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What are Putin's plans behind the reform proposal that toppled part of the …

by Ace Damon
What are Putin's plans behind the reform proposal that toppled part of the ...

Hours after Russia's President Vladimir Putin proposed a constitutional reform that could prolong his stay in power, Prime Minister Dmitri Medvedev and his cabinet resigned.

If approved in a referendum, the proposal would transfer powers from the Presidency – which Putin occupies until 2024, when his fourth term in office ends – to the Russian Parliament.

During his annual State of the Union address, Putin stated that the Duma, the lower house of parliament, would gain "more responsibility" and would participate in choosing the prime minister and his cabinet.

Today, it is up to the president to do this – Duma only approves of the choice or not.

Putin also proposed a more prominent role for the Council of State, the advisory body today headed by the president.

The Prime Minister's Resignation

A few hours later, Medvedev announced his resignation on state television in a broadcast alongside Putin.

"These measures will bring substantial changes not only to a number of articles of the Constitution, but also to the balance of state power, the power of the executive, the legislature and the judiciary," he said.

"In this context, the government in its current form resigns," he added.

Putin thanked Medvedev for his work and invited him to be head of the National Security Council, a position also held today as president.

The prime minister was replaced by the head of the Russian IRS, Mikhail Mishustin.

Russian government sources told the BBC that ministers did not know about the cabinet's massive resignation before the announcement.

"It was a complete surprise," said one source.

Medvedev served as president between 2008 and 2012, when he and his political sponsor Putin reversed roles and took over as prime minister.

Opposition leader and strong critic of the government, Alexei Navalny said any change to the constitution would be "fraud" and that Putin's intention with the proposal would only be "to perpetuate himself forever in power."

The last referendum in Russia dates back to 1993, when Russia approved the constitution written under Putin's predecessor Boris Yeltsin – which he assumed after his resignation in 1999.

Since then he has remained in power as president or prime minister.

What does Putin want?

Analysis by Sarah Rainsfor, BBC correspondent in Moscow

President Putin likes stability.

So the news that the entire government resigned at the same time was a big surprise.

For a moment, it was like a flashback from 1990s Russia, when Yeltsin changed his prime ministers as he changed his clothes.

But Vladimir Putin is not a Yeltsin, and his announcement is designed as a plan to consolidate – and extend his stay – in power.

Until then, it was unclear what he would do after the end of his current term in 2024. This is still partly true, but the constitutional changes he proposes give some clues in this regard.

On the one hand, it wants to turbocharge the status of today's unimpressive Council of State, already headed by it. On the other, it intends to reduce the president's powers – which could signal his intention to be prime minister again.

Whatever its purpose, it may need to make the idea of ​​continuity more palatable to the Russian population in the face of the economic and social problems that the country is going through that could not be beaten in its pronouncement.

If Putin is seen as responsible for the current situation, the Russians may begin to wonder why they should support him in power after 2024. In that sense, Dmitri Medvedev, who has been so helpful to him, can be a convenient scapegoat.

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