Russian president proposes overhaul that could empower him after his term ends, as prime minister steps aside
MOSCOW—Russian President Vladimir Putin proposed sweeping constitutional changes that could set the stage for him to wield political power after his presidency ends, as his longtime ally, Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev, unexpectedly announced he was stepping down.
Mr. Medvedev’s resignation came after Mr. Putin earlier Wednesday laid out changes to Russia’s constitution that would limit the power of a potential successor if he steps down when his term ends in 2024. Mr. Putin also proposed boosting the role of the State Council, which he already heads.
Critics and supporters of Mr. Putin have speculated that the Russian leader could remain in control after his current term expires and guide policy in a different role, possibly as head of an empowered State Council.
“It’s not clear what role he will play, what will his status be. The only thing which is clear is that he will keep his role as the No. 1 person,” said Aleksei Chesnakov, a political analyst and former Kremlin aide.
Mr. Medvedev will stay on as prime minister until the new government is formed, Mr. Putin said on state television. He said Mr. Medvedev would be offered a newly created post of deputy chairman of Russia’s security council.
Mr. Putin proposed Mikhail Mishustin, a relatively unknown technocrat who has worked as head of Russia’s tax service since 2010, as the next prime minister, according to state news agencies. The Russian state Duma, or lower house of parliament, will consider his candidacy.
Russian stocks on the Moscow Exchange initially fell on the news of Mr. Medvedev’s resignation but quickly regained ground, with the MOEX Russia Index, the main ruble-denominated stocks benchmark, trading flat. The ruble was flat against the dollar.
Analysts said that Mr. Medvedev was likely ousted by Mr. Putin, who saw the biggest street protests against his rule in nearly a decade over the summer as Russians have felt the sting of chronic economic problems and falling living standards. While Mr. Putin has made decisions about defense and foreign policy, Mr. Medvedev has been responsible for domestic and economic policy.
“Medvedev had become quite toxic and unpopular for Russian people,” said Tatiana Stanovaya, founder of R.Politik, a political analysis firm.
She said that as Mr. Putin embarks on a potential transition from the presidency, he will need a figure who he can trust.
“This is an unexpected divorce between Putin and Medvedev,” said Ms. Stanovaya. “Putin is looking for somebody who can help implement his constitutional reform, through which he will want to control his future successor. And it appears Medvedev is not that person.”
The video (with English subtitles) tells the story of the corrupt empire of the chairman of the government of the Russian Federation and the United Russia party Dmitry Medvedev. Some ironically call him pathetic and use «Dimon» instead of his full name. But he is not pathetic. Through his puppet «charity foundations» Dmitry Medvedev owns real estate around the country, controls giant lots of land in the most elite districts, enjoys yachts and apartments in pre-revolutionary mansions, and receives profit from the agricultural companies and vineyards both in Russia and abroad.
Even before Russian President Vladimir Putin won reelection to another six-year term, there was growing speculation about how he intends to preserve his power and legacy after 2024. But with the nomination of Alexei Kudrin to the government’s central budgeting body, Putin’s long-term plan seems to be taking shape.
.. Putin’s nomination of former Finance Minister Alexei Kudrin to chair the Accounts Chamber of the Russian Federation. The selection of Kudrin for this role calls to mind former President Boris Yeltsin’s own search for a successor who would preserve his legacy and protect his family and fortune.
.. Yeltsin had amassed around $15 million while in office, and he ultimately put his trust in Putin – a former KGB man – to protect his children and his money, and to keep him out of prison.
.. Dmitry Medvedev, keep his seat warm until he could return to the presidency in 2012. A far more competent placeholder would have been Sergei Ivanov, a former KGB general. But Ivanov is much taller than Putin, who, at any rate, had only achieved the rank of colonel. An obvious potential threat to Putin’s power, Ivanov was passed over,
.. Despite his years in office, Medvedev is still known more for his fancy ties and expensive watches than for his executive actions.
.. In 2011, Kudrin resigned as finance minister after publicly suggesting that Medvedev was an incompetent fool.
.. Kudrin’s nomination as Russia’s chief accountant matters because it will give him – and thereby Putin – more knowledge of corruption. And with that, Putin will be able to manipulate anyone who may have future designs on the presidency, perhaps with the goal of reinstalling Medvedev as a placeholder after 2024.
