Putin has been busy submitting bills that would indicate that he is setting the practical groundwork for an eventual transition of power. The first was a bill in connection with the State Council. Before going into what this bill does, let’s review what the State Council is and what the recent constitutional amendments would change.
The State Council was created in 2000 and is currently an advisory body to the president to coordinate different parts of government and advise on critical issues. As reflected in the new constitutional amendments, It is now to become an official executive body. Rather than being a ceremonial advisory body, it will now have the power to set the direction of both domestic and foreign policy, with a focus on socio-economic development.
The constitutional amendments, while granting the president the power to create the body, provided no details about how the president would go about creating the body or filling positions on it. TASS reported the following on the October 14th bill submitted by Putin:
The State Council will be headed by the Russian president. It will serve as an advisory body to the head of state. The State Council will include the Russian Prime Minister, the Federation Council [upper house of parliament] speaker, the State Duma [lower house of parliament speaker, the president’s chief of staff, and regional heads. Besides, representatives of political parties that have formed factions at the Russian State Duma, representatives of local governance bodies and others can be included on the Council if the president makes the corresponding decision.
The bill forbids people that have a foreign citizenship or a residence permit from forming part of the State Council, as well as those with accounts held at foreign banks.
In order to deal with the agenda of the council, the presidium of the State Council will be established. Its composition will be determined by the chairman. Besides, special commissions and working groups will be created in order to organize activity in specific spheres. Representatives of federal and regional government bodies, other state bodies, local governance bodies and organizations can form part of the commissions. Members of specific commissions do not have to form part of the State Council. The chairman and members of the State Council take part in its activity on a voluntary basis.
According to an analysis by Chatham House, the recent bill submitted by Putin would allow:
the president to achieve at least three things at once: further de-institutionalize governance structures to give him more flexibility and appointment powers; step back from day-to-day governance while still retaining control; and structure decision-making between his subordinates on national priorities across branches of power and layers of the federation.
These analysts point out that the State Council became particularly active around the National Projects program in 2018, an infrastructure development project critical to Putin’s plan to increase living standards and quality of life in Russia. Due to the pandemic, the National Project’s goals have been moderated.
The Chatham House analysts have a negative take on the changes which they see as potentially usurping the power of local mayors and officials.
On October 31st, Putin submitted another bill regarding the role of members of the upper house of parliament, the Federation Council, in which the Russian president would have the ability to appoint senators for life and for ex-presidents to apply for a senatorial seat within 3 months of leaving the office of the presidency. According to TASS:
The bill says that senators – representatives of the Russian Federation – are appointed for six years or for life by presidential decrees. The head of state can appoint no more than seven lifetime senators. The appointment of senators is a presidential prerogative, but not a duty, so the president can use it at any time.
Under the Russian Constitution, the citizens with outstanding merits in their state and public services to the country could be appointed lifetime members of the Federation Council. The submitted bill contains the same provision.
The requirements for former presidents are envisaged in a separate clause. A Russian president, who has ended their tenure after a presidential term has expired or in advance, will acquire the status of a senator since the moment of sending an application, with all the required documents attached, to the Federation Council. The application may be submitted once within three months after the president leaves office. Along with this, the president whose tenure has ended before the given bill is adopted may file this application within three months since the day the law enters into force.
Additionally, senators must be over the age of 30, have no residency abroad or citizenship outside of Russia, and have an “impeccable reputation.”
RT reported additional details on the makeup of the Federation Council pursuant to Putin’s proposed bill:
According to the draft law, “On the procedure for forming the Federation Council,” the body will include two representatives from each of the country’s 85 regions (one from the legislative and executive authorities), a former president of Russia after leaving his post, and no more than 30 representatives chosen by him or her, with up to seven appointed for life.
Last but not least in his package of bills, Putin proposed the granting of immunity to all former presidents, including for any crimes allegedly committed before taking office. RT reported last week:
According to the proposal, any former Russian head of state, as well as their family members, would not only be immune from prosecution, but they could not legally be arrested, imprisoned, searched, or interrogated. The law would also protect Dmitry Medvedev, the only other ex-president still alive.
If passed, the bill would stretch current presidential immunity back to before the person took office, meaning Putin could not be held responsible for anything before his first term in 2000. The protection would also apply to the time he served as prime minister, between 2008 and 2012…
….Under the current legislation, the ex-head of state cannot be held accountable for acts committed during their presidential term, but offenses committed outside of this timeframe are still prosecutable….
….The new law still leaves open the possibility of prosecution for more serious crimes, such as treason. For this to happen, charges would have to be confirmed by the country’s Supreme and Constitutional Courts, before being passed through the State Duma. The upper house of parliament, the Federation Council, would then vote on lifting the president’s immunity.
The day after Putin submitted that proposal, a British tabloid called The Sun, published a story asserting that Putin had been diagnosed with Parkinson’s Disease and would be leaving office in January. The story was picked up by other tabloids such as The Daily Mail.
When someone forwarded this story to me last Friday morning, my first thought was that anyone in a position to know accurately about any Putin health problem would not be leaking it to UK rag papers.
Turns out the story originated from Valery Solovey, a loony tune in Moscow who is notorious for his tall tales and lack of credibility, but nonetheless seems to get picked up by western “journalists.”
The western media apparently has to come up with a sensationalist explanation as to why Putin has submitted legislation indicating intent for eventual transfer of power since their narrative has been that Putin doesn’t intend to ever leave.