by Olivia Smith
What you can do:
- Continue to read and educate yourself about current Russian politics and Putin’s agenda.
- If interested, read about Putin’s main competitor, Alexei Navanly, who is currently in prison on hunger strike. https://www.bbc.com/news/world-europe-16057045.
- Follow Alexei Navalny, on youtube where he posts videos exposing Putin and commentating on Russian politics https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCsAw3WynQJMm7tMy093y37A. Most of the videos have English captions.
On December 31, 1999, Russian President Boris Yeltsin unexpectedly announced his resignation and named Vladimir Putin as acting president . In March of 2000, Putin won the elections with about 53% of the vote, promising to end corruption and create a strongly regulated market economy . He was easily reelected in March 2004. In 2007, Putin’s political party, United Russia, won an overwhelming majority of seats, and international observers called into question the fairness of the elections. Nonetheless, the results affirmed Putin’s power within the Russian government . Due to a constitutional provision in 2008, Putin was forced to step down, and he chose Dimitry Medvedev as his successor, with Putin accepting the position of chairman of the United Russia party before being nominated by Medvedev as the country’s prime minister . Despite Medvedev being the president, Putin was still regarded as holding most of the power within the Kremlin, effectively maintaining control while avoiding consecutive term limits . Putin ran again for president in 2012 and was elected to a third term, triggering a wave of protests . He was reelected in 2018, his fourth presidential term, which continues today, bringing us to April of 2021, when he signed a constitutional amendment enabling him to remain president through 2036, despite being in power for more than two decades now .
Russia’s 1993 Constitution only allows for two consecutive terms as president, which would have required Putin to exit office by 2024 . However, in January of last year, Putin proposed a series of constitutional amendments, one of which would reset his term-limit clock so that he could run for two additional six-year presidential terms beginning in 2024 . To clarify, Putin can run for two more terms from 2024 – 2036 because the two terms he served from 2012 to 2024 will not count toward the 1992 constitution consecutive term limit. Lawmakers approved the new constitutional amendment last month, which Putin signed recently, officially creating a new law enabling him to remain president until 2036 assuming he wins the next two elections . In other words, Putin would have been in power for 24 straight years as president and 32 years in the position of president total.
Putin proposed this amendment to the constitution in 2020, along with a series of amendments aimed at strengthening the position of the president, granting himself new powers in the judicial and legislative selection process. Now, the president can demand that the Federation Council, which is the upper house of parliament) dismiss justices in the Supreme and Constitutional courts . Initially, the judiciary was intended to be an independent branch, allowing for checks and balances within the Russian government. However, after Putin’s reform, the president can now arbitrarily replace judges, which will undermine the legitimacy of any decision by the courts. Furthermore, judges will be easily influenced by the will of the president for fear of being removed from office . Another one of Putin’s reforms will increase the president’s veto power. Before the reform, when a president vetoes a law, the legislature can override the veto. But after the constitutional reform, the president has the power to appeal the legislature’s override in the Constitutional Court, thus giving the president another chance to veto the law. Putin’s new opportunity to override a veto in court, combined with the ability to dismiss justices from the judiciary, gives him a much stronger role in the law-making process .
Putin can only change the constitution after a nation-wide vote, where Russian citizens will directly vote on the amendments previously mentioned . Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny urged his supporters to boycott the voting. On his blog he wrote, “Do not expect a good result, and most importantly, do not be discouraged when it is announced on television that the whole country wants eternal Putin” . The vote, held in 2020, ratified the constitutional reforms with a 68% turnout and 78% of those taking part voted in favor of the changes . The Kremlin downplayed the amendment allowing Putin to run again for presidency in 2024 and potentially remain in power until 2036, instead highlighting changes that it knew Russians would be more enthusiastic about, including promises of increased state support (welfare and benefits) for citizens . Despite Navalny’s consistent campaign efforts to mobilize the Russian people, according to the Levada Centre poll, Putin’s approval rating has only dropped one percentage point. However, within the younger Russian generations, the poll highlighted significant dissatisfaction, with 48% of 18-24 year-olds saying the country was moving in the wrong direction .
Putin’s political career can be characterized by questionable foreign policy choices, with some examples including his involvement in the Ukraine and multiple attempts to influence foreign elections, causing apprehension with regards to his extended presidency. In 2014, Putin sent Russian special forces to occupy Ukraine’s Crimean peninsula under the claim that he wanted to protect Russia’s port access to the Black Sea . Coincidentally, Ukraine had just announced plans to develop Crimea’s natural gas reserves in a partnership with US companies, which would inevitably have caused Russia to lose one of their largest customers . He illegally annexed Crimea, in what has been the biggest land grab in Europe since World War II . Putin’s actions within Crimea and Ukraine have been condemned by the international community, specifically NATO and the E.U, complete with sanctions by both institutions. In April of this year, as Russia amasses the largest concentration of Russian forces on Ukraine’s borders since 2014, Biden responds with a statement, asserting Washington’s unwavering commitment to Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity, calling Russia to de-escalate tensions . The United States continues to monitor Russia, as Secretary of State Antony Blinken remains in NATO’s headquarters in Brussels, Belgium. NATO has been sending Ukraine arms and training Ukrainian troops in an attempt to demonstrate their support .
The international community is also deeply troubled by Putin’s attempts to influence foreign elections as a way to assert his own agenda. In 2016, Putin had suspicious involvement in the US presidential election. Months before the election, a series of high-profile hacking attacks targeted the US Democratic Party and its presidential nominee, Hillary Clinton . These attacks included the leakage of thousands of private emails, and American computer security experts tied the attacks to Russian intelligence services . The US Federal Bureau of Investigation opened a probe into Russian efforts to influence the presidential election, examining the possible connections between those efforts and the campaign of the Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump . US intelligence agencies ultimately concluded that Putin ordered a multi-pronged campaign to influence the election in Trump’s favor, but Putin denies the existence of any such campaign .
In France, Putin seemingly carried out similar tactics, as National Front candidate Marine Le Pen received financial support from a bank that had ties to the Kremlin . Le Pen had previously vowed to end sanctions enacted after Russia’s illegal annexation of Crimea . Putin also launched a massive media campaign known as “MacronLeaks” in an effort to sway voters to vote for Le Pen. Although unsuccessful, the fact that Putin continues to meddle in other countries’ elections to promote personal interests remains troubling.
Putin’s aggressive occupation of Ukraine and attempts to influence foreign elections are just a few of the reasons why the international community is concerned about Putin continuing with his presidency until 2036. Presidential terms are limited for a reason, and it is troubling when leaders seem to indefinitely extend those terms, begging the question of whether he will ever step down, and where his aggressive foreign policy will take Russia next?