‘Total control’: Putin’s sinister power grab

The Kremlin may have fallen in on itself, but one thing's for certain: Vladimir Putin is not going anywhere.

The entire Russian government has resigned en masse after the President proposed a raft of political changes that could keep him in power for the rest of his life.

According to the country's term limits, Mr Putin cannot run for re-election after 2024.

But the Russian politician, who was voted president in 2000 and has enjoyed an almost unchecked reign ever since, does not want to give up his status and influence if he can help it.

WHAT EXACTLY DID PUTIN JUST DO?

Mr Putin gave his annual State of Russia speech in Moscow yesterday.

The 80-minute address was expected to be a standard, run-of-the-mill outline of statistics and the economy - and for the first hour, it was.

Then he dropped a bombshell.

The Russian President revealed a big package of proposed changes to a referendum that would change the government's inner workings.

Among his proposals, he wants to give Russia's parliament more power by allowing politicians to name prime ministers and Cabinet members - a job that currently falls on the President.

Under the current constitution, the President must bag approval from the lower house of parliament to appoint the head of the government.

He also wants to give the President more sway in deciding how heads of security agencies are appointed.

 

 

Mr Putin also suggested amping up the status and role of the State Council in the Constitution of Russia.

He gave few details as to what this would all mean. But it's been widely speculated that the Russian leader is looking for ways to ensure his legacy after his final term as President is up, and continue running the show from the shadows.

Shortly afterwards the Russian government resigned en masse - not as an act of protest, but to give Mr Putin room to bring about these reforms.

Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev, the President's political sidekick, will also be stepping down and taking up a newly-created back seat role in defence.

The move sent shockwaves around the world, and there's now one question on everyone's lips: what does Mr Putin want?

PUTIN'S PLAN TO KEEP 'TOTAL CONTROL'

This isn't about staying in power, per se. Mr Putin has promised not to seek a third term - and even if he wanted to, he could just take a leaf out of Chinese President Xi Jinping's book and change the constitution to waive term limits.

But the Russian leader, who will be 71 years old when he steps down, is increasingly focusing on his legacy and the ability to rule from the shadows after his time is up.

Now, analysts say one of two things is likely to happen: Mr Putin will become prime minister, or he will become the head of a newly-empowered State Council.

The latter would allow him to maintain total control of the country if he leads the State Council - an advisory body, established by Mr Putin himself, which deals with the nation's most important issues.

 

 

Oleg Ignatov, an analyst at the Moscow-based Centre For Current Policy, said there are "rumours" he could take his path rather than become the new prime minister.

"If this happens, it's possible that his word will be the last word," he told CNN. "He will not be interested in technical details, but everything will be under his control."

Other experts suggest the role itself doesn't matter; what matters is that Mr Putin will remain Russia's leading figure regardless.

"It's not clear what role he will play, what will his status be. The only thing which is clear is that he will keep his role as the No. 1 person," Aleksei Chesnakov, a political analyst and former Kremlin aide, told The Wall Street Journal.

It's not just analysts taking this view. Opposition leader and Kremlin critic Alexei Navalny said he believed Mr Putin's goal remained to be Russia's "sole leader for life", and he expected any vote on constitutional changes to be "fraudulent cr*p".

"The only goal of Putin and his regime is to stay in charge for life, having the entire country as his personal asset and seizing its riches for himself and his friends," Mr Navalny said.

Former Russian prime minister Mikhail Kasyanov said Mr Putin wanted to retain power "forever".

 

Vladimir Putin was first voted president of Russia in March 2000. Picture: Alexander Zemlianichenko/AP
Vladimir Putin was first voted president of Russia in March 2000. Picture: Alexander Zemlianichenko/AP

 

The outgoing Mr Medvedev has long been an ally of Mr Putin's.

In his resignation statement, Mr Medvedev said he was calling it quits to make Mr Putin's life easier.

He said Mr Putin had set out reforms that would mean "fundamental changes" to the constitution and considered it only "right for the government to resign".

He will now take a relatively more back seat role as the new deputy head of Russia's Security Council, while Tax Service chief Mikhail Mishustin takes his place as Prime Minister.

Mr Mishustin has no political experience, indicating he will dutifully carry out the Kremlin's wishes as head of the Cabinet.

Analyst Gleb Pavlovsky, a former Putin adviser, told the Interfax news agency that Mr Mishustin was "a splendid bureaucrat, in the best sense of the word".

Mr Putin has been in power longer than any other Russian or Soviet leader since Josef Stalin, who led from 1924 until his death in 1953.