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The Russian government just resigned. Here’s what you need to know

Russian PM and government resign after Putin calls for constitution changes
WATCH: Russian PM and government resign after Putin calls for constitution changes

The Russian prime minister submitted his resignation on Wednesday in a surprise government shakeup.

Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev’s announcement came shortly after President Vladimir Putin proposed changes to the constitution that would allow him to extend his rule in another capacity after his term ends in 2024. While sitting next to Putin, Medvedev said on state television that he was stepping down to give Putin space to make “all the necessary decisions.”

“When these amendments are adopted, most likely after the discussion as it was said, they will substantially change not only many articles of the constitution but also the balance of power – executive, legislative and judicial,” said Medvedev.

Russian President Vladimir Putin (C-L) speaks with Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev (C-R) at the 73rd anniversary of Nazi Germany’s invasion of the Soviet Union at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier at the Kremlin walls in Moscow, Russia, June 22, 2014.
Russian President Vladimir Putin (C-L) speaks with Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev (C-R) at the 73rd anniversary of Nazi Germany’s invasion of the Soviet Union at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier at the Kremlin walls in Moscow, Russia, June 22, 2014. Maxim Shipenkov / EPA

“Under the circumstances, it would be correct for the entire government of the Russian Federation to resign in accordance with Article 117 of the constitution.”

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Putin accepted his resignation and said Medvedev would stay on with the Russian government as deputy chairman of the security council.

Medvedev was the president for one term between 2008 and 2012 before taking on the role of the prime minister, which Putin described as “probably the longest stint in this post in Russia’s recent history.”

How does the Russian government work?

Much like the United States or Canada, Russia has a constitution. Adopted in 1993, the constitution says presidents are elected on six-year terms on the basis of “universal, equal, direct suffrage by secret ballot.”

Whoever is elected president has the power to appoint the government’s chairman, with permission from the State Duma — the lower house of the Federal Assembly of Russia, similar to Canada’s House of Commons.

There is also an upper house, known as the Federation Council. Its main focus is exercising legislative power.

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Russia’s Putin says he wants changes to Ukraine constitution

What does Putin want changed?

Currently, the president needs the consent of the State Duma to appoint the country’s prime minister, who then appoints the head of the cabinet, deputies and all the ministers.

In the president’s address to the federal assembly on Wednesday, Putin proposed sweeping changes that included allowing the State Duma to appoint the prime minister, as well as all deputy prime ministers and federal ministers at the prime minister’s recommendation.

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Putin also suggested the president have a say in these appointments, in order to dissuade future presidents from turning down candidates approved by the Russian parliament.

The proposed changes would significantly expand the influence of the prime minister.

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Putin, who is in his fourth term as president, came to power in the year 2000. After two terms, he was required to step down. He became prime minister for one term in 2008 before resuming his presidency in 2012. Should he choose to go that route again — and should his proposed amendments pass — Putin could retain power as prime minister.

Aurel Braun, a professor of international relations and political science at the University of Toronto Munk School of Global Affairs and Public Policy, said it was highly unlikely Putin would give up his power after the end of his term.

“There was always this question of succession, and if he can’t succeed constitutionally, what would he do? Would he just abandon the constitution? Would he violate the constitution? Who would succeed Putin? Today he gave us an answer,” said Braun.

“If he takes over as prime minister, when he finishes in 2024 as president there will be a much more powerful prime minister position.”

READ MORE: Russian PM and government resign after Putin calls for constitution changes

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For Putin, now 67, the government shakeup was akin to hitting two birds with one stone. Braun said the president was dissatisfied with Medvedev’s performance after a rocky year for the Russian economy. His ousting would allow him to both demonstrate his power and bring in someone more reliable, Braun said.

“[Putin] certainly wants to show that he is indispensable. And his way of doing that is to do that by demonstrating the enormous power that he has,” said Braun, who described Putin’s announcement as showing “an extraordinary amount of power that doesn’t happen in democracy.”

“He wouldn’t need to use so many subterfuges and so much informality, and have this clumsy or unwieldy institutional mechanism to control the country. And it’s all about, therefore, the desire of Vladimir Putin to stay in power so he can do it by this constitutional mechanism and be the prime minister.”

Several Russian politicians have heavily criticized the amendments, claiming the proposed changes were all part of Putin’s plans to remain in power after he leaves his post at the end of his term.

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Dmitry Gudkov, an opposition politician, tweeted Putin was “re-arranging everything around himself now” instead of waiting for the election outcome in 2024.

“Constitutional coups like this occur and are completely legal,” Gudkov said on Twitter.

In a series of tweets following the announcement, another opposition politician, Leonid Volkov, argued that Putin was trying to deceive voters.

“It’s clear to everyone that everything is going exclusively towards setting Putin up to rule for life,” he said on Twitter. “Voters will not buy it.”

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Putin acknowledged the drastic changes to the political system but insisted they were necessary moving forward.

“Considering the maturity of our main political organizations and parties as well as the reputation of civil society, I believe these proposals are justified,” he said.

Putin concluded his speech by stating the amendments needed parliamentary approval, in line with the existing procedure and constitutional law. He urged the executive, legislative and judicial branches to put his recommendations to a “popular vote,” where the public will have the option to either approve or deny all of the proposed constitutional amendments.

Other proposals to the Russian government included boosting the president’s power to appoint all security agency heads and giving the Federation Council the power to dismiss constitutional and Supreme Court judges for misconduct, stripping them of their judge status.

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— With files from Reuters.