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'Radical' change afoot as Vladimir Putin makes state address

“Sweeping constitutional reform” proposed by Russian President Vladimir Putin has the potential to radically reshape Russian politics but is likely to increase uncertainty in the short term, according to a leading academic.

Sam Greene
Dr Sam Greene, director of the Russia Institute at King's College London.

Dr Sam Greene, director of the Russia Institute at King’s College London, says changes put forward by Mr Putin in his annual address to the Federal Assembly could lead to “radical reconfiguration of Russian politics”.

Mr Putin made his address in Moscow on 15 January.

Among the biggest changes proposed by Mr Putin is an apparent shift of power from the presidency to the Russian parliament – including the Duma (lower house) and the Federation Council (upper house).

Dr Greene said: “The crux of Putin’s annual address is what looks to be a reasonably sweeping constitutional reform. The really big one is a shift of government and ministerial accountability from the presidency to the parliament. Under the revised constitution, the Duma would select the prime minister and approve most ministers, and the president would be obliged to appoint them.

“On the face of it, this would shift power from the presidency — which would now be strictly limited to two terms — to the parliament.”

Dr Greene says the series of changes proposed by Mr Putin could well be the president “setting himself up to rule by other means” when his term of office ends in 2024.

However, Dr Greene says the future remains uncertain and there is no guarantee the proposed changes would achieve their aims.

Dr Greene said: “This is, and remains, a risk-averse system of power, the cardinal rule of which is not fixing things that aren’t broken. Putin and the elites whose interests he protects know that centralising power in the presidency works, more or less. Putin and his elites do not know – cannot know – that a reconfiguration of power will work equally well, or that it will do anything other than deepen the pressures they’re already facing.”

Dr Greene concluded: “This is yet another exercise in keeping all options open. Rather than pointing to a clear future for Russian politics, Putin’s reform allows actors to imagine a multiplicity of futures — and thus forces them to prepare for all of them. The actual future is still anyone’s guess.”

Putin and his elites do not know – cannot know – that a reconfiguration of power will work equally well, or that it will do anything other than deepen the pressures they’re already facing– Dr Sam Greene

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Samuel Greene

Samuel Greene

Director of King's Russia Institute & Reader of Russian Politics