Vladimir Putin’s vision for a stable Russia

Vladimir Putin’s vision for a stable Russia

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ELIZABETH BUCHANAN

Vladimir Putin attends a ceremony marking the 75th anniversary of the lifting of the Leningrad siege during World War II at the Boundary Stone monument, about 50km east of Saint Petersburg. Picture: AFP

There has been a frenzied response to Vladimir Putin’s announcement of extensive constitutional changes for the Russian Federation. Analysts have debated how he will retain his grip on power when his presidency ends in 2024.

But these assessments are wide of the mark. The holy trinity for Putin is stability, certainty and security. They are the foundation of the Russian President’s succession planning. If we unpack the constitutional changes flagged by Putin with these principles in mind, it is evident his endgame is far from consolidating power or entrenching his autocratic rule.

It is too simplistic to assume Putin plans to install himself as ruler for life. There is a much deeper layer here. This is about a larger effort to protect the system that Putin’s power enabled him to build. Putin’s plan is not a Machiavellian effort to cling to power; it is about fortifying Russia and future-proofing the system.

A Russian president will no longer hold the mandate to appoint the prime minister. This power sits with parliament. In a bid to strengthen Russian institutions against foreign interference, candidates can’t have foreign passports or foreign residence permits. This bars Alexei Navalny from becoming president due to his US residence while at Yale.


As a man with deep respect and knowledge of history, Putin knows power transition in Russia often ends in chaos. These constitutional changes are aimed at ensuring the system remains stable and secure, serving Russia long after Putin. This is also about legacy; not only does Putin want to protect himself, his family and close associates, he seeks to protect the Russia he built from the ruins of the 1990s. He seeks his own legacy in the history books as the leader who guided Russia out of perpetual revolution and into a system of stable government.

Some cite the changes as evidence of Putin’s effort to consolidate his regime. Yet the changes are really a move towards liberalising Russia’s governance model. Power will no longer be concentrated in the presidency and what we will witness is the dismantling, by Putin, of the top-down “power vertical” model he installed and cultivated since coming to power in 2000. Power will be decentralised away from the executive (presidency) and spread across the legislative (parliament), prime ministership and the beefed-up and elevated State Council.


Russia’s parliament confirmed Mikhail Mishustin as the country’s new prime minister after President Vladimir Putin proposed constitutional changes. WSJ explains how the reshuffle could extend Mr. Putin’s grip on power after his term ends in 2024.


The presidency will be further gutted via a cap on two presidential terms. There will be no other Putin. Nor will there be another Putin-Medvedev style of tandem leadership. Medvedev would be able to serve only one more presidential term given his 2008-12 presidency. A Russian president will no longer hold the mandate to appoint the prime minister. This power sits with parliament. In a bid to strengthen Russian institutions against foreign interference, candidates can’t have foreign passports or foreign residence permits. This bars Alexei Navalny from becoming president due to his US residence while at Yale.


Putin has pulled off a masterstroke of political manoeuvring packaged as succession planning. The international audience is distracted by pre-existing expectations of Putin when the reality is that he is indeed overhauling Russia’s governance institutions. If Putin succeeds in future-proofing the system, he will be able to step back (although not away) and let the system flourish.

Putin will remain positioned to guide and intervene if need be to move the system back on track. Whether he will do this from the position of State Council chairman or head of a legislative body is any one’s guess. The devil will be in the detail of these sweeping (yet still quite vague) constitutional changes. It is evident succession planning is well under way in Russia. But we won’t know Putin’s next move until he makes it. And of course, that’s part of Putin’s plan.

Elizabeth Buchanan is a lecturer in strategic studies with Deakin University, supporting the defence and strategic studies course at the Department of Defence’s Australian War College.

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