The reshuffle has shaken the political elites of Russia, which wildly speculated about Putin’s intentions and future cabinet agreements.
A constitutional reform announced by Putin indicated that he was building a new government position for himself after his current six-year term in 2024, although it remains unclear what specific path he will follow to maintain leadership.
Putin has been in power longer than any other Russian or Soviet leader since Josef Stalin, who led from 1924 to his death in 1953. Under current law, Putin must resign when his current term ends.
Alexei Navalny, Russia’s most prominent opposition leader, tweeted that Putin’s proposals reflected his intention to “rule until he dies.”
Putin proposed to amend the constitution to offer lawmakers the opportunity to appoint prime ministers and cabinet members. The president currently has the authority to make those agreements.
In a speech to the group in charge of drafting the amendments, Putin stressed that they are intended to “strengthen the role of civil society, political parties and regions in making important decisions about the development of our state. “
“The role of parliament will grow and the interaction between parliament and the cabinet will increase,” he said.
At the same time, Putin claimed that Russia would not remain stable if it were governed by a parliamentary system. The president must retain the right to dismiss the prime minister and cabinet ministers, to appoint top defense and security officials, and to lead Russian military and law enforcement agencies, he said.
In his speech, Putin said that the constitution should also specify the authority of the State Council, consisting of regional governors and top federal officials.
Observers speculated that Putin would try to maintain leadership by returning to the prime minister’s seat after he had expanded the powers of parliament and cabinet and shortened the presidential authority. Others suggested that he could also try to continue as head of the Council of State.
Another possible option is a merger with neighboring Belarus that would create a new position of head of a new unified state. That prospect that has been rejected by Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko, an autocratic ruler who has been in power for over a quarter of a century.
Putin said the constitutional changes should be approved by a public vote, but officials said it was not a referendum and it was not immediately clear how it would be organized.
Top speaker Valentina Matviyenko said that lawmakers will rush work on the constitutional change and complete it in the spring.
Observers say that Putin’s attempt to amend the constitution four years before the end of his term of office may reflect the concern of the Kremlin that his popularity may suffer from a stagnant standard of living. Parliamentary elections are scheduled for 2021, but some speculated that an early vote could be held.
Putin kept his old ally Medvedev in his close circle and appointed him to the newly created position of Deputy Head of the Presidential Security Council.
Medvedev served as president in 2008-2012, keeping the seat warm for Putin, who continued to call the shots as prime minister when he was forced to resign due to time limits. Under Medvedev, the constitution was amended to extend the presidential term from four years to six, although it limits the leader to two consecutive terms.
53-year-old Mishustin is a career bureaucrat who has worked as a tax chief for the past 10 years, has remained unobtrusive and has shown no political ambitions. He has gained a good reputation among experts who have praised him for encouraging tax collection and streamlining the rigid Russian tax administration system.
Mishustin promised to focus on social issues and improve living standards.
“We have all the resources needed to achieve the president’s goals,” he told lawmakers before the vote. “The president wants the cabinet to lead economic growth and to help create new jobs. Increasing real incomes is a priority for the government. “
Daria Litvinova in Moscow contributed to this report.
Vladimir Isachenkov, The Associated Press