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‘Only together’ An annotated reading of Vladimir Putin’s first and only national address devoted exclusively to Russia’s plebiscite on constitutional amendments 

Source: Meduza
Pervyi Kanal

On June 30, Vladimir Putin made his first and only national address exclusively devoted to Russia’s now ongoing plebiscite on constitutional amendments. Unlike in recent marathon speeches about the government’s responses to the coronavirus pandemic, the president spoke for just three minutes this time, never once mentioning the most controversial amendment up for approval: the “zeroing out” of Putin’s presidential term clock, which could theoretically extend his administration to 2036. This comes as little surprise, of course; in the campaign to boost voter turnout, the Russian authorities have totally avoided the subject of prolonging Vladimir Putin’s access to the presidency. 

Dear citizens of Russia!

Today, on this ground in Tver, we unveil a monument to the hundreds of thousands of Soviet soldiers who fought outside Rzhev. They went into battle so we could live beneath a peaceful sky and work, love, build, and be proud of Russia — a country that’s home to a unique civilization and a great culture. A country where the fate, hope, and aspirations of many generations of our ancestors are united. 

As their heirs, we continue this unbroken, thousand-year historical path. And we know we can shoulder the gravest challenges, even in critical situations, when we are together. 

So far, nothing about the “zeroing out” or about the amendments at all.

Dear friends, I’ve recently appealed to you repeatedly about vital issues affecting us and our country. Today, I consider it necessary to do so again on the eve of the main day of voting to amend our nation’s Constitution.

We are voting not just on the amendments embodied in clearly defined legal norms. We are voting for the country in which we want to live — a country with modern education and healthcare, with reliable social protections for the public, and with effective authorities who are accountable to society. We are voting for the country we go to work for every day and the nation we want to pass onto our children and grandchildren. 

Russia: it’s what Russians pass onto their kids. From now on.

That is why I am confident that each of you, when making such an important decision, is thinking first about your own loved ones and relying on the values that unite us. I’m talking about truth and justice, respect for laborers and the elderly. I’m talking about family and caring for children and about their health and their moral and spiritual upbringing.

Should you support them, the amendments to our framework law will reinforce these values and principles as supreme, absolute constitutional guarantees. 

Now Putin is finally referring to the amendments’ substance. The new Constitution describes the Russian ethnicity as “state-forming” (elevating it above the myriad other “peoples” who inhabit the Russian Federation), defines marriage exclusively as a heterosexual union, mentions belief in God for the first time, and promises the regular indexation of pensions and other welfare payments. The president is still silent about the “zeroing out” of his term clock, however.

We can ensure stability, security, prosperity, and a decent life for people only through development — only together and only ourselves. 

And there you have it! This is Putin’s only hint to Russians that the constitutional amendments could prolong his presidency for years to come. There’s not another word about it in the rest of the speech.

Russia’s sovereignty rests squarely on our responsibility, on our sincere feelings of patriotism, and our concern for the Motherland, as well as our respect for our own history, our native language and traditions, and the memory of our ancestors’ achievements and accomplishments. 

I’ll reiterate my position. It’s clear, unchanging, and absolutely firm: the updated text of the Constitution and all proposed amendments will enter force only with your approval and your support. 

As you know, voting has been happening for several days, which has been necessary to protect public health. I want to thank everyone who has already cast a ballot.

Tomorrow is July 1, the main day of voting. I ask you, dear friends, to make your voices heard. Each of your votes is vital and essential. 

Thank you.

The bottom line: In Vladimir Putin’s first and only national address devoted entirely to the constitutional plebiscite, he said virtually nothing about the most important amendment now before voters. So far, Putin has only once ever bothered to justify the need for “zeroing out” his term clock, and it was in an interview, not a national address, where he complained that the state would become paralyzed in the next two years, as officials go searching “with wandering eyes” for potential successors. Naturally, Putin has not explained how he expects to avoid this issue in 2036, if he’s elected to another two terms, or how the federal government is supposed to tackle the problem at any future point.

Meduza is you.
We’re only here thanks to you.

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