United Russia said on January 16 that it will give its “unanimous support” to Mikhail Mishustin, the little-known tax chief Putin handpicked to succeed Dmitry Medvedev, who stepped down a day earlier.
Medvedev and his cabinet resigned after Putin used his annual state-of-the-nation speech to call for a referendum on substantial constitutional amendments that he said would strengthen parliament’s powers.
The surprise constitutional shakeup could also help keep Putin, who has ruled Russia for more than two decades, in power beyond the end of his term in 2024.
“We have decided to give our unanimous support to the candidate suggested by our national leader for the post of the head of government,” Sergei Neverov, the head of United Russia’s parliamentary faction, told journalists ahead of a vote by lawmakers on Mishustin’s nomination.
United Russia holds three-quarters of the seats in the lower house of parliament, meaning its support assures Mishustin will be approved.
Mishustin, 53, has worked in the government since 1998 and has been head of the Federal Tax Service since 2010.
Observers say that Putin’s choice of Mishustin, who lacks any political weight, indicates that the latter will not play an independent role and that the president’s dramatic speech was likely aimed at preparing the ground for 2024, when the 67-year-old must leave the presidency.
Putin has occupied the president or the prime minister’s job continuously since 1999 and was reelected in 2018 for a final six-year term under the current constitution.
Announcing the moves in his address to Russia’s Federal Assembly, Putin said the country’s 1993 constitution should be amended, including giving the State Duma — the lower house of parliament — the right to name cabinet ministers and the prime minister, a power that currently belongs to the president.
At the same time, Putin said Russia must remain a “strong presidential republic,” with the president retaining powers such as the right to dismiss the prime minister and cabinet ministers, as well as naming top defense and security officials.
Hours later, Medvedev announced his government’s resignation during a live broadcast of a cabinet meeting with Putin.
Russia last conducted a referendum in 1993 when it adopted the constitution under Putin’s predecessor Boris Yeltsin.
Putin also suggested tightening the requirements for becoming president, saying any future Russian president should have lived in the country for at least 25 years and have no foreign citizenship or residency.
In addition, he also talked about a constitutional change that would enshrine the priority of domestic legislation over international law.
The speech came with the country still under Western sanctions for its actions in Ukraine and Syria, as well as its election meddling in the United States.
The sanctions have hampered the country’s economic growth, leading to rising poverty rates and growing discontent highlighted by protests last summer in Moscow.