Now my initial take had been that Putin, probably tired of 20 years at the helm*, was moving to “institutionalize” Putinism by doing things like forbidding future Presidents and senior officials from having foreign citizenships, enshrining the supremacy of Russian over international law, and creating a “senior statesman” position for himself (e.g. chairman of a more powerful State Council – though Putin ruled that out a few days ago).
However, yesterday, United Russia MP Valentina Tereshkova (first woman in space) threw a spanner into the works by proposing that once the Constitutional amendments come into force, the number of times that a President could be reelected in a row should be reset to zero. A few hours later, speaking before the Duma, Putin as good as consented, proposing to take the matter to the Constitutional Court.
So what are we seeing here? The final “Central Asianization” of Putinism? All six of those countries, as well as Azerbaijan and Belarus, have used various mechanisms to extend Presidential limits… Putin, at least up until now, had bypassed direct Constitutional interference, relying instead on the famous “castling” (rokirovka) maneuver with Medvedev during 2008-12 to “reset” his count.
Personally, I am not even against it. Across multiple issues such as free speech (decriminalization of Article 282), immigration, science funding, even the Ukraine, he has performed much better in the past couple of years than he did in 2015-18. I no longer get the impression that an upgrade to Eternal Leader status would usher in a long period of neo-Brezhnevite corruption and stagnation. As long as he continues with performing at this higher “power” level, which has recently extended to acknowledging Russians as the “state-forming people” in the new Russian Constitution, then I will be quite OK with having him at the helm indefinitely.
Ordinary Russians probably won’t have problems either. After the shock of the pensions reform, Putin’s approval rating has stabilized around mid-60% (down from 80%). Current opinion on whether he should withdraw from the governance of the country after 2024 is basically split 50/50 (46% believe he should, while 45% disagree). People are not going to be unambiguously happy about this rule change, especially since Putin has previously signaled his opposition to fiddling with the Constitution to prolong his hold on power. But the “castling” with Medvedev wasn’t exactly popular either, but it didn’t lead to a revolution or anything close to it, Western media shrieking regardless; the number of protesters never substantially broke the ~100,000 level in Moscow (a city of 15 million). Probably we will see a similar protest intensity should Putin decide to stay on past 2024.
That said, this doesn’t mean that Putin necessarily intends to rule after 2024. It merely gives him the option of doing so.
This makes sense sense for a couple of reasons:
(1) As multiple analysts have noted, including noted politologist Evgeny Minchenko, this frees up Putin to govern the country for the next three years until the eve of the next Presidential elections without political discussions being dominated by discussions and under the carpet power struggles over his successor.
(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.
Putin in 2024 will still be a year younger than Trump today, and will be only a year older than Biden today come 2030. Both of his parents lived into their late 80s, as did his both of his paternal grandfathers, and almost all of their other children. Between that and elite healthcare, I wouldn’t put much weight on the probability that actuarial factors will cut his reign short, even if it were to extend all the way to 2036.
* People who follow me will know that this has been rumored for years. OTOH, I am now beginning to suspect that it may have consciously seeded by the Presidential Administration.