Ground Truth Briefing | What to Make of Putin's Power Play | Wilson Center

Ground Truth Briefing | What to Make of Putin's Power Play

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On January 15, the Russian government resigned following President Vladimir Putin’s state of the nation address in which he proposed sweeping constitutional reforms. Putin then elevated former Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev to the role of Deputy Chairman of Russia’s Security Council and Medvedev’s replacement, Mikhail Mishustin, was approved as the new prime minister on January 16.

In this Ground Truth Briefing, our experts assessed Putin’s proposed reforms and political machinations.

View detailed analysis from William Pomeranz, Maxim Trudolyubov, and Sergey Parkhomenko on our Russia File blog.


Selected Quotes

Sergey Parkhomenko

“Presidential power is reinforced by the proposed amendments […] The Russian system will become much more Presidential, much more authoritarian”

“The most evident scenario now is that Putin will stay as the President for two or more years, and he will conserve his personal rule in Russia”

Maxim Trudolyubov

“Anyone pronouncing anything at this moment should pause because this whole story looks like a special operation […] which is the way the Kremlin has been operating under Putin for twenty years.  We have witnessed similar situations where suddenly, out of the blue, President Putin appears and changes the laws, changes the rules, in a moment where no one expects it, such as after the Beslan tragedy in which hundreds of people died.  Within a few days, Putin announced sweeping legislative change that included, for example, the removal of gubernatorial elections.  Something similar is happening now.”

“Why the rush? […] It might be that something happened out of the public eye, something happened inside the system, some threat that Putin thought was coming his way so he decided to anticipate something he saw coming from below, a threat from his colleagues […] It does look like a special operation.”

“The predicament of the Russian people is that we are in the dark […] there is only one source of legislation in Russia: the collective government.  The Presidential Administration, the Government, the Ministries […] There is no Parliament, there is no deliberation, no discussion.  There is a top-down process […] a top-down rewrite of the rules that no one is allowed to participate in, and we are all left with what we are doing now – trying to figure it out post factum.”

Will Pomeranz

“This is not a retreat from a strong presidency […] when you look at Putin’s address to the nation, he emphasized the important role of unity yet again, and unity is the code word for top down legality and the power vertical.  If you look at Putin’s proposed amendments, they are all aimed at reinforcing the power vertical.”

“The power of the Procuracy is enhanced […] it has finally received Constitutional recognition of its powers of supervision, of being able to supervise the Constitutional system […] Putin has made the Procuracy almost an equal of the judiciary”

Matthew Rojansky

“We are being easily sucked in by terminology, the fact that we are speaking about Constitutions, amendments to laws […] all this gives a veneer of authoritarian modernity to this discussion.  But what we are observing is something that would have taken place at any point in the last 100 years of Russian history.”

“It’s clear that the resignation of the government was not about making way for Constitutional reform but instead, more than anything, about moving Dmitry Medvedev out of the position of Prime Minister”