Russia: is Putin's government in crisis?

Vladimir Putin began his 20th year in Russia with a collective resignation that left him without a cabinet after the announcement of constitutional reforms .

President of Russia Vladimir Putin.

President of Russia Vladimir Putin. / Photo: Reuters

LatinAmerican Post | Juliana Suárez

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Leer en español: Rusia: ¿está el gobierno de Putin en crisis?

On Wednesday, January 15, the Russian president announced proposals that were not liked by his then Prime Minister, Dimitri Medvedev, or his cabinet.

Putin's proposals, presented to the Federal Assembly, which is the Russian Parliament, included a change in the Constitution declaring an imminent "request for change in Russian society." These changes would go hand in hand with the need for the authorities to dialogue with the community to find the points that should be reached.

These changes seek to “quickly solve, without delay, the large-scale social, economic and technological problems facing the country,” said Vladimir Putin.

However, it was the proposal for amendments to the Constitution that did not please Medvedev's cabinet. At this point, Putin proposed a popular vote for a series of changes aiming to focus on the rights and freedoms of citizens. After the vote, the government would make the final decisions in changes that could restructure the Constitution and, therefore, the country itself and its branches of power.

Among the proposals that would be in the package, the president announced some changes in the requirements to aspire to the presidency, such as having a single nationality, preventing any candidate from having citizenship or residence permit in another country to run for the presidentials. On another issue, he also wants to “transfer from the president to the Parliament the power to approve the candidacies of the prime minister and members of the Government, as well as grant the Parliament the right to approve, at the proposal of the head of government, all the deputy prime ministers and federal ministers”, according to RT.

That is why the Prime Minister disagreed with the proposal, considering that the Constitutional amendments would change not only the Constitution itself but "the balance of executive, legislative and judicial power," he announced at the meeting with the cabinet.

"In this context, it is obvious that we, like the Government of Russia, should give the president of our country the opportunity to make all the necessary decisions, and in these conditions I think it is right to present the resignation of all members, in accordance with article 117 of the Russian Constitution", said the then prime minister, according to RT.

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The Russian opposition and some detractors of Putin see this move as an attempt by the president to remain in power indefinitely. This, since the Russian Constitution does not allow more than two consecutive presidential periods, which would be met by the president at the end of his term in 2024. With the Constitutional amendments, the door would be opened to change this article and allow an indefinite re-election, although Putin has said multiple times that he does not intend to do that.

Despite what might seem like a crisis, the Russian president took the resignation of Medvedev and his cabinet assertively and asked cabinet members to remain in their duties while a new government is formed. As he suggested creating a new position as vice president of the Security Council so that his newly resigned prime minister will occupy that position.

The decision has left Putin with more power for the moment, as he will assume the position of prime minister while consolidating the new cabinet and will take the decisions that would correspond to Medvedev. Therefore, according to the BBC, "it is not immediately clear if the resignation indicates a break in the Russian hierarchy or if it were part of a coordinated Putin plan to conserve power and reshape the political system." Doubt arises because Dimitri Medvedev has remained at Putin's side for much of his political career.

The new prime minister

On Thursday, January 16, the lower house of the Russian Parliament, known as Duma, elected with a large majority Mikhail Mishustin as the new Prime Minister of Russia. This was the candidate proposed by Vladimir Putin to hold the position.

Mikhail Mishustin was elected with 383 votes in favor, 41 abstentions and 0 against and far from being a man of politics, he is a computer engineer. His main recognition in the world of politics has been the implementation of a digital tax collection system that works throughout the country.

The election of Mishustin could favor the Russian president, according to the internationalist Juan Manuel Aguilar in an interview for Forbes Mexico, because “as prime minister he represents a person who does not question (Putin) his political decisions, because Medvedev did not like all his decisions”. This could be a move by Putin in his political  futurecareer because, although he will not be able to aspire to the presidency again (for now), he can come to power as prime minister, which he already did in 2008, when Medvedev was president but he was considered the figure behind.


Here is an illustration of Russia's non-existing politics: yesterday the country's ruling United Russia party unanimously supported their leader Dmitry Medvedev, today it happily voted for Putin's new appointment, a little-known technocrat Mikhail Mishustin. https://t.co/PtQ38e9r8y

— Anna Nemtsova (@annanemtsova) January 16, 2020


On the contrary, the resignation of the former Prime Minister could mean a loss of confidence in who was one of the possible candidates to replace Putin. Due to the political differences that Medvedev can have with the current president, and the political power that he has gained, taking him out of Putin's power, Dimitri Medvedev had ceased to be the ideal figure to continue with Vladimir Putin's policies.