MOSCOW — After months of speculation, it appears that Vladimir Putin has finally settled on a strategy that will allow him to retain power beyond 2024. Ever since he announced plans to make a raft of amendments to the country's constitution back in mid-January, discussion had been rife over what exactly the Russian president — barred from running for a third consecutive term — was planning. Was he intending to retire? Was he eyeing a supervisory role in the State Council? Was he plotting a merger with Belarus? In the end, it appears he has opted to start all over again from scratch.
On March 10, during a session of the State Duma, Russia's lower house of parliament, cosmonaut-turned-politician Valentina Tereshkova suggested that a new, altered constitution could be the basis for "resetting" the clock on presidential term limits. Putin responded that in principle he agreed, as long as the Constitutional Court gave its approval. Within an hour the amendment had been approved by the Duma. The amendments go to a "public vote" on April 22, the result of which is likely to be a forgone conclusion, as is any ruling by the Constitutional Court. The proposal paves the way for Putin to run again in 2024 if he so chooses, meaning that in theory he could remain president until 2036.
Facing such a momentous political development, how did Russia's state-run and independent media react?
The Kremlin's special operation on the constitution has entered the home straight. With the help of an amendment suggested by a cosmonaut-lawmaker, all the terms served by the current president will be annulled, so that Putin can remain in power for at least another 16 years. The president, of course, is in complete accord … In this situation the country and its people have turned out to be hostages to an adventure organized by people exposed by circumstances to enormous power, but unaware of the adequate responsibility for this power.
New, altered constitution could be the basis for "resetting" the clock on presidential term limits.
These people are guided by fleeting political motives, chief among which is the retention of power and the willful adjustment of the state to their corporate goals and highly dubious ideas about the historical and philosophical essence of Russia, as well as its place and role in the world. These poor excuses for rulers are simply unable to appreciate the nature and scale of the consequences of their actions. With the help of unconstitutional amendments, Putin is attempting to solve his main problem — the transfer of power.
Recall that Vladimir Putin himself — and the representatives of the working group on preparing the constitutional amendments — let us understand on several occasions that constitutional reform did not mean "resetting" the terms of the sitting president, as if he would be running for the first time at the next elections. Putin announced that he had not suggested the amendments in order to extend his powers. Among the recommended amendments is a norm limiting the number of presidential terms to two (without the qualification "consecutive"), and until now the majority of experts were in agreement that this was about imposing restrictions on the future head of state, who was supposed to be elected in 2024.
What is happening is unprecedented in Russian history. The head of state is openly announcing that he is prepared to find a way of staying in the presidential post even after the timeframe set by the law has expired — and that he plans to stay for a long time. Moreover, he is doing that just as expectations that he would depart sooner had become quite intense.
Putin evidently made the decision based on various considerations. He is known to think of the presidential job with reverence, as something akin to an unexpected gift from God. After all, he was elevated to the post while still basically an unremarkable bureaucrat, and then made a success of it.
The mood is almost that of the Crimean euphoria of six years ago. Today we have won a great victory, even if it is an invisible one for a people convinced that this is the way everything should be.
There was already – I'm convinced of this – some kind of court plan to organize some election or other, to persuade Putin to retire to the State Council, to the village council, to wherever, to become the Queen of England, an ayatollah, Pensioner Number One, whoever, as long as things could quickly begin to change. A transition, a transfer – no matter what these never-ending political analysts called it, there was a single idea and a single aim: make peace with the world outside. That is – to surrender.
Nobody is going to offer another world, just as they didn't offer one in 1991, and since then things have gotten worse and far more complicated. And there was already a feeling that a collective Gorbachev was at the door, that just a little more and they'd have us, then we'd be faced with collapse. And then Tereshkova stood up to speak.
Perestroika is cancelled. Life goes on. Thank God.