Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev and his government resigned on Wednesday, just hours after President Vladimir Putin announced a proposal for radical constitutional changes that would give the parliament more powers and possibly pave the way for the Kremlin leader to remain in power under a different role after His term ends.
Putin accepted Medvedev's resignation and appointed him to a newly created position: deputy head of the National Security Council, a measure that seemed to be a degradation of the prime minister. The council oversees the country's security services.
Medvedev, 54, has been seen as a close ally of Putin. He previously served as president from 2008 to 2012, during which time he appointed Putin as his prime minister. He became Putin's prime minister in 2012.
Putin nominated the head of the federal tax service, Mikhail Mishustin, to replace Medvedev. The nomination must be approved by parliament.
The government shake came only a few hours after Putin made his annual speech on the state of the nation before his cabinet ministers, members of the Russian parliament and regional leaders.
In that speech, Putin proposed to change the constitution to give parliament the right to appoint prime ministers and cabinet members. Currently, the Russian president appoints the prime minister and his cabinet, while the Duma, the Russian parliament, votes for the approval of their nominees. He also proposed creating a State Council,
The Russian president would retain the ability to dismiss those positions under the changes proposed by Putin.
Putin said the changes to the constitution should be submitted to a national "popular vote." If approved, it would be a significant change of power, which he said would be "key to the progressive development of society."
Putin, 67, has been in power for 20 years as president or prime minister. His current six-year term ends in 2024, and much has been speculated about what the former KGB officer has planned for Russia's political future.
The Russian constitution restricts presidents to two consecutive terms, with what Putin said Wednesday that he agreed. His statement ended the rumors that emerged last month during his annual marathon press conference when he suggested that the phrase in the constitution on serving two terms "in a row" could be changed.
With Wednesday's proposal to change the constitution, Putin launched the transition of power, said Alexey Makarkin, deputy director of the Center for Political Technologies, a group of experts in Moscow.
Putin's announcement hinted that he could be establishing the Russian political system to allow him to find a new position of power, perhaps as prime minister again with someone else in a role of reduced presidential powers, Makarkin said.
"The Medvedev government was unpopular due to pension reform and a stagnant economy," Makarkin said. “Putin estimates that the new government will become popular. It is possible that the new prime minister is a candidate to succeed Putin as president. "
Regardless of who the next president will be, the new president will not have all the power that Putin now has, Makarkin said.
Putin's power change proposal comes after a series of major anti-government protests this summer in Moscow and other cities. Protesters took to the streets to protest the refusal of the Central Election Committee to register opposition candidates in the September regional elections, especially in the Moscow city council.
Police arrested and beat thousands of protesters. Russian courts then sentenced some 20 protesters to jail for mass riots and other charges.
The protests showed growing frustrations in Russia over the lack of political expression and accusations of government corruption. Russia's economy has stagnated due to lower world oil prices and the impact of Western sanctions imposed after the Kremlin annexed the Crimean peninsula of Ukraine in 2014. The average Russians are feeling the economic crisis as they Inflation increases and real income decreases.
"It seems that Putin is preparing to leave the presidency (either in 2024 or even earlier), and is currently trying to create a security mechanism for his successor in case of conflict," Tatiana Stanovaya, analyst and Founder of the expert group R. Politik wrote on his Facebook page. "At the same time, Medvedev is getting rid of, which has become toxic to the elite and the general population, this should facilitate the transition period."
Ayres is a special correspondent.