Putin Solidifies Himself as Russia’s Life-Long President

 

 

Putin Russia rf by Vasiliybuslaev, licensed under Pixabay

 

Russian President Vladimir Putin recently signed into law constitutional amendments that could allow him to stay in power for another 16 years. The law is set to be passed if approved by a nationwide referendum set to take place on April 22. This date has been delayed for an unspecified length of time due to concerns regarding the Corona Virus. More than half of Russian voters must support the bill in order for it to pass. The law was voted through by both chambers of the national parliament and all Russian regions before being approved by Russia’s Constitutional Court. The constitutional changes proposed would reset Putin’s term count, thereby allowing him to stay in office for 2 more 6-year terms. With Putin currently at the age of 67, he would be 83 when he potentially leaves office in 2036, at which point he would have surpassed the length of Stalin’s 30 year reign. The constitutional amendments that will reset Putin’s term count are mixed in with a number of other reforms as well. The amendments include stipulations stating that marriage is a union between a man and a woman, dealing a blow to LGBT rights in Russia. The amendments also include adjustments to the minimum wage and state pensions.  

 

Putin has a history of amending the constitution in order to enable him to stay in power longer or consolidate it. Russia’s current constitution came into effect in 1993 and stipulated that presidents serve a four-year term with a maximum of two terms in succession. However, there is not a stated limit on the total number of terms a president may serve, which allows presidents to re-run after one term out of office. In 2000, Putin participated in his first presidential election, winning the first round with 53% of the vote. Four years later, he was elected to a second term with 71% of the vote.[1]  His second term ended in 2008, at which point Putin began heavily supporting Dmitry Medvedev as his successor. This led to Medvedev winning the 2008 presidential elections with 71% of the vote. Medvedev quickly passed an amendment to the constitution which increased terms for presidents and members of the State Duma (Lower House of Parliament) from four to six years. During this time, Putin was able to remain as Prime Minister, thereby retaining much of his former power and influence. Putin entered office with a new, extended six-year term in 2012 after Medvedev’s term ended. Putin was elected for a second six-year term in 2018. Although Putin is set to remain in power until 2024, he has already acted to solidify his power.

 

Critics of Putin have been vocal in condemning the proposed constitutional amendments but have been unable to organize and mobilize protests due to restrictions in place to help combat the Corona Virus. Such limits include restrictions on the number of people that may gather together outside. Leading opposition leader Alexei Navalny has urged his supporters to boycott the vote and more than 30 000 Russian scientists, journalists and writers signed a petition condemning the “unlawful anti-constitutional coup”.[2] 

 

It makes sense to assume that Putin understood there would be considerable backlash from his critics and the opposition. Therefore, the fact that the signing of the law coincided with the Corona Virus outbreak may have been intentional. Media outlets are preoccupied with news regarding the spread of the Corona Virus and the measures being taken to combat that spread. Little front-page coverage has been granted to news regarding Putin’s signing. Putin has also benefited from the much needed measures taken to help stem the spread of the Corona Virus. For example the restrictions on public gatherings have allowed Putin to restrict public protests and shielded himself from allegations that he is suppressing public discontent about the constitutional amendments. Putin initially remarked that the national referendum set for April 22 could be delayed if the situation surrounding the Corona Virus continues to deteriorate. The vote requires no minimum turnout or independent verification and will allow for the use of online and remote voting. Putin’s decision to alter the voting procedures rather than delay the vote has been met with harsh criticism. Even some Putin loyalists have expressed their discontent.[3]

 

Putin has a history of amending the constitution, establishing new laws and using the state security and judicial apparatuses to crack down on public dissent in order to solidify his power. This pattern has always suggested a high likelihood that Putin would not give up power until he chose to do so.  The law will likely pass if the referendum continues as scheduled. Putin has proven adept at utilizing his resources to sway elections in his favor. The use of online voting and the lack of any independent verification leaves the election vulnerable to interference, which Putin may potentially use to his advantage.

 

CTG’s EUCOM team will continue monitoring the Russian Parliament for updates to the constitutional amendments and the required referendum. Putin has not yet set a date for the delayed national referendum. EUCOM will also monitor for any reports of irregularities in the aftermath of the vote.  

 

 

 

 

 

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The Counterterrorism Group (CTG)

 

[1] Vladimir Putin secures record win in Russian presidential election, The Guardian, Mar 19,

https://www.theguardian.com/world/2018/mar/19/vladimir-putin-secures-record-win-in-russian-presidential-election

[2] Some Russians are resisting Putin’s power grab, Economist, Mar 2020,

https://www.economist.com/europe/2020/03/21/some-russians-are-resisting-putins-power-grab

[3] Some Russians are resisting Putin’s power grab, Economist, Mar 2020,

https://www.economist.com/europe/2020/03/21/some-russians-are-resisting-putins-power-grab

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