.. siloviki – former Soviet military and intelligence officers – who make up the bulk of his cabinet and account for the Kremlin’s unchecked power over Russian political life.
.. By championing Russia’s military-industrial complex, Putin can keep the siloviki occupied and on his side. To that end, he has reinstated the World War II victory parades that were discontinued under Yeltsin. The events now grow more breathtaking and grandiose with each passing year.
But recent reports suggest that Russia’s military readiness is more fiction than fact. The “invincible” missiles that Putin has touted have apparently crashed during tests, and are thus little more than militaristic props. One conclusion to draw from these failures is that someone in the Ministry of Defense is stealing. There is no other plausible excuse for failing to deliver the weapons Putin ordered.
.. a new study finds that Russia’s defense and intelligence ministries are among the state’s most corrupt institutions.
.. Kudrin has clearly been installed to ensure that the “trusted” security apparatus can actually be trusted.
.. current defense minister, Sergei Shoigu, is probably now in the Kremlin’s crosshairs.
.. Shoigu looks like a man in charge. But that poses a problem for Putin’s own claim to be the protector of the Russian nation. There can be only one brave leader who saves people from Siberian tigers and hang-glides with endangered Siberian white cranes.
.. Though Shoigu’s Siberian-Mongolian ancestry effectively disqualifies him from being elected by the country’s vast majority of ethnic Russians, Putin is not one to take chances.
.. If a rival from the security establishment were to assume the presidency, he could choose to build his own legacy, rather than honor Putin’s. It is up to Medvedev and Kudrin, the rare civilians in Putin’s inner circle, to make sure that doesn’t happen.
For a time, this naming and shaming campaign worked remarkably well and led to less corruption and increased share prices in the companies we invested in. Why? Because President Vladimir Putin and I shared the same set of enemies. When Putin was first elected in 2000, he found that the oligarchs had misappropriated much of the president’s power as well. They stole power from him while stealing money from my investors. In Russia, your enemy’s enemy is your friend, and even though I’ve never met Putin, he would often step into my battles with the oligarchs and crack down on them.
.. After Khodorkovsky’s conviction, the other oligarchs went to Putin and asked him what they needed to do to avoid sitting in the same cage as Khodorkovsky. From what followed, it appeared that Putin’s answer was, “Fifty percent.” He wasn’t saying 50 percent for the Russian government or the presidential administration of Russia, but 50 percent for Vladimir Putin personally. From that moment on, Putin became the biggest oligarch in Russia and the richest man in the world, and my anti-corruption activities would no longer be tolerated... Sergei went out and investigated. He came back with the most astounding conclusion of corporate identity theft: The documents seized by the Interior Ministry were used to fraudulently re-register our Russian investment holding companies to a man named Viktor Markelov, a known criminal convicted of manslaughter. After more digging, Sergei discovered that the stolen companies were used by the perpetrators to misappropriate $230 million of taxes that our companies had paid to the Russian government in the previous year... I had always thought Putin was a nationalist. It seemed inconceivable that he would approve of his officials stealing $230 million from the Russian state. Sergei and I were sure that this was a rogue operation and if we just brought it to the attention of the Russian authorities, the “good guys” would get the “bad guys” and that would be the end of the story... However, instead of arresting the people who committed the crime, Sergei was arrested... Sergei’s captors immediately started putting pressure on him to withdraw his testimony. They put him in cells with 14 inmates and eight beds, leaving the lights on 24 hours a day to impose sleep deprivation. They put him in cells with no heat and no windowpanes, and he nearly froze to death. They put him in cells with no toilet, just a hole in the floor and sewage bubbling up... A week before he was due to have surgery, he was moved to a maximum security prison called Butyrka, which is considered to be one of the harshest prisons in Russia. Most significantly for Sergei, there were no medical facilities there to treat his medical conditions... After more than three months of untreated pancreatitis and gallstones, Sergei Magnitsky went into critical condition. The Butyrka authorities did not want to have responsibility for him, so they put him in an ambulance and sent him to another prison that had medical facilities. But when he arrived there, instead of putting him in the emergency room, they put him in an isolation cell, chained him to a bed, and eight riot guards came in and beat him with rubber batons… In his 358 days in detention, Sergei wrote over 400 complaints detailing his abuse. In those complaints he described who did what to him, as well as where, how, when, and why. He was able to pass his hand-written complaints to his lawyers, who dutifully filed them with the Russian authorities. Although his complaints were either ignored or rejected, copies of them were retained. As a result, we have the most well-documented case of human rights abuse coming out of Russia in the last 35 years.
