Vladimir Putin has published proposed changes to Russia’s constitution that could allow him to extend his 20-year rule indefinitely after he is legally required to step down as president in 2024.
The changes would beef up the role of the State Council — a largely ceremonial advisory body made up of governors and parliamentary leaders — to give it the power to “co-ordinate . . . the organs of state power”, according to a 29-page draft of a new law published on Monday.
Analysts say Mr Putin aims to weaken the presidency and head up the reformed council once his fourth and final presidential term ends, following a similar move by Kazakhstan’s longtime leader Nursultan Nazarbayev last year.
Speculation over Mr Putin’s future — and his potential successor — has convulsed Russia’s elite since he won re-election overwhelmingly in 2018. The role of the State Council was first floated on election night by Vladimir Zhirinovsky, the leader of a Kremlin-controlled ultranationalist party, who said: “There won’t be elections any more. They’re sick of the fuss. There’ll be a State Council whose chairman has presidential powers . . . He’ll rule for life like Xi Jinping. They’ll bury him like Mao Zedong.”
Mr Putin announced the sweeping changes in his state of the nation address last week, then dismissed longtime ally and erstwhile stand-in president Dmitry Medvedev as prime minister. Russians will approve the changes through a “people’s vote” held through an as yet undefined mechanism later this year. Opposition activists said on Monday that they would hold a protest at the end of February against what they called Mr Putin’s plan to “rule forever”.
On Saturday, Mr Putin told a survivor of the Leningrad blockade that he had no intentions of remaining president indefinitely. “It’d be very worrying, in my opinion, to return to the situation in the mid-1980s, when the heads of state remained in power until their dying day one after the other, and left power without ensuring the necessary conditions to transform it,” he said.
Former tax office head Mikhail Mishustin, Mr Medvedev’s surprise replacement, is expected to announce a cabinet reshuffle early this week. Mr Putin pre-empted the reshuffle on Monday by dismissing Yuri Chaika, Russia’s long-serving prosecutor-general, and appointing Igor Krasnov, deputy head of the rival Investigative Committee, as his replacement. The Kremlin said it would announce Mr Chaika’s new post at a later date.
Under the new law, the State Council will “define the main directions of the Russian Federation’s domestic and foreign policy and the priority directions for the socio-economic development of the state”.
The president will have the power to form the council under a separate, as yet unpublished law. Future presidents will be limited to two terms in total in office. They will also be required to have lived in Russia for the past 25 years and never to have held a foreign passport or residence permit. Parliament will gain greater powers over the cabinet, judges and the security services. Lawmakers and governors will be banned from holding foreign citizenship. Moscow will also be allowed to ignore international law if it clashes with Russia’s constitution.