The whole Russian government just resigned

Tsar Putin: Bare-chested Vladimir wearing the old tsar’s crown (courtesy of our artist, Tutu).

Is Putin turning himself into a tsar? The entire Russian government has resigned as Vladimir Putin proposes constitutional reforms. Critics say he is guaranteeing himself power for life.

President Vladimir Putin has announced his plans to offer Russians a vote on major constitutional changes.

Despite some ministers being unaware of the plans, they all showed their support in a surprising way. The entire government, including Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev, handed in their resignations immediately.

One Russian reporter explained the move: “Revolution has to be made swiftly, even if it’s a revolution from above.”

The proposed reforms include a two-term limit on future presidents and more power being given to the Russian parliament.

While, at first glance, the changes suggest that Putin is looking to curtail the influence that any successor might have, another body, the State Council, would also gain more influence.

Analysts have said that after he steps down, Putin might put himself in charge of the State Council, becoming the “godfather” of Russian politics.

Domestically, the former KGB officer is still a popular figure, credited with returning Russia to the world stage, providing order and a degree of economic stability after the chaotic years that followed the collapse of the Soviet Union.

While his regime has been justly criticised for its repressive measures, he represents the sort of strong leader that Russia has long been synonymous with – from all-powerful tsars, such as Catherine the Great, to revolutionary icons like Lenin.

The ice-cool and forceful 67-year-old might be an even more significant leader abroad.

With his armed interventions in the Middle East and his meddling in Western elections, he has proven that strongmen can still have a major impact in the 21st Century.

To many, he “embodies the politics of grievance” that unites the worldview of many Trump supporters and Brexit advocates, for example.

The former deputy prime minister of Italy called Putin “one of the best political men of our time”. A BBC radio show debated whether or not he was the “Man of the Millennium”.

With that sort of domineering track-record, there is little wonder he sees himself fit to remodel the Russian constitution. But is he doing so to turn himself into a modern tsar?

Power play

Putin has been behaving like an emperor for years. Whether by shutting down dissenting organisations or imprisoning journalists, Russia’s democracy has not been fully functional for some time. Even after he fades from public view, he will be the one in charge. A longtime confidant of his told the Financial Times that “he thinks things will collapse without him”. Expect him to be around for a long time yet.

On the other hand, Putin is expected to step down from the presidency in 2024. Constitutional reform could be his attempt at leaving a functioning system behind him. He is a shrewd political operator, not a flamboyant monarch. For all his flaws, his power is anything but inherited. As an avowed populist, he rails against the tsars of the modern age: globalist politicians and liberal billionaires.

You Decide

  1. Do you think it is ever right for one person to stay in power for more than 15 years?
  2. Could you ever imagine a single leader trying to guarantee themselves life-long power in your country? Why or why not?

Activities

  1. Putin is the most obvious example of a “strongman” in world politics. Is appearing strong crucial in a political leader? Split the class in two and debate the question.
  2. Imagine you are putting together the policies for a future Russian government. In groups, make a list of the fair and democratic measures you could take to limit Putin’s influence on your government.

Some People Say...

“I shall be an autocrat: that’s my trade. And the good Lord will forgive me: that’s his.”

Catherine the Great (1729-1796), Empress of Russia

What do you think?

Q & A

What do we know?
Putin has been in power since 2000. There was a short period between 2008 and 2012 when he allowed his ally, Medvedev, to be president. The new Russian prime minister is Mikhail Mishustin, a bureaucrat who successfully transformed Russia’s tax office. In 2019, Putin had the lowest approval ratings of his time in office. The last tsar of Russia, Nicholas II, was executed by Bolshevik revolutionaries in 1918.
What do we not know?
We cannot be sure of Putin’s true intentions. The newly empowered national council has not had significant power in the past, so it is unclear what it will be able to do in the future. We do not know whether the former government cabinet ministers are excited or angered by the changes.

Word Watch

Constitutional
The set of rules that govern an entire nation.
Term
Length of time that a leader is in power.
Curtail
Limit, withhold.
State Council
Set up by Putin in 2000, this body of the Russian state advises the country’s leader on matters of national importance.
KGB
Security service of the former Soviet Union, performing a hybrid of intelligence and police functions.
Soviet Union
Major power of the 20th Century, centred around Russia, run by a single Communist Party.
Tsars
Supreme rulers of Eastern European countries. The term was technically only used to refer to the rulers of Russia between 1547 and 1721.
Catherine the Great
Famous 18th-Century empress who led Russia to being a great European power.
Lenin
Revolutionary and political theorist who took control of Russia following the revolution of 1917.
Strongmen
A strongman is a type of authoritarian political leader.
Confidant
A person with whom one shares a secret, trusting them not to repeat it to others.

Subjects

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