Putin 2036?

Russian politics keeps turning up surprises, and you have to think that some of them surprise even those at the top of the Russian power system themselves.

When Vladimir Putin proposed amendments to the Russian constitution a few weeks ago, the general reaction of the Western press was to declare the act as a ‘power grab’ and proof that Putin intended to remain in power beyond the end of his last constitutionally permitted term as president in 2024. This narrative had a number of problems. First, since the press had been telling us for years that Putin already had absolute power, it was hard to see how he could be ‘grabbing’ it. Second, once the exact wording of the proposed amendments was announced, it was obvious that far from permitting Putin to stay in office, they guaranteed the opposite. Furthermore, Putin specifically ruled out taking a job other than president, such as head of the State Council, thereby undercutting all the speculation that he was jiggling the system in such a way as to allow himself to continue to be in charge even while not being president. For a while it really did look like Putin would be well and truly gone in 2024.

Until today.

In a completely unexpected development, Valentina Tereshkova, best known for having been the first woman in space but now a member of the lower house of the Russian parliament, the State Duma, proposed to the Duma that once the new constitutional amendments come into force, the count of how many times somebody can be president be reset to zero. This would allow Putin to stand once again for president in the election of 2024, and to serve two more terms as far as 2036.

Tereshkova’s proposal seems to have taken the Duma completely by surprise. Worse, nobody knew what to do with it. The idea hadn’t come from the Kremlin – at least not directly – but deputies couldn’t be certain that Tereshkova wasn’t acting as a conduit for Putin, and they didn’t want to vote her idea down just in case she was. What to do? The answer was temporary paralysis, as the Duma tried to find out what Putin really thought, a problem which was resolved only by an emergency meeting attended by the president himself, who turned up at the Duma a short while after Tereshkova made her proposal to make an unscheduled speech. In this, Putin said ,

The proposal to remove restrictions for any person, including the incumbent president … In principle, this option would be possible, but on one condition – if the Constitutional Court gives an official ruling that such an amendment would not contradict the principles and main provisions of the Constitution.

In short, Putin gave his consent to the idea, subject to a ruling from the Constitutional Court.

Was this Putin’s aim all along? Did he put Tereshkova up to it? Or was he as blindsided by her proposal as everybody else? It’s not clear. If he’d wanted this, it would have been simpler just to include it in the original amendments. On the other hand, it arguably looks better if it appears to come as a result of some sort of demand from below, especially when voiced by somebody like Tereshkova who has something of a heroic status. But then again, that status means that she has some independent moral authority and doesn’t have to do whatever the Kremlin asks her. So maybe it was her idea after all, and she was acting on her own. In that case, though, why didn’t Putin reject it?

It’s next to impossible to know what’s actually going on here. For the past few weeks, Putin’s been sending strong signals that he really does plan to leave in 2024. So this is quite a reversal. The cynic in me imagines that in a political system as tightly controlled as Russia’s, today’s events can’t have been a surprise to the president. But the way it happened – the temporary paralysis in the Duma, and Putin’s sudden, unscheduled speech – suggest something rather more spontaneous. I pronounce myself flummoxed.

Of course, this doesn’t mean for certain that Putin will stay on as president post-2024. It’s possible that even if permitted to stand again, he’ll decide not to. Nor does it mean, as the Daily Telegraph immediately announced, that Putin would now be president ‘for life’. But it certainly opens up the possibility that he’ll be hanging around in power for a lot longer yet. Having said that the proposed amendments precluded that (as indeed they did before today), I find myself once again contemplating the wisdom of avoiding making firm predictions while engaging in punditry. What’s going to happen next? I don’t know. All we can do is sit back and see how things unfold.




26 thoughts on “Putin 2036?”

  1. “I pronounce myself flummoxed…I find myself once again contemplating the wisdom of avoiding making firm predictions while engaging in punditry. “

    Ah, Professor, if only everyone could be so modest and self-critical, especially among the “Russia hands”!

    Liked by 2 people

  2. My guess it’s guaranteeing himself options in case the World Tension meter come 2024 is too high to risk a power transit. The 2020s are looking up to be a decade of radical transitions in the global balance of power.

    Anyhow, I don’t mind Putin staying on. He doesn’t trigger me now like he used to do in his “putlet” days during 2015-18. Since then, he has generally started to make based and powerful decisions for the good of the Russian people.

    Liked by 3 people

  3. thanks for the overview on this.. i was kind of mystified at what has taken place here… you give me more to consider and i think it is hard to know everyone’s intent here..

    Liked by 1 person

      1. I, for one, will vote “protiv”, even having been Putin’s supporter for a long time. If he can’t see the negatives of such a decision outweighing the positives, then it’s truly time for him to leave the position of president.


  4. You may be overestimating Tereshkova’s moral independence and scruples about living up to her heroic status. Nothing in her prior biography indicates that kind of integrity.


