The new amendments to the Russian Constitution – allowing Vladimir Putin to run for president a fifth time – are seen by some as a strongman’s trick to stay in power. Others point out that Putin’s 2024 bid is yet to be announced.
Over the years, Russians have come to know Putin as a leader who has been steadfastly supportive of the constitutional limitations that are currently in place, When asked, he has consistently said he would not run for president when his current term is up in 2024. But on Tuesday, he announced the suggestion to ‘reset’ his presidency allowing him to run again in four years would be acceptable — though only if approved by the Constitutional Court and supported by citizens in an April 22 vote across the country.
The current constitutional restriction of two consecutive terms in office forced Putin to leave the presidency in 2008, when Dmitry Medvedev took up the role. Putin ran again in 2012 and has been in power since, winning reelection in 2018 after the presidential term was extended to six years.
In one of his annual Q&A sessions he even chuckled at the idea of staying in power beyond 2024, pointing out he would be over 70 by then. So why has he changed his mind now – in a move that risks damaging a political image built on consistency?
While a majority of ordinary voters might not care too much about Putin’s change of tune, for the Russian opposition he “only confirmed their view” that he is a strongman who will never leave power, senior fellow at the Carnegie Moscow Center Alexander Baunov told RT. Even Putin loyalists in government may be “puzzled” at having been kept in the dark about his plans.
“They can’t understand why they were tricked and not told directly that Putin wants to be reelected. They would have willingly supported him,” Baunov said.
Yet, if Putin simply wanted to stay in power, he had “thousands” of simpler ways to do it, says president of the Center for Strategic Communications Dmitry Abzalov. The real motivation is to keep his options open and avoid becoming seen as a lame duck, he believes.
Russians, added Abzalov, are tired of the “inefficiency” of officials on economic and social issues and most are focused on how a boost can be delivered to the GDP and improve ordinary people’s lives – by whatever means. Putin’s government reshuffle and announcement of new social programs in January was part of that, but Abzalov believes more can be done, including overhauling the functioning of the Russian parliament itself.
With the significant change of government in January, the announcement of a slate of new reforms and the resignation of Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev, it already “looked as if a kind of a renewal of the system” had begun – but with his latest move, it seems that Putin is delaying change again, Baunov said.
For Aleksey Mukhin, head of the Center for Political Information, Putin’s change of heart looks like a “very delicate trolling” of Russia’s Western partners. Mukhin believes Putin does not have any real intention of remaining in power for another term, but the thought of it will keep the West “on its toes.”
“It’s a very slick move, which will cause a strong negative reaction [in the West] that will, however, be absolutely in vain,” he said.
Russians will likely have to wait until 2024 for a final decision from Putin on whether he intends to run again, but whatever happens, it will likely depend on the situation, both domestic and international.