The abrupt resignation of Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev on January 15, which came just hours after President Vladimir Putin’s detailed broad proposed changes to the constitution, jolted Russia’s political landscape and appears to have taken even senior officials by surprise.
“It was like a thunderbolt from a clear sky,” the Russian business site The Bell quoted an unidentified acting federal minister as saying.
The shake-up, in which Medvedev was offered a newly created post of Security Council deputy chairman, together with Putin’s announced plans to strengthen parliament’s powers, signals the start of the Kremlin’s planned transition ahead of the end of Putin’s term in 2024 that would likely envision a new but still powerful role for him, several Russian political analysts and commentators said.
Here is a roundup of how Russian political scientists and public figures — including politicians, officials, and journalists — have reacted to the day’s events, which are likely to have a dramatic impact on how Russia is ruled.
Tatyana Stanovaya, founder of the political consulting firm R.Politik
“Russia has entered its period of power transition ahead of schedule: in his State of the Union speech today, Putin revealed detailed plans for constitutional reform, and within hours had accepted the resignation of the government (in effect, Medvedev was fired — he will now become the deputy head of the Security Council).
There is no understanding which part of this is a clearly calibrated strategy, and which part is impromptu and a rough outline.
The president’s aim is to prepare the country for the return of ‘tandem-democracy.’ It looks very much like Putin is preparing to leave the presidency (whether that will take place in 2024 or even earlier), and is currently trying to create a safety mechanism for his successor in case of conflict.
At the same time, he is getting rid of Medvedev, who has become toxic for the elite and the population at large — this should make the transition period smoother. Putin looks like he is counting on becoming the head of the State Council, which will get increased powers and become a key decision-making platform with input from the Presidential Administration, the government and the governors.”
Mikhail Kasyanov, opposition politician and former prime minister during Putin’s first term
“The main takeaway from this [state-of-the-nation] address is that Putin is not going anywhere, and he is, overall, camouflaging this with the alleged strengthening of the role of the [State] Duma and the Federation Council. They are starting to hammer into the heads of Russians that everything is changing for the better, that there will be more discussion about the composition of the government….I think this is to divert Russians’ attention from the main idea that Putin expressed today, that ‘I, Putin, am not going anywhere, but in order for that to happen, we still need to strengthen the power vertical.'”
Mikhail Vinogradov, political analyst and head of the St. Petersburg Politics Foundation
“The [state-of-the-nation] address legalized the topic of the transition, legalized criticism of the super-presidential republic — criticism that until recently was considered incendiary, and now, in essence, has become mainstream and a trend. And Medvedev’s resignation showed that this is not only a blueprint, but that there are some further steps, in the mind of authorities, toward a change in the overall [power] structure. But for now there is no understanding which part of this is a clearly calibrated strategy, and which part is impromptu and a rough outline.”
Aleksandr Kynev, political scientist
“The sum of the proposals in the [state-of-the-nation] address allows one to speak about a transfer of power along the lines of a modified Kazakh scenario — of course there is no ‘elbasy’ [leader of the nation] here, but there will be a reallocation of functions among senior officials and, it seems, the State Council and the Constitutional Court. These are additional ‘observation decks’ from which tabs can be kept that Putin’s successor doesn’t grow into someone independent. To which ‘observation deck’ will Putin himself move? The text of the address allows one to make various guesses. It could be a renewed State Council or a strengthened parliament. In any case, I think that in 2024 there will be a new president, but under the control of these same ‘observation decks.'”
Unidentified acting Russian minister
“No one expected this [Medvedev’s] resignation. They called us together literally just now and told us. There were no indications in the morning, and there wasn’t any hint of it in the [state-of-the-nation] address at [Moscow’s] Manezh [Exhibition Center]. It was like a thunderbolt from a clear sky.”
Grigory Golosov, political scientist
“Putin’s constitutional ideas indicate fairly clearly that the baseline model being considered for the ‘transition of power’ is, after all, the Kazakh option: give the State Council (not the Security Council, in contrast to Kazakhstan) a constitutional role, which in the document itself will be defined in the broadest of terms, and place Putin at the head. And in the corresponding constitutional law give the State Council and its chairman any powers, all the way to unlimited. Everything else is secondary.”
Kirill Martynov, politics editor at Novaya Gazeta
“For now it is unclear what role Vladimir Putin will have in the new power configuration: there is a broad expanse for maneuvering here. Most likely, if the current ban on three consecutive presidential terms remains, and in the case of weakened presidential powers, he could simultaneously lay claim to the post of prime minister and head of the State Council.”
Fyodor Krasheninnikov, journalist and political analyst
“The transition has begun, and it will move very quickly, as we saw today, when over the course of one day there was a [state-of-the-nation] address with social promises, and constitutional reforms, and the resignation of the government, and the end of Medvedev. I think that Putin will carry out the next steps at the same crazy tempo. And the goal is simple: take the wind out of society’s sails, and don’t give it a chance to get together and figure out what to do. I think they will now swiftly rewrite the constitution, without any referendum, and swiftly reform the structure of government. And it will end with Putin forming such a constitution and such a government structure in which he plans to and will rule for life.”
Yevgeny Roizman, former Yekaterinburg mayor and opposition politician
“It seems that some configuration [of government] will probably change. All the actions that are taking place now are actions aimed at keeping Putin in power indefinitely.”