Moscow — President Vladimir Putin proposed major changes to Russia’s constitution on Wednesday that reignited speculation over the country’s future and how much power he’ll still have after his current term ends in 2024. Shortly after Putin’s announcements in his State of the Union Address, his entire cabinet, led by Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev, announced their resignations.
Putin thanked Medvedev for his service but said the government had failed to fully meet all of its goals. The resigning ministers were to remain in their offices until their replacements are appointed.
The surprise mass-resignation followed Putin’s proposal to give more power to the country’s lower house of parliament, the State Duma, to choose future prime ministers and other top government officials. Putin’s political allies hold a significant majority of the seats in the Duma.
Under existing law, the new cabinet and prime minister will be named by Putin himself as president.
The proposed constitutional changes would reduce the powers of Putin’s eventual successor, though he emphasized in his speech that Russia “must remain a strong presidential republic.”
He said his proposed constitutional reforms should be approved by a national referendum, but did not specify how or when such a vote would be held.
Putin, 67, has effectively been running the country as president or prime minister for 20 years. His fourth term ends in 2024 and the current constitution bans him from seeking another re-election. In his Wednesday remarks, Putin made it clear he would not seek changes to the constitution that would enable him to seek another term.
Political observers noted that Wednesday’s announcement marked the official start of Putin’s efforts to lay the groundwork for the unavoidable transition of power when Putin leaves office in four years.
The constitution currently bans anyone from serving more than two consecutive presidential terms, but Putin proposed Wednesday to limit future presidents to a maximum of two terms, total.
As mandated by law, Putin did not run for the presidency after his second term, becoming prime minister instead between 2008 and 2012. But while Medvedev was in the prime minister’s office during those years, Putin was still widely considered to be pulling the strings from behind the scenes. Medvedev then stepped down after one term and Putin was easily re-elected.
“The main things we heard today were that the presidential powers will be limited and that the powers will be redistributed among the governing bodies,” political analyst Kirill Rogov told CBS News. He noted that Putin said he intended to retain an official role after his term, but it remained unclear what future office he might hold.
“The system won’t stop being authoritarian,” Rogov predicted of the looming transition.
While his approval ratings have dropped significantly in recent years, Putin remains a popular leader in his country.