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The Russian Prime Minister Medvedev Resigns And No One Knows Why

Published: January 15, 2020
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Source: Moon of Alabama

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A curious 'regime change' happened in Russia today as the Prime Minister Dimitry Medvedev and his whole cabinet resigned.

This morning President Vladimir Putin held his yearly speech to the Federal Assembly of Russia (English transcript). Putin spoke about Russia's demographic situation, its weaponry and the celebration of the upcoming 75th anniversary of its second world war victory.

But the most important part was about constitutional changes. A summary via TASS:

Putin has suggested a putting up a package of constitutional amendments for a plebiscite. At the same time, the Russian president stated that he sees no grounds to adopt new constitution in Russia.

Putin also suggest stipulating the supremacy of the Russian Constitution over international norms in Russia.

“The time has come to make some changes to the nation’s fundamental law that would directly guarantee the priority of the Russian Constitution in our legal space. What does this mean? It means that requirements of international law and decisions of international bodies can only be enforced in Russia to such an extent that does not violate human and civil rights and freedoms and does not violate our Constitution,” Putin emphasized.

It seems that the European Court of Human Rights has pissed off Russia once too often. The court is associated with the Council of Europe which has 47 member states including Russia. It has several times judged in the favor of renegade oligarchs in exile and the 'western' supported wannabe opposition in Russia.

Putin then proposed additional changes to the constitution. These were probably the points that led to Medvedev resignation:

Putin agrees that the same person should not hold the post of the head of state for more than two consecutive terms.

"I know that our society is debating the constitutional provision that the same person should not hold the office of President of the Russian Federation for more than two consecutive terms. I do not believe that this question is of fundamental importance, but I agree with this," Putin said.

The TASS interpretation that Putin 'agrees that the same person should not hold the post of the head of state for more than two consecutive terms' is not supported by Putin's statement. Currently the Russian constitution does include a two consecutive terms limit. Does Putin want to keep it or lift it? The official English transcript of the speech also has a slightly different wording:

I know that people are discussing the constitutional provision under which one person cannot hold the post of the President of the Russian Federation for two successive terms. I do not regard this as a matter of principle, but I nevertheless support and share this view.

What exactly is the view Putin is supporting here. A term limit, as TASS seems to imply, or none, as the New York Times rumors? If the term limit is lifted then Putin could run again for a third consecutive presidency. Medvedev, who was said to have hoped to again become president, would probably dislike the second interpretation.

More from TASS:

The president has also suggested complementing Russia’s Constitution with a special requirement that a candidate running for the post of head state should be a resident of Russia for no less than 25 years and have neither foreign citizenship nor an overseas residence permit, not just at the moment of the election, but never before in the past.

Under the Constitution today, any Russian citizen who has lived in the country for no less than ten years can be elected as Russia’s president.

That a presidential candidate should never have had a resident permit in a foreign country is a curious restriction. Putin has lived in east-Germany between 1985 and 1990. He was an officer of the KGB at that time but I am sure that the KBG took care to have resident permits from the host country for its undercover officers. However, the change would not effect Medvedev.

Additionally to the above Putin proposed to amend the constitution to expand the powers of parliament and the federal state council, which currently has little to say. From his speech:

What is the situation like now? In accordance with articles 111 and 112 of the Russian Constitution, the President only receives the consent of the State Duma to appoint the Prime Minister, and then appoints the head of the Cabinet, his deputies and all the ministers. I suggest changing the procedure and allowing the State Duma to appoint the Prime Minister of the Russian Federation, and then all deputy prime ministers and federal ministers at the Prime Minister’s recommendation. At the same time the President will have to appoint them, so he will have no right to turn down the candidates approved by the Parliament. (Applause.)

All of this means drastic changes to the political system.

The move would give any future President less power than Putin currently holds. But why would Putin weaken the position of the president if he would want to run for another term?

The resignation of Medvedev as prime minister was completely unexpected and seems politically unnecessary. Media connected it to the constitutional changes Putin proposed:

Before announcing the resignation of the cabinet, Medvedev met with Putin to discuss his state-of-the-nation address, which took place earlier on Wednesday, the Kremlin’s press office said.

In his address, Putin proposed several amendments to the constitution.

Medvedev explained that this cabinet is resigning in accordance with the Article 117 of the Russian Constitution, which says that the government can offer its resignation to the president, who, in turn, can either accept or reject it.

“In this context, it is obvious that, as the government, we must provide the president with a capability to make all decisions,” which are required to implement the proposed plan, Medvedev said.

Putin accepted the resignation and announced that a new position for a Deputy Chairman of the Security Council would be created and that Medvedev would take up that position. The Russian national security council is chaired by the president himself and includes the prime minister, the heads of the federal council and state duma, the ministers of defense, foreign and internal affairs, as well as the heads of the security services.

Medvedev is thereby not sidelined but gains a position in which he is Putin's deputy in important internal and external affairs.

In the evening Putin announced that he appointed Mikhail Mishustin, the head of Russia's Federal Tax Service, as the new Prime Minister. The 53 year old native of Moscow is practically unknown to the wider public. He is a curious and surprising choice.

Even Russian analysts near to Putin seem not to know if Putin and Medvedev had planned today's 'regime change' or if it was a totally spontaneous move by a pissed off Medvedev. They also seem unsure if Putin wants to leave in 2024 or if he wants to stay for another term.

We are thus left to make our own bets.

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