The Eternal President: Vladimir Putin

The Duma’s latest constitutional reforms have allowed for President Putin’s extended stay in power. Has Russia invested in a visionary leader?

On March 11th, 2020, the Russian Parliament (Duma) approved several changes to the Russian Constitution. In the amendments, the tenure of President Vladimir Putin is proposed to be reset, after his current tenure expires in 2024. Thereafter, future Presidents will be allowed two six-year terms in office. Thus, President Vladimir Putin can now technically remain in power till 2036. The amendments were passed with an overwhelming majority of 383–0 votes, with 43 abstentions.

According to Russian constitutional procedures the proposed changes shall now have to be approved by the Constitutional Court at Kremlin and thereafter ratified by a national referendum, scheduled for April 22nd, 2020.

Vladimir Putin (67) has been in power for 20 years, since December 1999. On earlier occasions, he had rejected the idea of becoming “President for Life”.

Who is Vladimir Putin? 

When the Berlin Wall fell in 1989, Putin was a mid-level KGB (Committee for State Security) officer, in Dresden, East Germany. With the disintegration of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics, he returned to St Petersburg, Russia and became closely associated with Boris Yeltsin. Later, when Boris Yeltsin became President, he was appointed as Director of KGB’s successor organization, the FSB (Federal Security Service). A year later, he was appointed Prime Minister and four months after that, when Boris Yeltsin resigned, he became President.

Assessment: Little was known of Vladimir Putin, prior to his gaining favor with Boris Yeltsin. Thereafter, his rise to Director FSB, PM and President, was meteoric. In President Vladimir Putin’s two decades in power, it is difficult to discount three singular achievements. Firstly, after the disintegration of the USSR, he succeeded in building a strong Russian state. Secondly, through deft geopolitical manoeuvres, he has re-established Russia, as a superpower. These skills were particularly visible in the Middle East, where the new axis involving Russia – Iran – Syria, has become a pre-dominant power in the region. Thirdly, he has consolidated his grip on domestic political power, with no significant contender.

Why have Russia’s relations with the west deteriorated?

After becoming the Russian President in 1999, Putin’s popularity with the West began to sour after the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq (2003). In 2013, Russia gave asylum to Edward Snowden, a fugitive from the United States, who allegedly leaked confidential information, belonging to the United States NSA (National Security Agency). In 2014, Russia’s involvement in the Ukrainian Revolution and the annexation of Crimea was widely condemned by the West. In 2016, during US Presidential elections, Russian intelligence was accused of interference; allegedly to harm the candidature of Hillary Clinton and boost the prospects of Donald Trump. In 2019, Russia managed to sell the Russian S-400 air-defence missile system to Turkey, a NATO ally. In more recent months, Russia’s support to the Libyan warlord Khalifa Haftar appears to be gaining ground against West-backed forces of the Government of National Accord (GNA).

Analysis: Amongst liberal Americans, there are many who believe that Edward Snowden stood up for transparency and accountability and should have been granted amnesty. In this case, it is surprising that Russia, the “home of communism”is upholding individual liberty, while the U.S., the “home of the free”, is defending nationalism with archaic sedition laws.

 The annexation of Crimea consolidated Russia’s control over Sevastopol, the main base of the Black Sea Fleet, with access to the Mediterranean Sea. Six years have passed since the United Nations General Assembly resolution affirmed Ukraine’s sovereignty over Crimea, but Russia’s annexation only appears to have consolidated. In the last four years, much fanfare was created about the involvement of Russian intelligence in the United States Presidential elections. All along, Russia denied these charges and the United States investigators have concluded that there was insufficient evidence to bring conspiracy or even coordination charges, against the Trump campaign. In the case of the S-400 sale, the United States threatened Turkey with dire consequences and even removed them from the US F-35 fighter aircraft program; but still fell short of halting the Russian sale.

 Assessment: In all these geopolitical confrontations, Russia under Putin’s leadership appears to have consolidated positions. Seen from the Russian point of view, President Putin’s achievements are nothing short of remarkable. President Putin has a charming personality, a keen intellect and a mastery over geopolitical strategy. By investing in another 16 years of Putin leadership, the Russian people are backing a winning horse!