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10 Mar, 2020 20:38

Keeping all options open or a power grab? Mixed reaction to potential 2024 Putin Presidential run

Keeping all options open or a power grab? Mixed reaction to potential 2024 Putin Presidential run

Is Vladimir Putin trying to become Russia's 'leader for life' or perhaps the Russian President wants to create the appearance of keeping all options open to avoid becoming a 'lame duck' before his current term ends in 2024?

Well that depends on who you ask. For her part, Valentina Tereshkova, who proposed the 're-set' of presidential term limits in Russia's lower house of parliament (the State Duma) on Tuesday says she was motivated by public demand. 

“Ordinary people simply asked for it. They asked," said Tereshkova, better known internationally for having been the first woman in space. She also expressed confidence that the Constitutional Court will approve her amendment. Putin said this bodies' acquiescence is a pre-requisite for his agreement. As well as the support of citizens in the national vote on constitutional changes, slated for April 22.

Also on rt.com Putin has no objection to possibility of running for president in 2024

Nobody seriously believes the court will put a spoke in the wheels, and polls show the public is prepared to back the proposals. 

The changes to Russia's principal law, among other things, also include redistributing some powers away from the president to the parliament, banning state officials from having foreign citizenship and setting the minimum wage above the basic cost of living.

The reaction to Tuesday's developments has been diverse, to say the least. 

"Watching Vladimir Putin for more than 20 years, I have noticed: at all times and in all circumstances, Mr. Putin seeks to secure maximum freedom of political maneuver and maximum power in his own hands," columnist Mikhail Rostovsky wrote in Russia's best-selling newspaper Moskovsky Komsomolets. 

"It is not understood yet how exactly he will use this freedom. But it’s known that Mr. Putin will be guided to a very large extent when making his fateful decision (or fateful decisions) by the position of the voters," Rostovsky elaborated, pointing out that the electorate has the chance to reject the constitutional changes if it so desires, and will also be able to choose the next president. 

"Neither God, nor the king, nor a hero will help us," he concluded. "Only 'His Majesty the Voter,' filled with the realization that the fate of the country is truly in his hands."

‘It was obvious Putin would never leave power'

Meanwhile, business daily Vedomosti was far less optimistic about weight of public opinion. "To the many options for maintaining power after 2024, Vladimir Putin added the simplest: remaining president until old age," it warned in an editorial. 

"[If he stays until 2036], Putin may become the longest-serving leader in the duration of his rule in Russia over the past three centuries," it continued.

Opposition minded newspaper Novaya Gazeta was even stronger in its denunciation. "It was obvious to any person with a functioning brain that Putin would never leave power," wrote Yulia Latynina. "This was the reason for the amendments to the Constitution: it wasn't for the sake of the amendments themselves, which they drafted just to create discussion, but for the sake of the possibility of canceling the presidential term [limits]."

"Putin announces that he is ready to stay forever for the sake of stability, and the ruble collapses, all in one day," she added. "Really guys? Is that what you call stability?" 

Latynina was referring to the sharp fall in Russia's currency, against the Dollar and the Euro, when Moscow markets opened on Tuesday morning, before Putin's speech. It followed the long weekend holiday for 'International Woman's Day' and was primarily driven by the dramatic drop in oil prices. 

However, her viewpoint isn't shared by Tina Kandelaki, a well-known journalist and TV personality. "Today, Vladimir Putin is the president of Russia with a rating and legitimacy that allows him to pursue an independent foreign and domestic policy," she ventured on RT's Russian service. "There are still four years left on his [current] term, after which we will all decide who will be our president for the next 6 years."

"I would like to repeat that the question of who will lead our country depends entirely on us," she continued. "Each time at the polling station, we have a chance to determine the vector of development of the country and who will be the people who will lead the country at different levels."

Alexander Baunov, of Carnegie Moscow believes it was a well-rehearsed move, with it no accident that Tereshkova made the first move, given her fame and status. "What is happening now is unprecedented in Russian history," he tweeted. "The head of state is openly announcing that he is prepared to find a way of staying in the presidential post even after the timeframe set by the law has expired—and that he plans to stay for a long time."

Yet Putin is a master of keeping his options open. The Tereshkova amendment will allow Putin to seek a 5th term, but doesn’t oblige him to," he added. "By refusing to fully commit himself, he avoids becoming a lame duck & keeps speculation about a potential successor to a minimum."

‘Trolling the West’

It's hardly a secret that Putin also divides opinion in the West, where his government is often dubbed a "regime" by critics. Of course, many Westerners, including a number of prominent politicians, also express open admiration for the Russian leader. 

“It's a very delicate trolling of our Western partners,” Aleksey Mukhin, the head of Moscow's Centre for Political Information believes. "[Putin has] left [the option to run again] open for himself so that our Western partners remain on their toes.”

It's a very slick move, which will cause a strong negative reaction that will, however, be absolutely in vain.

‘It doesn’t mean he’ll actually run’

The head of the Institute of Socio-Economic and Political Studies, which is also based in the Russian capital, clarified that the vote on April 22 wasn't actually about prolonging Putin's presidential term, but only about amending the constitution.

Putin running for office again is only a distant prospect, Dmitry Badovsky reckons. “Him realizing the opportunity of being elected again depends on many things, including the situation within the country, developments in the international arena and his personal aspirations.”

But Badovsky warned Putin's critics in West that they themselves may unwittingly force him into putting himself forward for a fifth term through what he views as their aggressive policies towards Russia. Badovsky explains this sort of confrontation will only increase Russian voters' demand for a strong leader. 

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