Russia Govt Resigns: Why Vladimir Putin May Stay In Power For Years, President Or Not

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After 2 decades in power, does Russia President Vladimir Putin plan a comeback as PM in 2024 through amended constitution with greater powers to legislature

Written By Shubhayan Bhattacharya | Mumbai | Updated On:

In a breaking development, Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev has submitted his resignation to President Vladimir Putin after the latter proposed sweeping changes to the country's political system. According to the Russian government, Medvedev would now take a role as deputy head of the Security Council to oversee defence and security issues. Putin is understood to be planning to appoint new members of the government himself and has asked the outgoing government to continue working until they are in place.

Let's break down what this means for Russia:

A quick guide to the Russian political system

The Russian Federation is a federal, semi-presidential, constitutional republic. According to the Constitution, the directly elected President is head of state with the power to appoint the PM with the parliament's approval. The PM heads the government and drives through the policies through the Parliament consisting of the State Duma (lower house) and Federation Council (upper house). The President has the power to remove the PM if he/she is unfit for office.

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Two decades of Putin at helm

In Russia, Vladimir Putin has held power for over two decades. He first became the President in 2000, succeeding Boris Yeltsin. He ran for a second term and got re-elected in 2004 to continue his job till 2008. However, according to the Constitution, a president can only serve two successive terms. But Putin was in no mood to lose control.

He made his deputy and close confidant, Dmitry Medvedev as President and began his second stint as PM in 2008. The arrangement was seen as a clear attempt to stay in power as Putin wielded absolute control in all decision-making processes of the Kremlin. It was also during this time a law extending the presidential term from four years to six years was passed.

In 2012, Vladimir Putin won back his presidency to continue till 2018. In March 2018, he once again emerged victorious in the hotly contested Presidential elections to remain at the helm till 2024. Now, the future for the 67-year-old leader remained in question for many in Russia who started to fatigue over Putin's over two decades rule.

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Putin's proposed changes to political system

Vladimir Putin has proposed changes to Russia’s constitution that would limit the power of a potential successor if he steps down in 2024, and indicate that he may occupy a beefed-up role as Russia’s prime minister or in the government’s State Council instead. On Wednesday, Putin addressed senior officials of all branches of government and suggested amending Russia’s constitution to limit a future president to two terms in office, tightening residency requirements for presidential candidates, and to let parliament choose candidates for the prime minister and the cabinet, effectively weakening the presidency.

The United Russia party currently wields the majority of seats in the State Duma, commanding 341 out of 450 seats. The party is staunchly loyal to Vladimir Putin and is expected to retain its grip over the legislature. Since he no longer will be sitting on the President's post after 2024, it looks like an open strategy to empower the legislature (and in effect the role of the PM) to surpass the powers of that of the president.

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Why Putin wants the changes?

This will ensure Putin retains his grip on power even after demitting the office; perhaps by following his 2008 playbook of becoming PM and retaining effective control. Also noteworthy is the scheduled Russian Parliamentary elections of 2021 where the United Russia party will campaign to retain its majority. If favouring results get delivered, a post-2024 PM Vladimir Putin will remain the core of Russian politics.

Another reason for Vladimir Putin to propose these amendments is the possible apprehensiveness that he feels about his successor. Dmitry Medvedev's term as President saw Russia rocked by internal and external shocks, from a war with neighbour Georgia to a loss of critical ally like Libya's Muammar Gaddafi to NATO-backed revolution, waning influence in the Middle East, expansion of European Union and NATO in Eastern Europe and most importantly, widespread anti-government protests and strikes.

Putin, an ex-KGB (the dreaded Soviet intelligence unit) agent, has time and again proved to win against all the odds and be in a commanding position. If history and his much-publicised persona are any hint, he will try his best to control Kremlin, either directly or indirectly. The master strategist, who has vowed to crown his country back with its Soviet-era "glory" and "prowess", may plan to steer his Russia in a challenging global environment for the 2020s.

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What it means for India?

India and Russia have been traditional allies since India's independence throughout much of the Cold War and into the 21st Century. Russia has remained consistent in its backing for India in platforms like United Nation Security Council, its assistance to India's growing space ambitions and a desire to balance a rising China which borders both. India has cultivated deep links with Russia's political, economic and social institutions and any change in leadership is most unlikely to change that.

India itself will vouch for closer Indo-Russian ties in a multipolar world, with or without Vladimir Putin at the helm.

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