Vladimir Putin is unlikely to stay on as Russia’s president beyond 2024, but he’s even less likely to simply give up power.
Why it matters: That’s what we do know after Wednesday’s surprise shake-up, announced during Putin’s state-of-the-nation address. We still don’t know what role he’ll officially take, or how Moscow’s power structure will shift once he makes his move.
Catch up quick: With term limits looming and anxiety building over the coming transition, Putin moved a few pieces around the chessboard while clearing plenty of space for himself.
- Putin’s plan would strip some presidential powers and give them to the parliament while increasing the authority of the State Council. Some analysts speculate that he might take charge of that body, which had been fairly obscure.
- He picked a new prime minister — Mikhail Mishustin, a little-known bureaucrat who previously led Russia’s tax service — following the resignation of his long-time lieutenant, Dmitry Medvedev.
- Medvedev, who is deeply unpopular but has proved a useful scapegoat, will become deputy chairman of the Security Council.
Between the lines: “This is not about a succession plan,” says Alina Polyakova of the Brookings Institution. “This is about consolidating power.”
- Putin is already less involved in day-to-day governance than he once was, she says, focusing more on “pet ideas and foreign policy.”
- Polyakova says the big remaining question is whether he will recede further into the background in a new role, perhaps as chairman of the Security Council.
- The constitutional changes would hand diminished powers to his successor as president.
What to watch: I recently asked a number of top experts what they expect beyond 2024 for our “20 Years of Putin” series.
- Dmitri Trenin of Carnegie Moscow told me that once the transition begins, “everyone will see that this guy is not for the future, which means that his real power will wane."
- Mikhail Khodorkovsky, the oligarch infamously jailed by Putin in 2003, disagreed: "He will be in power as long as he can. The methods he can use will vary, but he will be very keen to stay in power as long as he’s alive."
- Daniel Fried, a longtime diplomat and Russia expert, noted: “If you break down institutions, every succession is a crisis.”
The bottom line: “He’s got what I call the King Lear problem," Fried added. "How do you go into retirement comfortably after you’ve done the things King Lear has done? There’s a reason people are out to get you."
Go deeper: 20 Years of Putin Part 1; Part 2