NY Dispatches: Putin – president for life?

With today’s constitutional amendment that will set the number of his presidential terms back to zero, Vladimir Putin shocked Russian citizens, Russia-watchers and created even more ambiguity about his post-2024 plans. But this will come at a cost.

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NY Dispatches: Russia’s territorial integrity and the constitution

Vladimir Putin presented his amendments to his own constitutional reform bill yesterday. At the first sight the proposals seem to be worded to drive turnout in the constitutional referendum scheduled for April. But there is more to this text than a banal conservative agenda.

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NY Dispatches: The shape of the constitution

Friday was going to be the (extended) deadline for presenting amendments to Vladimir Putin’s constitutional reform bill that the State Duma adopted in the first reading in January. Pavel Krasheninnikov, the co-chair of the constitutional reform working group however announced that the deadline would most likely be pushed back to 2 March. This delay stands in contrast to the haste – merely a week from Putin’s first vague proposals – with which the reform bill was drafted and adopted in the first reading. But it makes sense. The cornerstones are already in place.

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NY Dispatches: Pompeo in Belarus

Last week US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo visited Minsk amidst an ongoing dispute between Belarus and Russia over the price of oil following the “tax maneuver”, a revamp of Russia’s system of taxing oil extraction and exports, which Belarusian president Alexander Lukashenko says will leave his country significantly worse off. Pompeo’s visit, while significant, was more a carefully choreographed political spectacle than anything else. Belarus’s way out of dependence on Russian oil will require take more time and determination.  Nevertheless, the Belarusian president certainly has plans and may have discovered something important about the conditions, in which he has to implement them.

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NY Dispatches: What we know and what we don’t

The past two weeks have seen seemingly transformative political developments happen at a breathtaking speed in Russia. Vladimir Putin proposed a series of constitutional reforms. In a little more than a week those reforms were spelled out in a draft law and adopted, in the first reading, by the State Duma. Dmitry Medvedev’s government resigned and was replaced by Mikhail Mishustin’s cabinet. Prosecutor General Yuri Chaika was dismissed and replaced by Igor Krasnov, a high-ranking official of the Investigative Committee. On Saturday the announcement of Vladislav Surkov, a flamboyant political technologist, erstwhile curator of domestic politics and overseer of frozen conflicts in Russia’s neighborhood that he was withdrawing from public service, came almost as a sign that Surkov didn’t want to miss out on all the action. With so much happening it might appear as if we now had a better picture of what the following years will bring in Russian politics. Actually, the changes have brought at least as many ‘knowns’ as they did ‘unknowns’.

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Putin’s endgame

Vladimir Putin unveiled a set of sweeping constitutional amendments, Dmitry Medvedev’s government resigned, Russia’s new prime minister is a little-known tax official and Chechen president Ramzan Kadyrov is “temporarily incapacitated”. And all of this happened within a couple of hours. It’s not surprising that Russia-watchers’ heads are spinning. There is indeed a lot to unpack, but the most consequential part of Putin’s proposals might not be what everyone seems to be focusing on.

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NY Dispatches: 2020 – plans and reality

According to an old adage, a political analyst is a person who is able to give a coherent prediction of what is going to happen in six months’ time, and also able to explain coherently, in six months’ time, why that prediction failed. But let’s not be cruel to political analysts. Or not only to them, says this political analyst. Other social scientist forecasters also make mistakes – especially when they are pressured by politicians, are trying to give predictions for several years ahead, or when they are asked to set ambitious targets. Or all three at the same time. Sometimes therefore it makes sense to take a step back and ask if the predictions have come true.

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