16/01/2020 7:08 PM IST | Updated 16/01/2020 7:08 PM IST

What Putin's 'Out Of Character' Abrupt Power Move Actually Means

On Wednesday, the entire Russian government resigned. Here's why.

Russian President Vladimir Putin during his state of the nation address 

It may be a brand new decade, but the world’s so-called “super-powers” are still up to the same old tricks. 

Britain is at war with itself over whether Big Ben should bong over Brexit (yes, really), Donald Trump is in the process of being impeached over alleged dodgy dealings with Ukraine and tensions between the US and Iran are escalating. 

So of course, it was clearly time for Russia to get involved in some drama. 

On Wednesday – out of the nowhere – Russia’s prime minister Dmitry Medvedev resigned, along with his entire government. “It was a complete surprise,” one government source told the BBC.

It came after the country’s president Vladimir Putin suggested serious and fundamental changes to the constitution – a move critics have speculated will allow him to cling on to power after he has to give up the presidency in 2024, the end of his fourth term in office. 

So, to put it lightly, things are kicking off in Russia right now. Here’s what you need to know. 

What Changes To The Constitution Has Vladimir Putin Suggested? 

In his state of the nation address on Wednesday, Putin proposed a radical shake-up of Russia’s political system. 

Among the suggested changes was the possibility of amending the constitution to give politicians – rather than the president – the power to name the prime minister and cabinet ministers. 

“It will increase the role of parliament and parliamentary parties, powers and independence of the prime minister and all cabinet members,” Putin said. 

Meanwhile, he called for an increased role for the State Council, an advisory body made up of top federal officials that he currently chairs. 

All of these changes should be put to a nationwide vote, Putin said. 

Why Does Putin Want To Change The Constitution?  

Alexei Nikolsky via Getty Images
Putin has been president of Russia since 2012

OK, to summarise: Putin – the president – has suggested moves to make the president… less powerful? What gives? 

While it may look bizarre, critics reckon this is actually a bid by Putin to *retain* power.

Under current rules, he will have to step down as president in 2024, the end of his second consecutive term in office (though he was also president from 2000 to 2008). 

Experts believe these changes could be an attempt by Putin to carve out a position for himself at Russia’s helm after his presidency ends, while also reducing the power of any future president. 

One theory suggests he could try and continue to pull the strings as leader of Russia’s State Council. 

Meanwhile, others have predicted he will attempt to become prime minister – a role he held briefly in 1999 and for four years between 2008 and 2012. 

Putin “never had any intention of stepping down at the end of his term in 2024”, Bill Browder – an American-born financier and outspoken anti-Kremlin activist – told HuffPost UK. “He’s been looking for a way to stay in power”. 

His main way to do this was by changing the constitution, Browder said. 

Prime minister Dmitry Medvedev and his government resigned in the wake of Putin's comments on Wednesday 

“However, his choice of firing Medvedev and dismissing his government four years before the end of his term was an abrupt move which is entirely out of character,” he continued. 

“He’s a very risk averse person who almost never does anything like this. It suggests that there is something under the surface that he’s deeply afraid of. What that is won’t be obvious to outsiders and may never be.”

So, What Is Going On With The Russian Government? 

Putin has named Mikhail Mishustin as the next prime minister 

Following Putin’s speech on Wednesday, Dmitry Medvedev resigned as prime minister, along with the rest of his government. 

Putin and Medvedev have been allies for a number of years. When Putin had to step down as president in 2008 – the end of his second term in office – Medvedev took over the role. 

He then used his power to name Putin as prime minister – a move critics slammed as an imposed job-swap without input for the electorate. For many, during Medvedev’s years as president – 2008 to 2012 – he may technically have been in power, but it was Putin who really held the reigns. 

Putin's time in power – a timeline 

In a speech on Wednesday by Medvedev – during which he sat next to Putin – he said he had to resign as prime minister in light of the president’s proposed changes. 

Putin has now named Mikhail Mishustin – the little-known head of Russia’s tax service – to replace Medvedev as prime minister. Approval by the Duma – Russia’s lower house of parliament – is almost guaranteed, analysts have said. 

They have also suggested that, given Mishustin has no political experience, he is likely to dutifully carry out the Kremlin’s wishes. 

Infographics supplied by Statista