Power Play in Moscow: Putin’s Attempt to Stay in Power

By Moneeka Brar, Associate Editor

On January 15, 2020, Russian President Vladimir Putin surprisingly announced constitutional amendments that would drastically change the Russian government. This includes amendments that would strengthen the powers of the prime minister and parliament, coming at the expense of the Russian presidency. However, with growing unrest in Russia amongst its political and economic economies, only time will tell if these changes will prove to be successful or lead to the end of his power.

If these amendments to the Russian Constitution are successful, Putin will maintain his long-term grip on power after his current (and final) presidential term ends in 2024. With these amendments, it is thought that he will retain control of the country by becoming prime minister with extended powers. It is also speculated that Putin introduced these amendments early on so that he has time to implement more changes if something unforeseeable happens in the next four years.

One of the proposed changes is to fix the language regarding the amount of terms that the Russian president may serve. Currently, the Russian Constitution bars the president from having more than “two consecutive terms”. The proposition is to remove “consecutive” from the language and prohibit more than two terms outright. This indicates that Putin will not try to find a way around term limits, like he did in 2008 when he left the presidency for the prime minister position until 2012, in order to follow the “no more than two consecutive terms” limits.

In the time since Putin’s speech on January 15th,  the entire Russian government has been in the process of resigning. That same day, Putin unexpectedly replaced the longtime prime minister, Dmitri A. Medvedev, with an unknown man, Mikhail V. Mishustin, in order to clear the way for the reforms that will allow Putin to stay in power after 2024. The power will be taken from the presidency after Putin steps down, hereby rendering his successor powerless and redirecting that power to Putin and other branches of government. Besides his play for long-term control of Russia, it is unclear the extent that Putin is willing to amend the Russian constitution. The State Council will have an increased role, but there is no way to see how the council’s head will be chosen and if it will be ranked under the presidency. Many speculate that instead of becoming prime minister, Putin himself will become the head of the State Council after stripping the power from the presidency once he steps down in 2024.

The news of Putin making changes to the constitution is not somewhat surprising, as similar talks had happened in 2007 at the end of his second presidential term. The surprising part is that he has now outwardly announced to the world that he is intent on staying in power for as long as he possibly can, no matter what rules he has to change. He will face an uphill battle from his constituents and those that rival his position. He stated that a referendum will be called, to put the proposed amendments to a vote and presumably avoid pushback. He will have his share of supporters, but he will also face challengers throughout the country and in his own government. This could make the change in position difficult and potentially lead to his political end.

It is unclear the long-term impact this will have on Russia regarding their national politics and their presence on the national stage. And if this plan fails, one question still remains: how far will Putin be willing to go in order to keep his power?

References

Andrew Higgins, Putin Outlines Political Overhaul, Including Possible Post for Himself, The New York Times (Jan. 21, 2020) available at https://www.nytimes.com/2020/01/20/world/europe/Russia-prosecutor-Chaika-Putin.html

Anton Troianovski, Big Changes? Or Maybe Not. Putin’s Plans Keep Russia Guessing.,The New York Times (Jan. 21, 2020) available at https://www.nytimes.com/2020/01/21/world/europe/putin-russia-changes.html

Luke McGee and Mary Ilyushina, State media hailed Putin’s power shake-up. Moscow residents seem less enthused, CNN (Jan. 17, 2020) available at https://www.cnn.com/2020/01/16/europe/russia-reaction-putin-reforms-intl/index.html

Mary Ilyushina and Sheena McKenzie, Russian government resigns as Putin proposes reforms that could extend his grip on power, CNN (Jan. 15, 2020) available at https://www.cnn.com/2020/01/15/europe/russian-government-resigns-vladimir-putin-reforms-intl/index.html

Roman Dobrokhotov, Putin’s constitutional reforms could lead to his political demise, Aljazeera (Jan. 20, 2020) available at https://www.aljazeera.com/indepth/opinion/putin-constitutional-reforms-lead-political-demise-200120112620335.html

Sabra Ayres, Laura King, Big power play for Putin: Government shake-up and proposed constitutional changes, The LA Times (Jan. 15, 2020) available at https://www.latimes.com/world-nation/story/2020-01-15/russia-government-resignation-putin

Tom Balmforth and Vladimir Soldatkin, Russian lawmakers back Putin’s pick for PM, The Canberra Times (Jan. 17, 2020) available at https://www.canberratimes.com.au/story/6584722/russian-lawmakers-back-putins-pick-for-pm/?cs=14232

 

 

 

 

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