Russian President Vladimir Putin named a little-known new prime minister and proposed a constitutional shake-up on Wednesday as he announced sweeping changes that fuelled speculation about his future plans.
In a shock announcement, Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev said his government was stepping down after Putin used his annual state of the nation address to propose constitutional reforms that would strengthen parliament’s role.
Putin quickly nominated Mikhail Mishustin — the long-serving head of Russia’s tax service and seen as a technocrat — to form a new government. Lawmakers were due to meet Thursday to begin reviewing his candidacy.
Speculation swirled about how the changes might affect Russia’s political system and potentially allow Putin to stay on after 2024, when he is due to step down after a fourth Kremlin term.
Some suggested he could be laying the groundwork to assume a new post or remain in a powerful behind-the-scenes role.
The state of the nation address saw Putin propose the first significant changes to the country’s constitution since it was adopted in 1993.
Putin said he wanted to see more authority transferred to parliament, including the power to choose the prime minister and senior cabinet members, instead of the president as under the current system.
The powers of the State Council, an advisory body, would be expanded and residency requirements tightened for presidential candidates and other top officials.
“Today in our society there is a clear demand for change,” Putin said in his address.
The package of reforms would be put to a national vote, he said, without specifying when.
“We will be able to build a strong, prosperous Russia only on the basis of respect for public opinion,” the 67-year-old leader said.
A few hours later, Medvedev and Putin appeared alongside each other on national television to say the government was stepping down.
Medvedev said the constitutional proposals would make significant changes to the country’s balance of power and so “the government in its current form has resigned”.
“All further decisions will be taken by the president,” he added.
Putin thanked Medvedev — who also served as Russian president for four years from 2008 — and suggested that he take on a role as deputy head of Russia’s Security Council, which Putin chairs.
“Russia has entered its period of power transition ahead of schedule,” said Tatiana Stanovaya, head of the R.Politik analysis firm.