Russian government resigns in Putin power shakeup
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When Russia's entire government resigned on Wednesday, even long-term Kremlin observers were taken by surprise.
Earlier in the day, Vladimir Putin had announced his plan to push through reforms that would make his successor as president less powerful, by redistributing power in such a way that that the Russian parliament and office of prime minister will have greater clout.
He thanked the resigning members of the government for their service, but said that "not everything worked out."
In the last two years, Putin's approval ratings have taken a dip, partly a result of unpopular pension reforms and a stagnating economy. 2019 was also riddled with street protests over municipal elections as Russia's fragmented opposition expressed discontent with what they see as a president and the ruling elite that have overstayed their power.
However, as the exact details of this mass resignation -- led by current prime minister and former president Dmitry Medvedev -- unfurled, it was clear that this was no protest at Putin's proposed reforms.
In the global battle of ideas, Russian President Vladimir Putin had a banner year in 2019.
Back in June, Putin made waves by declaring the death of Western liberalism.
Those remarks seemed timed to provoke debate ahead of the G20 summit in Osaka, Japan. But it wasn't just talk: In the months that followed, Putin would continue to set the example for authoritarian leadership.
Take, for example, Putin's policies toward his country's embattled and marginalized political opposition.
For much of the summer, the Russian capital of Moscow saw a wave of opposition demonstrations. For a time, unsanctioned rallies and solo protests seemed to gain momentum. Russian authorities even dropped criminal charges against a prominent investigative reporter after an unexpected public outpouring of support.
But a crackdown on the opposition then followed, with the detention of leading opposition figures and sweeping arrests of more than 2,000 demonstrators. The Russian government, it seemed, was determined not to let street protests get anywhere near the scale seen in Hong Kong.
Investors were clearly surprised by the resignation of Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev’s government Wednesday and started to sell Russian roubles as a result.
The rouble fell by 0.6%, a big decline for a major currency. It was trading as low as 61.77 roubles per US dollar following the announcement. The currency has since recovered some of those losses.
Just hours after Medvedev stepped down, Putin nominated Mikhail Mishustin, the current head of the Federal Tax Service, to take over the PM post.
Russian President Vladimir Putin has moved to install Mikhail Mishustin as prime minister after Dmitry Medvedev resigned from the position Wednesday along with the entire government.
"President Vladimir Putin held a working meeting with Mikhail Mishustin and invited him to take the post of prime minister," said the Kremlin press service, as reported by Russian state media agency RIA Novosti.
"With his consent, he submitted Mishustin’s candidacy for the post of prime minister for consideration by the State Duma."
Mishustin is the current head of the Federal Tax Service.
Russian President Vladimir Putin may have kickstarted a power shift in the country as the government resigned Wednesday, but the details of his plan remain unclear, according to Nikolai Petrov, senior research fellow at the Russia and Eurasia Program at Chatham House.
Petrov told CNN that these developments show Putin is planning on staying in power past 2024, but his speech revealed little else.
"The constitutional reform described by Putin in his address doesn't look very concrete," he said. "We need to wait until the dust settles."
Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny poured scorn on those who said President Vladimir Putin would step down in 2024, following news that the entire government has resigned in a move that could symbolize a power shift in the country.
“[The] main message of Putin’s address: all those who said that Putin will step away from power in 2024 are such idiots (and/or crooks)," he wrote.
"Remaining the sole leader for life, taking ownership of an entire country, and appropriating wealth to himself and his friends is the only goal of Putin and his regime."
Navalny is an anti-corruption campaigner and Russia's most outspoken opposition figure.
In September Navalny's team said Russian authorities staged nationwide raids on the opposition leader's regional offices, and he has been physically attacked and detained by police in the past.
Bill Browder, a prominent financial manager and vocal Vladimir Putin critic, suggested that the Russian president is "deeply afraid of something."
"Putin is extremely risk averse and almost never fires anyone," wrote Browder on Twitter.
"For him to sack the PM and change the constitution four years before his term is up suggests he’s deeply afraid of something. What that is, we have still to find out."
Chicago-born Browder is the founder and CEO of Hermitage Capital Management, an international investment fund.
He was once the largest investor in Russia's stock market and a supporter of the Russian President. But that all changed in 2005 when he was expelled from the country after being deemed a threat to national security.
Browder claims his expulsion was because of his criticism of Russian corporate governance.
In the years since, Browder has become a UK citizen and a fierce critic of corruption. He has been one of the main proponents of the Russia sanctions law in the US known as the Magnitsky Act -- named for his former lawyer Sergei Magnitsky, who died in suspicious circumstances in 2009.
The Magnitsky Act, passed in 2012, provides US lawmakers with sweeping powers to freeze assets and place travel restrictions on foreign government officials involved in human-rights abuses.
Russian President Vladimir Putin thanked the government for its work in a televised statement following the announcement that Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev and the rest of the government are resigning.
"I want to express satisfaction with the results that have been achieved,” Putin said. “Of course not everything worked out but nothing ever works out in full."
Putin asked members of the government to fulfill their duties until a new one is formed.
Medvedev is expected to take on the newly-created role of deputy head of Russia’s Security Council
“[Medvedev] has always dealt with these issues … I consider it possible and asked him to do so in the future,” Putin said.
"I will introduce the position of Deputy Chairman of the Security Council.”