Moscow (CNSNews.com) – Russian President Vladimir Putin called for major constitutional changes in his annual state of the nation address Wednesday, heightening speculation that the long-time leader is looking to hold onto power after his fourth presidential term expires in 2024.
Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev and his entire cabinet then offered their resignations, with Medvedev saying he wanted to provide Putin with the flexibility to enact the changes outlined in his speech.
Putin told the Federal Assembly, Russia’s upper house, that he proposes amending the constitution to shift power from the president to the prime minister and parliament.
He said the proposed changes would “ increase the role and importance of the national parliament, the role and importance of the State Duma and parliamentary parties, will boost independence and responsibility of the prime minister and all cabinet members, and make cooperation between representative and executive branches of power more efficient and substantial.”
Putin also called for increasing the power of the State Council, a body comprising governors and other regional leaders that advises the president on a broad range of policy issues. There has been speculation in the past that Putin could head the State Council after his departure from the Kremlin and transform it into an institution with real political power, instead of the mere advisory role it now has.
Another theory circulating is that Putin may intend to return to the prime minister's post – with the envisaged enhanced powers – in 2024.
Putin nominated Mikhail Mishustin, the little known head of the Federal Taxation Service, to succeed Medvedev as prime minister. The State Duma will hold a vote on Mishustin’s candidacy on Thursday.
Meanwhile Medvedev, a longtime Putin ally, will assume a new role as vice chairman of Russia’s Security Council, a body that consults the president on national security issues. The council is made up of cabinet members, top parliamentarians, and members of the security apparatus.
Putin was president from 2000-2008, then handpicked Dmitry Medvedev to replace him for four years while he served as prime minister. Putin then returned to the presidency in 2012, swapping roles with Medvedev.
That arrangement enabled Putin to remain in power but still comply with the constitution’s prohibition against serving more than two consecutive terms as president.
Putin on Wednesday thanked Medvedev and his team for their work, but noted that there had been some disappointments. Under Medvedev’s premiership, the Russian economy has experienced sluggish growth over the past several years.
Putin’s speech and the subsequent resignation of the Russian government fueled speculation in media and expert circles that the Russian leader is looking for a way to hold onto power beyond the end of his fourth term.
Alexey Chesnakov, political analyst and former Kremlin aide, told the Kommersant newspaper that he expects Putin to remain a major political player for the foreseeable future.
“[Putin’s] speech as president demonstrated that he is not just the formal head of state – he is a national leader. He formed the nation’s agenda,” Chesnakov said.
“In this sense, I think that Vladimir Putin will not disappear from our political system and will continue to influence it for a long time after 2024.”