Russia: Putin's plans under scrutiny

The constitutional amendments and government reshuffle announced by Vladimir Putin are the subject of intense discussion. Commentators try to decipher what role the new prime minister Mikhail Mishustin - previously head of the tax authority - will play. Among the many sceptical voices there are also those who take a rather positive view of Putin's plans.

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The Guardian (GB) /

Strengthening Duma makes Russia more democratic

The Guardian takes a cautiously optimistic view of the Kremlin boss's actions:

“If the Duma becomes more powerful relative to the president, legislative elections will become more competitive. This is not because of some inherent democratic spirit but rather political self-interest. People who want to make a difference will be attracted to institutions that give them that opportunity. ... Putin will eventually make his exit - and if the reforms announced take place, he will leave behind a political system that can provide opportunities for the kind of real political competition that has been absent from Russia for the last 20 years.”

Die Welt (DE) /

A chance to remedy dysfunctional policies

Pavel Lokshin, Moscow correspondent for the daily Die Welt, sees the Kremlin boss's actions as cause for cautious optimism:

“With the appointment of Mikhail Mishustin as prime minister and his proposed changes, Putin is putting a new grid of checks and balances in place for Russia's dysfunctional policies. A grid that could outlast him. ... This redistribution of power could help to provide the two major camps of the ruling Russian elite, the representatives of the security ministries and those of the economically liberal economic bloc, with a new arena for reaching consensus. …. Neither of the two factions can claim [Mishustin] for themselves. This is a step forward compared with Medvedev, who was considered a liberal. And a clear message from the Kremlin to the Russian elite: it's time for compromises.”

Azonnali (HU) /

Mishustin impartial and obedient

Azonnali can also understand the decision to appoint Mishustin as prime minister:

“Mishustin positioned himself cleverly, he didn't get involved in the trench warfare of domestic politics and didn't even make a big effort to climb to a top position. These factors were probably enough for Putin to consider him a suitable candidate. ... Moreover there is no danger of the former tax authority chief becoming too powerful for Putin's liking. It's more likely that as a good civil servant he will continue to follow the guidelines set by Putin.”

Radio Kommersant FM (RU) /

The state needs pressure to reform

Radio Kommersant FM sees the new prime minister facing a dilemma:

“His task is not only to overcome poverty, but also to improve the popularity of state power. You can only get so far with digitalisation - reforms are also needed. But how can you introduce reforms when hardliners are making things hard for business and any form of local self-administration is effectively lacking? People here are used to delivering percentages in return for material well-being in elections. ... The state power is now in a situation where it will be risky for it to create nothing but the appearance of change. ... One wonders: is there a plan, a strategy?”

Ukrajinska Prawda (UA) /

The Kazakhstan blueprint

Ukrayinska Pravda is sceptical and suspects Putin is following the example of the leader of a neighbouring country:

“Most likely he will do what Nazarbayev did in Kazakhstan. Shortly before his resignation Nazarbayev expanded the powers of the Security Council [which he chairs]. ... The new president of Kazakhstan must now agree with Nazarbayev on all important appointments and decisions. He has also had his role as 'leader of the nation' enshrined in the constitution. ... If Putin decides to, no one will stop him being enshrined in Russia's constitution as 'leader of the nation', or even as 'leader of Greater Russia'.”

Gazeta Wyborcza (PL) /

Putin will continue working as Putin

For Gazeta Wyborcza it's clear that Putin is preparing for the end of his time in office:

“The president wants the constitution to elevate the 'status of the State Council'. The mention of this peculiar advisory body with its nebulous mandate is potentially an important announcement. For some time now, observers in Moscow have been asking themselves from where Putin 'will continue working as Putin' in 2024, in other words as leader of the nation with a firm grip on power. ... Perhaps he will be sitting in the boss's chair at the State Council, which he will have endowed with generous powers by that time? Or perhaps he's assuming that he will have it better as prime minister, and that's why he's so hesitant to define in detail the role of the government, the council and parliament after the 'transfer of power'?”

Ekho Moskvy (RU) /

A preemptive strike by the many-headed dragon

In a blog post for Echo of Moscow opposition politician Dmitry Gudkov is also convinced that despite all the smoke and mirrors, Putin will keep a tight grip on the reins:

“It's pointless to discuss now which post has been weakened or which authority has been strengthened: they are all just different heads of the Zmei Gorynich [a many-headed dragon that appears in Russian fairy tales], all attached to the same body and tail. Putin has decided not to wait and risk a disorderly transition period, but to act now. He is tailoring everything to his own interests so that he can avoid the torment of elections. Overturning the constitution can also be achieved through completely legal means.” (HR) /

The tsar has another two or three decades in power

Russia is sliding even deeper into the swamp of authoritarianism, concludes:

“This is not good news for anyone, but it's truly terrible for Russian citizens, who in one fell swoop have been stranded several decades further away from democracy. The main characteristic of authoritarian regimes is the fear of its citizenry and a resulting lack of legitimacy. It seems that Vladimir Putin has found a way to get around this problem, at least for the time being, and has brought Russia under his permanent, absolute control. Putin is now 67, which means that he could remain as 'tsar' for another two to three sad decades.”

Dagens Nyheter (SE) /

Dictatorial power through democratic means

For Dagens Nyheter the recent goings-on in Russia are symptomatic:

“No one should believe that Vladimir Putin would even consider surrendering power before he actually wants to. In Turkey, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan is perpetually stifling democratic controls to stay in power year after year. For example in 2017 with a referendum that looks a lot like Putin's most recent move. We believed that democracy would defeat the dictatorship, that ballot papers were mightier than the sword. But now dictators are using ballot papers to cling to power.”

Der Bund (CH) /

Risky manoeuvre

Russia's president must take care not to jeopardise the country's domestic stability, warns Der Bund:

“Although confidence in the president has dropped significantly in recent years, it remains high and forms the backbone of his state. Russians trust the prime minister and the government far less, however, and they don't trust parliament at all. Also, it remains to be seen what role Putin will decide to play in this game. Does he plan to assume the powerful position of prime minister in four years' time? He has done this before, but it didn't go down well with the people and led to the mass demonstrations. Putin is not the kind of man who makes the same mistake twice. We can therefore assume that the last word on changing the guard has yet to be spoken.”