The beginning of 2020 marks the beginning of nationwide changes to Russia’s political system, promising to shift the country’s balance of power in a more aggressive and unexpected way, according to NBC News. During his yearly address on January 15, President Vladimir Putin proposed constitutional changes that would guarantee his absolute authority after his fourth term officially ends in 2024.
In response to the address, Russia’s Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev announced that he and the other government heads planned to resign. “These changes… will introduce substantial changes not only to an entire range of articles in the constitution, but also to the entire balance of power,” Medvedev said. Prior to the proposal’s announcement, former prime minister demonstrated staunch support for Putin’s administration.
After the announcement, Putin promised to “increase the role and significance of [Russia’s] parliament and the prime minister.” Nonetheless, many political analysts and experts regard the current situation in Russia as a massive power grab, officially marking Putin’s dictatorship and absolute control over all of the economic, social, commercial, natural, and political assets of Russia. The New Yorker’s journalist Masha Gessen describes Putin’s actions as simply “paranoid.” In her interview with NPR, Gessen notes that such paranoia may actually make him a very strong dictator, numerous times referring to Stalin-era tactics when explaining how Putin gained and secured his power over his 20 years in office.
Similarly, Marc Behrendt, the director of a Washington-based human rights advocating group, called Putin a dictator who will refuse to step away from power. Oftentimes dictators, in order to ensure their nationwide influence, make huge promises to restore the democracy and the rule of law in the country with intentions to destabilize it. Therefore, the current Russian government employs every single resource to ensure complete obedience and silence from citizens—sometimes, it involves making empty promises to cover and justify serious undemocratic actions – such as attacking and jailing political opponents and social activists, rigging elections in favor of the ruling party, or meeting no restrictions from the parliament at all.
Forbes reports that Putin’s choice replacement for the post of prime minster is Mikhail Mishustin, the current head of the Russian tax service. Putin also asked Medvedev to become deputy head of the National Security Council, which is chaired by Putin himself. However, Masha Gessen tells NPR that there is no one to succeed Putin himself because it might create a potential challenge to his power and authority. Alexei Navalny, Russian opposition leader and leading Kremlin critic, also perceives Putin’s aim to make the constitutional changes as Putin’s goal to be “sole leader [of Russia] for life” according to the BBC.
At this point, critics anticipate that Putin will achieve his goal to make substantial changes to the Russian constitution and will consolidate his absolute power ahead of the upcoming 2024 election. Even if the complete opposite scenario takes place and the public forces Putin to step down from the position of president, he is still in a position to become Prime Minister and weaken the powers of Russia’s president in his favor ahead of future elections.