20 years under Putin: a timeline

Experts discuss what Vladimir Putin’s latest address means personally for the president and for the future of the Russian political system.


Most experts seem to agree that Vladimir Putin's future post will be head of the State Council. Photo: kremlin.ru.


Ella Paneyakh, sociologist, Facebook

“As many political experts predicted, Putin is making it possible to move the center of power somewhere away from the presidential chair and to switch seats. This necessitates large-scale reforms of the formal political structure. Declared amendments to the Constitution open the path to three such configurations: the chair [of the Federation Council] with new powers; or the head of the State Council, whose constitutional functions are still to be established; or an attempt will be made, as someone put it, “to evenly smear the plate” of the legal powers—that is, to create a system of checks and balances between different parts of the current power vertical, so that the ‘father of the nation’ could preside as arbitrator over them.”


Aleksei Makarkin, deputy director of the Center of Political Technologies, RBC

“Whom can Putin become after his departure from the presidency? The most popular version is that he will head the State Council. Actually, it's difficult to imagine Putin as speaker of the State Duma, giving the floor to another one of [Vladimir] Zhirinovsky’s performances. The power of the Federation Council is expanding (the president will consult with the upper chamber of the parliament when making appointments in the siloviki bloc, and in addition, senators will be able to dismiss judges), but not as much as the power of Duma. The decision to become prime minister, possible in 2007, is now unlikely—back then, the rapid growth in the country seemed like it would last for years, if not decades. Now the situation is fundamentally different. There is less optimism, and the [prime minister] post as the one responsible for economic matters, is far less attractive.”


Leonid Bershidsky, journalist, Bloomberg

“By proposing curbs on presidential powers, Putin opens three paths for himself after 2024 that are less straightforward than a direct prolongation of his powers, as has occurred in Belarus and several ex-Soviet Central Asian nations. One is to become a prime minister with strengthened powers and stay on indefinitely. Another is to try running the country from the parliament speaker’s chair. The third is to govern from behind the scenes as the leader of the parliament’s dominant party — the way Jaroslaw Kaczynski, leader of the Law and Justice Party, runs Poland.”


Yekaterina Schulman, political scientist, Current Time 

“This is what political scientists call a “Kazakh transition scenario”—a certain distribution of presidential authority between collective organs and the possibility for the preceding president to retain аn honorary title, while being indirectly associated with personnel-related powers. In our case, apparently, it’s the chairman of the State Council—that is, [the proposed reforms] look similar to the scheme that so far works successfully in Kazakhstan… Now everyone is going to think that the new prime minister is the future successor. But I wouldn’t make that claim just yet. I don’t think that’s true. And the second thing I would not do: I wouldn’t write off Dmitry Medvedev. He received an interesting position, as already announced by several high profile officials… And third, I wouldn’t make personnel forecasts. It seems to everyone that names are the most important thing. But this isn’t the case. Structural changes are more important.”


Grigory Golosov, political scientist, Facebook 

“There is a discussion that Putin’s “constitutional ideas” don’t mean anything because Putin will still want to remain president. I don't rule out that everything will come to this. If he wants to stay, that’s what authoritarianism is for. As for theory, the set of democratic institutions is strictly limited precisely because they [are meant to] effectively establish limits. They define the rules and in a democracy, politicians don’t want institutions to be too complex or for the overall design to be too self-contradictory. Authoritarian institutions are simulations. You can put any cherry on this cake, and the more complicated, the more incomprehensible it is for the domestic and international public, the better the autocracy’s disguise. And the better the disguise, the greater its “legitimacy.” Such is the nature of legitimacy under authoritarian conditions.”


Konstantin Sonin, economist, Facebook

“In recent years, [Russia’s] political leadership has been defined by a powerful “homeostatic force”—a force aimed at preserving the status quo. This force stems from those individuals who are completely content with it—from those who capitalize off of military and state contracts, from the “new nobility” (officials who live like tsars) to those who consider [Russia’s] current foreign policy a dream come true. But with each year of stagnation, the “progressive force” grows—stemming from those devout Putinists and officials who believe that there will be no growth and at some point everything will collapse. These [two forces] aren’t two factions, because the same person can be in both at once. It seems to me that the resignation of Medvedev’s government is the result of a clash of these forces.”