin’s promise of the rebalancing of power in his 15 January 2020 Address to the Federal Assembly versus the reality of reform in practice.
In January 2020, Russian President Putin proposed a number of potentially very significant amendments to the constitution of the Russian Federation. In March 2020, these were formally approved by parliament and signed by the president. In a nationwide vote held on 25 June – 1 July, just under 78 percent of those who voted did so in favour of the amendments, 21 percent voted against, while turnout was just under 68 percent. The amendments, which entered into force on 4 July, strengthened the powers of the Russian president, increased the powers of the center over regional and local governments, and reduced the independence of the courts. They asserted that the Russian constitution should take precedence over decisions reached by international institutions. Not least, they opened the possibility for Putin to remain in office following the expiry of his current presidential term in 2024. To be more precise, they enabled Putin to avoid becoming a lame duck and to keep the elite in suspense over what he would eventually decide to do in 2024. They also provided him with security should he decide to leave office.
This article argues that the EU’s enlargement negotiations with Eastern European applicants have become possible to a large extent by the introduction of objective assessment by the Commission, which allowed integration to proceed despite the threat of deadlock. The process of negotiations and preparation, however, should be better seen as a constant switching between the technical parts of the acquis and their (potential) political consequences. These arguments are developed in an analysis of Bulgaria’s path to accession. The analysis shows that in the domestic arena, the same tensions between the seemingly technical character of the negotiations and their political implications and consequences can be observed. The article will argue that while the emphasis on objective criteria and technical issues obscured the potential political consequences and effects on various sectors of the economy and society, stalled reforms in public administration or the judiciary belonged to the realm of its unintended consequences. Rule of law did not reform significantly despite the introduction of a special tool of political conditionality, the EU’s Cooperation and Verification Mechanism (cvm). The politicization of issues changed over time, with some measures affecting political cleavages more than a decade after Bulgaria’s accession.
International interest in the Arctic is heating up along with the planet’s atmosphere and the region is increasingly presented as a new potential hotspot for inter-state competition and discord. Inevitably, Russia is often at the centre of this implicitly ‘realist’ narrative. This study provides an evaluation of Moscow’s Arctic policy between 2000 and 2019 from an international relation theory perspective by building upon the burgeoning literature on the Arctic and sources on Russian foreign policy in general. This study postulates that several elements of Russian regional policy in the High North do indeed follow realist readings of the international politics yet it also demonstrates how structural realism fails to adequately account for the institutionalization of regional relations and, most notably, neglects the importance of domestic factors, specifically historical memory, towards understanding Moscow’s contemporary Arctic policy.
This article addresses the question of how the Crimean case relates to Russia’s general understanding of territorial questions and border regimes. We examine the historical evolution of Russian discourse on borders and territorial questions and investigate to what extent they can explain Russia’s decision to annex Crimea. We will look into the principles of inviolability of borders and territorial integrity that sustain the status quo, and how this has been challenged by three partly interlinked doctrines: national self-determination, geopolitics, and historical rights. We argue that the discourse on territorial integrity and the status quo has predominated in Russia since the Cold War, and that this has not changed fundamentally, either before or after the annexation of Crimea. Russia does not seem to want to abolish the existing norms altogether or to advocate any clearly articulated reformist agenda. Rather, it picks and chooses arguments on an ad hoc basis, imitating Western positions in some other cases when departing from the basic norm of the status quo. Hence, we claim that Russia’s territorial revisionism is reactive, self-serving, and constrained by the desire to avoid changing the status quo doctrine to any great extent.