guriev24_ Peter KovalevTASS via Getty Images_putin broadcast Peter Kovalev/TASS via Getty Images

Putin’s Meaningless Coup

The message of Vladimir Putin’s call in his recent state-of-the-nation speech for a constitutional overhaul is not that the Russian regime is going to be transformed; it isn’t. Rather, the message is that Putin knows his regime is on the wrong side of history – and he is dead set on keeping it there.

PARIS – Vladimir Putin may be setting himself up to remain Russia’s leader well beyond the end of his presidency, to no one’s surprise. In his annual state-of-the-nation speech earlier this week, he laid out a roadmap for overhauling Russia’s political institutions, implying a major constitutional shakeup. The entire cabinet, led by Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev, immediately resigned.

Putin’s proposals were vague and at times self-contradictory. But they provide valuable insights into his plans for after 2024, when his second consecutive term – and legally his final one – ends. For starters, Putin would shift powers from the president to the State Duma (the parliament), and transfer substantial, as-yet-unidentified powers to a Putin-led State Council (not mentioned in the Constitution) and Security Council (mentioned but not described in the Constitution).

Other proposed changes include the suppression of constitutional checks and balances, the virtual elimination of judicial independence, the loss of autonomy for municipal governments, and the priority of Russian legislation over international obligations. The Russian Constitution is very clear that only a Constitutional Assembly may change these foundational principles of Russia’s political system. Putin said that he would not convene one. In this sense, his speech laid out an open and transparent plan for a coup, or, more precisely, what political scientists call a self-coup, or autogolpe – once a favorite tool of Latin American caudillos.

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