Russian government resigns after President Putin proposes changes to constitution

Vladimir Putin delivers his annual address to the Federal Assembly 20 February 2019

It came out of nowhere.

"For the first time in history, we aren't trying to catch up with anyone", Putin said.

Russia's prime minister submitted his resignation Wednesday as part of a surprise government shake-up directed by President Vladimir Putin.

Mr Putin thanked Mr Medvedev for his work but said "not everything" had been accomplished.

"It's a golden parachute".

"The main result of Putin's speech: what idiots (and/or crooks) are all those who said that Putin would leave in 2024", grumbled frequently-jailed Putin gadfly Alexei Navalny.

In particular, Mr. Putin was angry that Mr. Medvedev had declined to use a United Nations veto in 2011 to block airstrikes against Libya, attacks that helped topple the government of Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi.

During a conversation between Assad and Putin at the Orthodox Church of the Virgin Mary in Damascus, the Syrian president referenced the Biblical story of St Paul's "Damascene conversion" on the road into the city. That enabled Putin to serve two more terms as president, another 12 years in total.

So what does he want instead?

Since Putin's latest reelection, in 2018, to a fourth and apparently final term, several highly placed officials - including the parliament speaker and Russia's chief justice - have hinted at the possibility of amending the Russian Constitution in a way that could bestow upon Putin an alternative role at Russia's helm or extend his presidency beyond 2024. But that won't happen yet.

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"This is to show that Putin trusts Medvedev, who has been at his side for many years now", said Aleksandra Godfroid, a journalist in Moscow.

But the recent shift of power to parliament appears to be a game changer that could dramatically alter this perception. "They'll be the same MPs, not much will change", says Sergei Goryashko of BBC Russian.

"I consider it necessary to conduct a vote by the country's citizens on an entire package of proposed amendments to the country's constitution", stated Putin.

Many noted Putin's suggestion to strengthen the role of the State Council in the constitution. It is so large that when it meets it fills a hall in the Kremlin. Russian Federation has struggled to improve performance on those in recent years amid low oil prices and western sanctions. He also suggested strengthening the power of the State Council, which he now heads.

Some suggested he could be laying the groundwork to assume a new post or remain in a powerful behind-the-scenes role. It sounds weird that Putin would want to limit the power of the office he holds, right? We are now nearly sure he will not remain president after 2024, it is which role he chooses to fill.

Medvedev is expected to become deputy chairman of Russia's Security Council.

What reaction has there been?

"It will be a public debate, definitely; the workings of the Constitutional Assembly will also be public because then there will be some kind of referendum or vote for these changes".

Fellow activist Lyubov Sobol was equally scathing: "Swapping some thieving guys for other thieving guys is neither reform nor regeneration".

Medvedev, a longtime Putin ally, served as Russia's prime minister since 2012.

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