kolesnikov10_Mikhail SvetlovGetty Images_putinangry Mikhail Svetlov/Getty Images

The Eternal Putin

Amid a coronavirus pandemic and looming global economic crisis, Russian President Vladimir Putin has suddenly revealed how he intends to remain in power beyond 2024, when what should be his final term in office ends. In doing so, Putin seems to have bet – not incorrectly – that there is simply no one who can stop him.

MOSCOW – Thanks to legislation just passed by Russia’s parliament, Vladimir Putin now looks set to remain president until 2036, when he turns 83. He may even attain the status of “paramount leader,” on the model of China’s Deng Xiaoping in the 1970s. But no one should expect Deng-style reforms or modernization from Putin.

There was never any doubt that Putin would find some mechanism to prolong his presidency beyond 2024, when he is obliged to step down in accordance with the constitutional limit of two consecutive terms. There was speculation that Putin might circumvent the rules by becoming president of a new country created by a merger of Russia and Belarus. But while a closer union with Belarus is still an option, its own longtime president, Alexander Lukashenko, is unwilling to become merely the governor of a Russian province. Lukashenko may be a dictator, but he has committed decades to building a Belarusian nation-state.

Another possibility was that Putin would increase the powers of the State Council and then become its permanent chairman, thus assuming the role of Father (or, rather, Grandfather) of the Nation. But that model could generate perpetual conflicts with whomever fills the presidency. By simply resetting the clock on the constitutional term limit, the new legislation offers a far simpler solution. To be sure, the amendment now must be affirmed by Russia’s Constitutional Court and then by a nationwide referendum. But with Putin controlling both the court and the ballot box, a positive outcome is a foregone conclusion.

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