Vladimir Putin has killed too many people to just step aside as Russian President

Vladimir Putin has killed too many people to just step aside as Russian President, by the Economist.

Russia’s President took Kremlin watchers by surprise late on Wednesday (AEDT). In his annual state of the union speech, he announced a radical overhaul of the Russian constitution and a referendum on its proposed (and still unclear) terms. This bombshell was followed by another. Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev resigned along with the entire cabinet. …

To understand what might be going on, start with a simple fact. In the past 20 years, Putin’s regime has killed too many people and misappropriated too many billions to make it plausible that he would ever voluntarily give up ­effective power. Under the constitution, he cannot run again for president when his term expires in 2024, since no one is allowed more than two consecutive terms. So everyone has always assumed that one way or another he would game the rules to remain top dog.

He already has form on this. His first two terms as president ran from 2000 to 2008. Term-limited out for the first time, he became prime minister for four years, during which time Medvedev served as a distinctly neutered president. In 2012 Putin was back in the suddenly re-empowered presidency, and he was re-elected to a second term in 2018. The only enigma has ever been what job he would jump to in 2024. …

Russia is a dictatorship masquerading as a democracy. Putin’s electoral successes owe much to years of economic growth (now brought to an end by corruption, uncompetitiveness, the end of the oil boom and Western sanctions) and the popularity of his reassertion of Soviet-era ­imperium. But they owe perhaps even more to state control of television, the barring of popular opposition candidates, the co-opting of tame opposition parties, and the arrests and intimidation dished out to the less tame ones. The murder of political opponents is no way to foster genuine competition for power.

Whether Putin is president, prime minister, head of the State Council or honorary chairman of the National Bridge Association (the post through which Deng Xiaoping ruled China for years after stepping down from his more prestigious offices) makes a lot less difference than it would in a real democracy.