Staunton, May 18 – The pandemic which makes holding any vote a problem and the economic crisis which has driven down Vladimir Putin’s ratings means, Ilya Grashchenkov says, that the Kremlin may scrap plans to extend the Kremlin leader’s time in office by constitutional amendment and go back to the arrangements he made with Dmitry Medvedev in 2008.
At that time, as the director of the Moscow Center for the Development of Regional Policy observes, Putin was able to stay within the constitution but maintain his power by becoming prime minister to Medvedev who was clearly second fiddle in that arrangement for his one term in office (nakanune.ru/articles/116081/).
That would allow Putin to avoid a potentially problematic, even embarrassing referendum, but it would also ignite a new struggle within the top elite of the country for the position of prime minister because that individual would become president, albeit without real power for a time, but potentially Putin’s genuine successor given the current president’s age.
Aleksandr Yermakov of the Nakanune news agency interviewed two other experts about how the Kremlin may cope with the combination of problems the coronavirus pandemic and the deepening economic crisis may affect planning for what has long been called the 2024 problem of keeping Putin in charge for life.
Pavel Savin, head of the Center for Political Research at Moscow’s Finance University, says that it is still too early to draw any conclusions about how the pandemic or the economic crisis will affect the Kremlin’s decision making. It still has time to rebuild its reputation and hold a referendum to allow it to use the constitutional amendment format.
And Maksim Zharov, a Moscow political commentator, says in contrast that “for the transition there is only one obvious consequence of the quarantine: the plebiscite will constantly be delayed for some indefinite time. There are risks in doing that too, but there are also risks of retreating so obviously from a position Putin has associated himself with.
Clearly, no one in the Kremlin leadership has made any decision about whether to give up on the amendment route and go back to the 2008 model; but the very fact that this is now being talked about by senior members of the analytic community means that it is at least an option under consideration.
And as Grashchenkov notes, if powerful figures conclude that this is a real possibility, there is a great likelihood that there will be a scramble among them to replace the current prime minister and thus set up a succession plan for themselves rather than simply helping Putin to arrange his.
To the extent that occurs, such speculation may intensify divisions in the elite and force Putin’s hand, something that could lead to some dramatic shifts in personnel and policy superficially far from the issue of how to keep Vladimir Putin in power for ever. And that in turn could even call into question his ability to remain in that position.
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