.. As I thought about it, the murder of Sergei Magnitsky was done to cover up the theft of $230 million from the Russian Treasury. I knew that the people who stole that money wouldn’t keep it in Russia. As easily as they stole the money, it could be stolen from them. These people keep their ill-gotten gains in the West, where property rights and rule of law exist. This led to the idea of freezing their assets and banning their visas here in the West.
.. American families came with big hearts and open arms, taking in children with HIV, Down syndrome, Spina Bifida and other serious ailments. They brought them to America, nursed them, cared for them and loved them. Since the Russian orphanage system did not have the resources to look after these children, many of those unlucky enough to remain in Russia would die before their 18th birthday. In practical terms, this meant that Vladimir Putin sentenced his own, most vulnerable and sick Russian orphans to death in order to protect corrupt officials in his regime.
.. Information from the Panama Papers also links some money from the crime that Sergei Magnitsky discovered and exposed to Sergei Roldugin. Based on the language of the Magnitsky Act, this would make Putin personally subject to Magnitsky sanctions.
.. This is particularly worrying for Putin, because he is one of the richest men in the world. I estimate that he has accumulated $200 billion of ill-gotten gains from these types of operations over his 17 years in power. He keeps his money in the West and all of his money in the West is potentially exposed to asset freezes and confiscation.
.. The second reason why Putin reacted so badly to the passage of the Magnitsky Act is that it destroys the promise of impunity he’s given to all of his corrupt officials.
.. Before the Magnitsky Act, Putin could guarantee them impunity and this system of illegal wealth accumulation worked smoothly. However, after the passage of the Magnitsky Act, Putin’s guarantee disappeared.
.. Boris testified in front of the U.S. Congress, the European Parliament, the Canadian Parliament, and others to make the point that the Magnitsky Act was a “pro-Russian” piece of legislation because it narrowly targeted corrupt officials and not the Russian people. In 2015, Boris Nemtsov was murdered on the bridge in front of the Kremlin.
.. Boris Nemtsov’s protégé, Vladimir Kara-Murza, also traveled to law-making bodies around the world to make a similar case. After Alexander Bastrykin, the head of the Russian Investigative Committee, was added to the Magnitsky List in December of 2016, Vladimir was poisoned. He suffered multiple organ failure, went into a coma and barely survived.
The lawyer who represented Sergei Magnitsky’s mother, Nikolai Gorokhov, has spent the last six years fighting for justice. This spring, the night before he was due in court to testify about the state cover up of Sergei Magnitsky’s murder, he was thrown off the fourth floor of his apartment building. Thankfully he survived and has carried on in the fight for justice.
.. I’ve received many death threats from Russia. The most notable one came from Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, in 2013. When asked by a group of journalists about the death of Sergei Magnitsky, Medvedev replied, “It’s too bad that Sergei Magnitsky is dead and Bill Browder is still alive and free.
.. last year when a group of Russians went on a lobbying campaign in Washington to try to repeal the Magnitsky Act by changing the narrative of what had happened to Sergei. According to them, Sergei wasn’t murdered and he wasn’t a whistle-blower, and the Magnitsky Act was based on a false set of facts.
.. Who was this group of Russians acting on behalf of the Russian state? Two men named Pyotr and Denis Katsyv, a woman named Natalia Veselnitskaya, and a large group of American lobbyists, all of whom are described below... Veselnitskaya, through Baker Hostetler, hired Glenn Simpson of the firm Fusion GPS to conduct a smear campaign against me and Sergei Magnitsky in advance of congressional hearings on the Global Magnitsky Act.
.. As part of Veselnitskaya’s lobbying, a former Wall Street Journal reporter, Chris Cooper of the Potomac Group, was hired to organize the Washington, D.C.-based premiere of a fake documentary about Sergei Magnitsky and myself. This was one the best examples of Putin’s propaganda.