Russian President Vladimir Putin will likely stay in power after 2024 when his presidential term ends. Although in March 2018 he said he is not planning any constitutional reforms “for now”, Russian Duma recently passed a bill that would allow Putin to run for presidency two more times after 2024.
When he proposed constitutional changes back in January, some analysts thought that he plans to officially step down but keep ruling from the shadows. Such a political maneuver was already seen in Kazakhstan in March 2019, when President Nursultan Nazarbayev announced his retirement after he spent nearly 30 years as leader of the Central Asian country.
He named Kassym-Jomart Tokayev, the speaker of the upper house of parliament, his successor but he kept control over the country’s influential Security Council, which sets guidelines for foreign and security policies. Instead of following Nazarbayev’s footsteps, Putin’s charade related to constitutional reform suggests that Russia’s political system might get closer to Turkmenistan’s authoritarianism.
Russia has been ruled by tsars – monarchs – and boyars – members of the highest rank of the feudal aristocracies
Turkmenistan, the energy-rich Central Asian nation, holds the title of the most authoritarian of all former Soviet states. After the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, the regime transformed the communist system into a nation centered on a single political leader through the creation of the President Saparmurat Niyazov’s personality cult. After Niyazov suddenly died in 2006, new president Gurbanguly Berdimuhamedov replaced Niyazov’s cult with his own, based on the same blueprint.
Russia, as well as Turkmenistan, does not have a history of democratic governance. Traditionally, Russia has been ruled by tsars – monarchs – and boyars – members of the highest rank of the feudal aristocracies. Modern-day boyars are not government ministers, but powerful oligarchs, members of security apparatus, and other influential groups are often linked with foreign powers.
Since coronavirus is expected to bring enormous global changes, and low oil prices will eventually have a negative impact on Russian economy, the largest country in the world can face political turmoil in the foreseeable future
Vladimir Putin is certainly part of the ruling Russian elite, but he is not “the strongman” the Western mainstream media try to portray. He is merely a manager who is making a balance among all these groups. His desire to stay in power after 2024 can be interpreted that the Russian elite intends to keep the status quo. In the time of radical global transformations caused by coronavirus and Russia-Saudi oil war; the last thing policymakers in Moscow need is a political turbulence, or any form of diarchy.
However, that does not mean Putin’s plan to stay in power at least until 2036 will go smoothly. Since coronavirus is expected to bring enormous global changes, and low oil prices will eventually have a negative impact on Russian economy, the largest country in the world can face political turmoil in the foreseeable future. Moscow’s involvement in Syrian civil war is far from over, the conflict in the Donbass has not been resolved yet, and the Kremlin is also involved in civil war in Libya. All this costs a lot of money, and it remains to be seen if Russia will be able to fund its adventures in Syria and Libya if the oil price remains low in the next six to ten years.
In any case, Putin’s fifth, sixth and any other presidential term is expected to bring serious challenges to Russia.
If history is any guide, it is worth mentioning that the former Serbian and Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic also changed the legislation in order to stay in power, even though he previously said that he had no such plans. In 2000, as the end of his first term in office of the president of Yugoslavia, he pushed the parliament to change the rules of the election of the president. Whilst the president of Yugoslavia had previously been chosen for one term only by the legislature, in the Yugoslav parliament, it was now to be directly elected via the two-round voting system of presidential elections with a maximum of two terms. That led to an early election, his defeat and overthrow.
At this point, however, it is unlikely that a similar scenario can happen in Russia.
Since opposition in the Russian Federation barely exists, biology is the only limiting factor for Putin’s power, unless the country is faced with major financial crisis like in 1998. In 1999, the then Russian President Boris Yeltsin stepped down and named Vladimir Putin his successor. Ever since, Putin has been ruling Russia and glorifying Yeltsin. In 2015 he even opened the Yeltsin Center in Yekaterinburg. The facility includes a museum, a conference center, an art gallery and a bookshop. At the same time, pro-Kremlin propagandists try to portray Yeltsin as a drunk US puppet who sold Russia to the West, even though Putin is the one who shut down all of the Russian military bases aboard (excluding Syria), lost geopolitical influence in Ukraine and Georgia, and withdrew Russian troops from Bosnia-Herzegovina and Kosovo.
In spite of that, the Russian President still has high approval rating, and it is more than likely that Russian voters will approve constitutional reforms in the referendum. The vote is set for April 22, the 150th anniversary of Vladimir Lenin’s birth.
Nikola Mikovic is a freelance journalist from Serbia. He covers mostly Russia, Ukraine and Belarus, and writes for multiple online publications. He is a contributor at Tsarizm, Weekly Blitz, Global Comment, and geopolitical analyst at KJ Vids YouTube. He can be reached at @nikola_mikovic. The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Global Village Space.