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By Tatiana Stanovaya,

  • MAY 07, 2020
  • ARTICLE

President Vladimir Putin’s clever maneuver to dispense with the Russian constitution’s provisions on presidential terms limits will, in theory, allow him to stay in office until 2036. Yet by rewriting the constitution and reshuffling the government, Putin did far more than throw most of the Russian elite off-balance. Putin’s efforts signal that he is building a new political regime that will be more conservative, more ideological, and more anti-Western in its outlook.

Everything is not going to plan, however. The planned reconfiguration of Russia’s political system has been complicated by the collapse of global oil prices and the unprecedented disruption caused by the coronavirus. The April 22 quasi-referendum to “approve” the constitutional amendments is now on hold while the Kremlin tries to deal with both the virus and a new economic crisis. These twin challenges represent the biggest shock the Putin regime has ever faced and are likely to feed popular dissatisfaction.

This article aims to explain how the Putin regime operates and its growing internal conflicts by classifying five different elite groups. For brevity’s sake, it does not cover specific aspects of the Russia government’s response to the pandemic (this will be the subject of future research). Nor does it examine the public dimensions of Russian politics (for example, parliamentary developments and media activity). The focus is on the inner workings of Russia’s main decisionmakers.

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