What's happening in Russia?

Power play? —> Putin proposes constitutional changes, switches PM

Welcome to the first 2020 edition of “From Russia With Mila”! As House Speaker Nancy Pelosi names impeachment managers for the Senate impeachment trial of President Trump, Russian President Vladimir Putin shook up the headlines with a big announcement in his annual state-of-the-union speech…

Putin replaced his appointed prime minister, Dmitry Medvedev, and announced a restructuring of the Russian government. This shocking news came as he addressed the nation Wednesday, and it comes just a month after his annual presser, during which he was asked about his power outlook after 2024. This is when the next presidential election will be held, but Putin won’t be able to run immediately again since he has just served his two consecutive terms of six years each. So people have been thinking — what is he going to do?

Dmitry Medvedev out as PM, Mikhail Mishustin in

Putin has been in power since 1999, initially as prime minister (1999-2000, 2008-2012), then as president. He just announced earlier Wednesday that he would replace Medvedev and his cabinet, take away powers of the Russian presidency, and amp up the powers of the Russian prime minister.

Putin said he wants the State Duma, the lower house of parliament, to have the power to choose the prime minister and other key positions (right now, the president has the power to appoint the prime minister, with the Duma’s consent): “It would increase the role and significance of the country’s parliament... of parliamentary parties, and the independence and responsibility of the prime minister.”

So, why would he weaken the Russian presidency and beef up the prime minister’s power? ⤵️

His proposals, which he suggested should be put to a referendum, would give him the option of taking an enhanced role as prime minister after 2024 or a new role as head of the State Council, an official body he said he was keen to build up. He could even become speaker of a new, supercharged parliament. (Reuters)

Putin replaced Medvedev with the low-profile head of the tax service, Mikhail Mishustin. Mishustin is not a public figure and had not been talked about as a potential prime minister candidate at all — but, according to Reuters, he “has played ice hockey with Putin…” His candidacy will be considered by the Duma on January 16.

Dmitri Trenin, head of the Moscow Carnegie Center, provided some analysis on Putin’s nomination of Mishustin for prime minister as Medvedev takes on a new role as deputy head of Russia’s Security Council:

What’s the goal here?

As CNN points out, Putin pulled a similar power move in 2008 by switching places with the prime minister “to circumvent the constitutional provision banning the same person from serving two consecutive terms.”

Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny said the “only goal of Putin and his regime” was to remain “the sole leader for life, taking ownership of an entire country, and appropriating wealth to himself and his friends,” according to CNN.

Medvedev’s response to the announcement:

Putin “outlined a number of fundamental changes to the constitution, significant changes not only to a number of articles of the constitution, but also to the balance of power as a whole.”

“In this context, it’s obvious that we, as the government... should provide the president of our country with the opportunity to make all the decisions necessary for this. And in these conditions, I believe that it would be right, in accordance with Section 117 of the constitution,” for the government to resign.

Further reading on what Putin said at his state-of-the-union address:

Putin wants to give Russian law priority over international law without an entirely new constitution. Technically, that’s not legally possible. (Meduza)

And context for the impact of the speech this year:

And that’s your briefing on the Russian presidency for Jan. 15! Reach out with any questions or comments, connect on Twitter for the latest, and stop back for more on media and Eastern Europe.

— Мила (Mila)