Image Credit: President of Russia
A favoured strategy of President Putin is stability, with Russian domestic politics often characterised from commentators by a lack of change in the president’s continued presence. To fly in the face of this, Putin has now been left without a cabinet after the entire government resigned.
The shock exit of Prime Minister Medvedev and his government followed a surprise announcement from the president during the state of the nation speech to both chambers of parliament. In this address, Putin announced vast constitutional changes that would offer a shift in power from the president to parliament. The president also hinted at an increased role for the State of the Council, an advisory board consisting of the heads of Russia’s federal regions which is currently chaired by Putin. With his presidency set to end in four years time, it appears that he has began making preparations for the future to hold on to power behind the scenes.
Other issues that were raised were for the need to address the amount of power international law has over the country’s actions, amending the limitations that prevent presidents for ruling for more than two terms and reinforcing laws that prohibit presidential candidates who have held foreign citizenship or residency. By drawing attention to the capacity of international law, it suggests that Putin’s concern his powerful status coming to an end is not only in the context of Russian politics, but also on the world stage.
These changes require public approval, however with Statista putting Putin’s approval rating at 64% at the end of last year, this may not prove an obstacle for the president. Yet, the story his numbers tell may not be quite as simple as this. Since 2014, Putin’s approval ratings had been averaging in the low 80s and many are seeing this decrease as a sign of disintegrating support for the leader. Nonetheless, this has not halted Putin’s plans.
Mr Medvedev announced his resignation live on a televised address, with the president sitting just behind him. His speech explained how these changes would rework the balance of power in Russia, and that the current structure of the government was incompatible with this, hence their resignation. The Prime Minster further stated how his departure should aid the smooth transition of these changes.
Unsurprisingly, Putin’s opposition have not reacted warmly the proposed alterations. While it still waits for formal recognition by the Ministry of Justice, Russia of the Future is the most prominent political opposition to the government, replacing the People’s Alliance which was disbanded in 2018. Alexei Navalny, founder and leader of the political party, has publicly expressed how it simply shows Putin’s wish to be “sole leader for life” alongside calling the President’s actions “fraudulent”. Navalny further explained how Putin’s successor is likely to be hand picked by the President, leaving him to remark how exchanging one group of “thieves” for another is not reform. For some, his comments have gained legitimacy in Putin’s immediate naming of current tax service chief, Mikhail Mishustin, as Medvedev’s successor, meaning that the old Soviet style of politics may be returning.
The last time Russia held a public referendum on their constitution was in 1993, where the question was posed whether citizens approved the continuation of the Russian Federation. Questions were also asked on the confidence felt in President Boris Yeltsin and on economic and social policy. Commentators on Russian politics explain how this began the road to Yeltsin’s demise which ended in his resignation in 1999. Since then, Putin has held the reigns of the country after replacing Yeltsin as acting president.
It does remain unclear how these changes will translate into a reality, or indeed, what precisely this means for Russian politics. 2024 appeared to be the year that this stay in power for Putin may have been reaching an end. While it remains uncertain of how this will be achieved, these proposed constitutional changes seem to challenge this. Instead it seems that Russia, and indeed the world, may have to wait a little longer before bidding farewell to Vladimir Putin.