The entire government of Russia, including the Prime Minister, up and quit last week after President Vladimir Putin proposed constitutional amendments that would prolong his high-level political influence after he steps down from the highest office in the land. The Soviet’s presidential term expires in 2024 and analysts claim the planned changes serve to weaken his successor.
Term limits prevent Putin from running for president of Russia again, a fact he knows well. The government reforms, as outlined, would allow Putin to lead from the sidelines, far removed from the State Duma, the lower house of the Federal Assembly of Russia, as well as the upper house Council of the Federation.
On Wednesday, January 15, 2020, Putin delivered his annual address to parliament and announced constitutional changes that would limit the power of the next Russian president and called for a national election to approve the measures:
“I consider it necessary to conduct a vote by the country’s citizens on an entire package of proposed amendments to the country’s constitution.”
The state-run Tass news agency indicated that the public may vote on the changes outlined by Putin before May 1, 2020.
Under the new constitutional terms, lawmakers would be empowered to nominate prime ministers and cabinet members, actions now performed exclusively by the president. More importantly, the 2024 president (and successors) would not be able to veto parliament’s choice of prime minister, deputy prime ministers, and federal ministers.
Putin (67) also advocated elevating the State Council from its advisory status to formally-defined powers written into the nation’s constitution.
Putin claimed his proposed changes would strengthen the country:
“It will increase the role of parliament and parliamentary parties, powers and independence of the prime minister and all cabinet members. We will be able to build a strong prosperous Russia only on the basis of respect for public opinion. Together we will certainly change life for the better.”
Russia would remain a strong presidential republic but governors would assume more control under the new law. Another condition is that any presidential candidate is required to have lived in Russia for the past 25 years.
Political analysts have hinted that the current Russian leader is scheming to become prime minister (again) with extended powers. Putin was prime minister from 1999 to 2000 and again from 2008 to 2012. He was first elected president in 2000 and remained in that office until 2008. After he stepped down as prime minister in 2012, Putin became president from that year to the present, winning 76 percent of the March 2018 election votes.
Prime Minister Dmitri Medvedev has switched roles with Putin for more than a decade. From 2008 to 2012, with Putin as his prime minister, Medvedev served as president of Russia. After Putin left the office of prime minister in 2012, Medvedev took his place and carried out the duties of the Russian prime minister from 2012 to 2020.
Ironically, one the Putin’s proposed constitutional amendments calls for reducing the legal rules for time spent in office – the very rules that he used to gain multiple re-elections. The president would be allowed to serve no more than two terms in total, a significant departure from the present law that mentions only two consecutive terms. This legal technicality put Putin back into the Kremlin in 2012 after his four-year hiatus as prime minister.
Prime Minister Dmitri Medvedev resigned after 8 years in this top-level role. The man who has switched Russian leadership roles with Putin to preserve a mutual power block will be appointed the next deputy chief of the state’s Security Council. Medvedev received this information no more than 3 days before Putin’s national public address.
Moscow reporter Aleksandra Godfroid observed the far-reaching strategy behind these tactical maneuvers:
“This is to show that Putin trusts Medvedev, who has been at his side for many years now. These changes do indicate a change in power structures, but at the same time, they do keep the president very strong.”
A few hours after Putin concluded his remarks in his national address, the president named low-profile, 53-year-old federal tax chief Mikhail Mishustin as the new prime minister.
President Putin had these government modifications secret from everyone until he made his national public address. Even Duma Speaker Vyacheslav Volodin was surprised by the news.
Alexei Mukhin, in charge of the Moscow-based Center for Political Information, predicted more change in Russia’s political winds:
“There could be more surprises. Putin just fired an opening shot, he only provided the broad picture.”
Mikhail Vinogradov, who directs the St. Petersburg Politics Foundation, said:
“We’re seeing the start of the transition but it’s not clear what the final outcome will look like under Putin’s scheme.”
An insider close to the Kremlin stated that the Putin plan would pave the way for the expired president to morph into the Duma speaker, lead a more powerful State Council or join the Security Council with greater authority.
Putin, the clever and determined career autocrat, has set into motion a plan that could ensure his political supremacy for the rest of his life. Whether the current administration and younger up-and-comers allow this to happen remains to be seen.