Putin Saw a World in Turmoil and Decided It Needs More Putin

Andrey Biryukov and Evgenia Pismennaya

(Bloomberg) -- Vladimir Putin changed his mind and backed a plan to allow him to run for two more presidential terms because of the current turbulent period in the world, his spokesman said, in the Kremlin’s first public explanation of a move that would let him rule until 2036.

“The situation in the world has become less stable,” spokesman Dmitry Peskov told a conference call Thursday. He cited the coronavirus pandemic, the risks of “global recession,” numerous “acute regional conflicts” and western sanctions as among the factors that led to Putin’s decision.

“In these difficult years, the stability of the authorities, the firmness and consistency of government have huge significance,” he told reporters. “In such hard years, some countries have taken decisions to allow the incumbent president to remain on his path into the future.”

Putin has had a hand in some of the latest turmoil, setting off a price war in the oil market by refusing last week to agree to deepen output cuts in a deal with other major producers and fueling a crisis earlier this year with Turkey over the civil war in Syria. Peskov didn’t explain why the Russian leader felt the current instability will continue to be a factor requiring his continued rule four or more years from now.

Putin had previously said he would respect term limits, meaning he would have had to step down in 2024, even as he left the door open to take another role to retain control. But Tuesday he reversed himself and backed a constitutional amendment that would exempt him from the restrictions. While Putin had been widely expected to find a way to extend his 20-year rule, he had previously suggested he would likely step down as president.

‘Our Advantage is Putin’

Under the new plan, Putin, 67, would be allowed to run for up to two more terms, opening the way for him to remain president until 2036, when he would be 83. Peskov said Putin hasn’t yet announced whether he will run again in 2024.

“I doubt these arguments will be seen as convincing,” said Mikhail Vinogradov, a St. Peterburg political analyst. “Now it’s coronavirus, but there was a time when the Icelandic volcano erupted and they suspended air service. These things happen but it’s no reason to change the constitution.”

The amendments were approved by parliament this week and are expected to go to a national vote next month after Putin signs them and the Constitutional Court signs off. They would take effect immediately.

“Today, with the challenges and threats that are out there in the world, it’s not oil and gas that are our advantages,” Speaker Vyacheslav Volodin told members of the State Duma Thursday. “Our advantage is Putin and we should defend him.”

Despite the apparent alarm about coronavirus, Peskov said the Kremlin isn’t currently considering changes to its plans for the constitutional vote next month or the May 9 festivities to commemorate the 75th anniversary of the end of World War II. The government Wednesday recommended canceling public events because of the risk of spreading the virus.

“The Putin regime is a classic personalistic autocracy of the Latin American or Asian type, which always uses current circumstances to justify cracking down,” said Andrei Kolesnikov, analyst at the Carnegie Moscow Center. “They assume that an authoritarian system deals with crises more confidently.”

(Updates with parliament speaker quote in ninth paragraph)

To contact the reporters on this story: Andrey Biryukov in Moscow at abiryukov5@bloomberg.net;Evgenia Pismennaya in Moscow at epismennaya@bloomberg.net

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Gregory L. White at gwhite64@bloomberg.net, Tony Halpin

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