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Putin is brazenly trying to make himself president for life

By Editorial Board


RUSSIANS AND foreign observers have long speculated about how Vladi¬mir Putin would retain power when his term-limited mandate as president ended in 2024. On Tuesday, Mr. Putin abruptly provided an answer: Constitutional amendments already in the works will now include a provision allowing him to serve two more terms. That could extend his time in office to 2036, when he will be 83. In theory, he could rule Russia for 36 years, more than a decade longer than Joseph Stalin.

Mr. Putin described his maneuver as necessary for Russia’s “internal stability.” In fact, it is a recipe for stagnation, akin to the corrosive paralysis that plagued Moscow during the late Soviet era. Even Mr. Putin appears to recognize that, at least as a theoretical matter: He said the limit on two terms for president ought to be left in the constitution to apply to future presidents. “Alternation of power . . . is necessary for the development of the country,” he said in a speech to the State Duma. But not as necessary, evidently, as preserving his own authority.

It’s not hard to see why. During his time in office, Mr. Putin and his cronies have accumulated not only extraordinary power but also vast riches, including sprawling compounds and billions stashed in foreign banks. A change of power, even to a successor of Mr. Putin’s choosing, might imperil those gains, or even expose the ex-leader to accountability.

Like a lot of dictators, Mr. Putin has come to believe that only he can make the correct strategic decisions for the Russian state. “I see that the people, or at least the majority of our society, are waiting for my personal assessments and decisions on key matters of the development of the Russian state, both now and after 2024,” he said.

Whether that is true is questionable. Mr. Putin’s approval ratings have been declining steadily in domestic polls; Russians perceive that the country’s economy has been stagnant in recent years, and that it lags far behind the West technologically. Many have grown weary of Mr. Putin’s foreign adventures in places such as Syria and eastern Ukraine, which have exposed the country to punishing sanctions. The last time the president executed a dubious legal pirouette to remain in power — shuttling from the post of prime minister to president in 2012 — the result was the largest mass demonstrations since Russia’s brief era of democracy in the 1990s.

Mr. Putin can nevertheless be expected to arrange for victory in a planned April 22 referendum on the constitutional changes. They are a model of reactionary authoritarianism: In addition to abolishing his term limit, the amendments limit marriage to heterosexual unions and codify Russians’ “faith in God.” Mr. Putin said the revamped constitution was designed for “a longer historical term, at least 30-50 years.” Here’s betting that neither it, nor Mr. Putin’s rule, lasts as long as he expects.



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