  5. So Putin’s official take is: https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2020-03-12/global-turmoil-changed-putin-view-on-term-limit-kremlin-says

    “The situation in the world has become less stable,” spokesman Dmitry Peskov told a conference call Thursday. He cited the coronavirus pandemic, the risks of “global recession,” numerous “acute regional conflicts” and western sanctions as among the factors that led to Putin’s decision.

    “In these difficult years, the stability of the authorities, the firmness and consistency of government have huge significance,” he told reporters. “In such hard years, some countries have taken decisions to allow the incumbent president to remain on his path into the future.”

    Incidentally, happens to tally with my take the day before: https://www.unz.com/akarlin/putler-president-for-life/

    (2) The “World Tension” meter has been creeping up in the past few years, and there’s no reason to think it will stop anytime soon. The 2020s look set to be a decade of radical transitions in the global balance of power, including the likely breakdown of Chimera and the Great Bifurcation, the continued rise of Far Right populism in Europe, and continuously depressed oil prices – currently by the pandemic, in a few more years, by the EV revolution. This will present both dangers and opportunities. It could well be that the international situation come 2024 will be too fraught and unstable to make a transition of power advisable. This Constitutional amendment would untie Putin’s hands in a crisis.


  6. Can we expect more “black swan” events.

    I am worried about the covid 19 and the uncoordinated response to this pandemic.

    Seems it’s every country for themselves

    What if populations are decimated?

    The markets have crashed

    Oil price crashed

    The globalised economy is heading for deep recession

    I am in the. UK and it seems my government wants us all to catch the virus to create immunity.

    I think there may be other negatives on the horizon

    With regards to President Putin and this constitution: I would say this I don’t know what is going on

    – To have options is a good thing; who knows what or who is waiting in the wings to take Russia back to the Yeltsin days.

    – Stability is a good also in the current world conditions that are set to get worse before they get better


  7. From Shakespare Julius Caesar, Act I, Scene 2:

    You pull’d me by the cloak; would you speak with me?
    Ay, Casca; tell us what hath chanced to-day,
    That Caesar looks so sad.
    Why, you were with him, were you not?
    I should not then ask Casca what had chanced.
    Why, there was a crown offered him: and being
    offered him, he put it by with the back of his hand,
    thus; and then the people fell a-shouting.
    What was the second noise for?
    Why, for that too.
    They shouted thrice: what was the last cry for?
    Why, for that too.
    Was the crown offered him thrice?
    Ay, marry, was’t, and he put it by thrice, every
    time gentler than other, and at every putting-by
    mine honest neighbours shouted.
    Who offered him the crown?

    Why, Tereshkova, of course. The famous cosmonaut!

    Tell us the manner of it, gentle Casca.
    I can as well be hanged as tell the manner of it:
    it was mere foolery; I did not mark it. I saw Valentina Tereshkovat
    offer him a crown;–yet ’twas not a crown
    neither, ’twas one of these coronets;–and, as I told
    you, he put it by once: but, for all that, to my
    thinking, he would fain have had it. Then she
    offered it to him again; then he put it by again:
    but, to my thinking, he was very loath to lay his
    fingers off it. And then she offered it the third
    time; he put it the third time by: and still as he
    refused it, the rabblement hooted and clapped their
    chapped hands and threw up their sweaty night-caps
    and uttered such a deal of stinking breath because
    Caesar refused the crown that it had almost choked
    Caesar; for he swounded and fell down at it: and
    for mine own part, I durst not laugh, for fear of
    opening my lips and receiving the bad air.


  8. P.S. – sorry about mangling Shakespeare, I couldn’t resist.
    In other news, I started a new historical post today which may be of interest to history students or war buffs.
    Sadulaev has an interesting theory why Soviet leadership thought they had an extra year or so before Nazi invasion and thus were not as prepared as they should have been. It’s because they believed Iran was next on the list….


  9. A few days ago I stumbled upon a Russian language video with English subtitles on YouTube titled “Parasites” (Паразиты) which complains about a satirical TV program on NTV, “The International Sawmill”, and an embezzlement scheme associated with it. The video also complains about its host Tigran Keosayan using vulgarities and off-color jokes to insult leaders like Trump, Erdogan and Macron, the last of whom he describes as gay.

    It was as of this writing when I realized that the video was done by Alexei Navalny, an anti-Putin activist. I didn’t pay attention to the uploader, let alone know who the heck Navalny is, until the time I was going to share the video. With my limited understanding of Russian politics, I don’t know about the embezzlement part, so I’d be grateful if anyone could better describe the situation.

    What I do know is that, as a satirical program, it’s bound to poke fun of almost everything, not giving a crap about political correctness, and therefore vulgarities and off-color jokes are to be expected; apparently Navalny can’t take a joke, let alone see the (real) ineptitude of Trump, Erdogan and Macron.

    If you want a quick link, here it is:

    Now that I mention it, I wouldn’t be surprised if the whole video were bogus.


    1. Oi, Navalny is a poster-child for the Russian saying на воре и шапка горит, the English equivalent might be something like: “pot calling kettle black…”
      I mean, when it comes to the issues of parasitism and excessive corruption…


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