Tag: State Council
Twenty years into his tenure at the summit of Russian politics, Vladimir Putin is planning his next move — and unfortunately for a group of senior politicians, it means they’ve got to look for a new job.
The Russian constitution, adopted on Christmas Day 1993, was explicitly written to prevent someone like Vladimir Putin from ruling the country in the way he has.
It imposed a limit of two consecutive terms of four years for people elected president.
So when Putin became president in 2000, an eight-year countdown began.
As the deadline approached, he was an incredibly powerful and popular figure.
High oil prices had fuelled a booming economy.
He had been named Time Magazine’s Person of the Year, and he had started releasing an annual calendar showing him shirtless in various action-man scenarios.
Musical chairs at the Kremlin
But the rules are the rules — sort of. Keen to hold onto as much power as possible, he supported his long-time sidekick Dmitry Medvedev to succeed him as president.
Medvedev appointed Putin as prime minister, and immediately set about introducing a constitutional amendment to extend the length of the next president’s term to six years, and making sure Putin would be back in the top job as soon as possible.
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During his four years in office, Medvedev mostly stayed within the parameters set for him by Putin, with a few exceptions.
The Medvedev years were characterised by warmer relations between Russia, Europe and the United States than were seen under Putin.
In 2009, the Obama administration attempted to capitalise on this with an attempt to “reset” relations with Russia, and the two countries signed a nuclear arms reduction treaty.
But under Medvedev, the popularity of the ruling party waned.
The global economic crisis hit Russia hard, and while Putin was successful in being re-elected as president of Russia in 2012, he received more than 4 million fewer votes than he had in his last election.
Popularity waxes and wanes
His popularity slump wouldn’t last long.
In 2014, beginning with the annexation of Crimea, he engaged in a spectacular campaign of foreign interference, aimed at restoring Russia’s status as a global superpower.
That came at a cost though. Sanctions imposed by the countries he meddled with and a slump in oil prices tanked the Russian economy.
In mid-2018, as he was at the FIFA World Cup opening ceremony in Moscow, his political party introduced a significant raising of the retirement age in an effort to lessen the country’s economic stress.
The reforms were wildly unpopular.
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They lit a spark among Russians which became large, sustained anti-Putin protests.
Polls — even those controlled by the Kremlin — showed a significant drop in his popularity, which has remained low in the year and a half since the reforms were announced.
And yet Putin sees another constitutionally mandated deadline looming.
In 2024 he will, for the second time, reach the presidential term limit — and Putin knows he cannot risk reaching it without a plan to stay in power.
Putin hatches a plan
Overnight, he unveiled his plan — and it was a surprising one.
Instead of amending the constitution to allow him another term as president, he appears to be setting himself up to switch roles to prime minister once again.
But this time he will not be risking even a loyalist like Medvedev having more power than him.
In his state-of-the-nation address overnight, he announced that he would be amending the constitution to transfer many of the president’s powers to the office of the prime minister.
The suite of constitutional changes is extensive — altering not just offices of president and prime minister, but increasing the power of the State Council — a presidential advisory body, and the role of the judiciary.
An hour after the announcement, Medvedev and the entire cabinet resigned to facilitate the changes, leaving Putin open to appoint technocratic loyalists without political ambition to do his bidding.
Public support won’t be tested
Why Putin chose this path instead of staying on as president — as many predicted — is still unclear.
Perhaps with his popularity low, he was hesitant to risk calling a term-limits referendum which would so obviously benefit him.
Anything less than emphatic support for him remaining in office indefinitely could damage him even more.
His chosen path may allow him to rewrite the constitution to suit his purposes without turning it into a plebiscite on his personal popularity.
Another consideration on his mind may be his own longevity.
At the 2024 election he will be approaching his 72nd birthday, and while he is unwilling to relinquish power, he may be crafting a powerful role for himself as head of the State Council, where he could enjoy a semi-retirement.
By making the announcement with four years on the clock, Putin has left his options open.
Matt Bevan is the host of Russia, If You’re Listening.