Putin ‘sees himself as irreplaceable’, experts warn, as Russia set to approve bold law

The country’s strongman President endorsed the legislation last month after it sailed through Russia’s parliament with only one politician opposing it. The law, which is due to go to a public vote once the coronavirus outbreak has eased, will allow President Putin to seek two further six-year terms when his current term ends in 2024. It would also give the President more say in how Moscow’s power ministries are run, explains Dr Rasmus Nilsson, an expert in Russian and post-Soviet politics.

Mr Putin would wield more power in the interior ministry, the foreign affairs ministry and the domestic security services, he said.

Dr Nilsson told Express.co.uk: “There’s a bit more to it than allowing the President to stay around for longer.

“He does not feel like he has a successor whom he can trust to come in and take over the ship at home and he’s worried. He is worried for the state as well as his personal worries.”

He added: “Of course he also sees himself as irreplaceable.

“It’s important when we talk about Putin we talk about him as a system.

“If Putin left not only could that endanger his safety, it could endanger the safety of the system.

“Anybody coming in would have their own power base and that would make everybody worried.”

Dr Nilsson, a teaching fellow in Russian foreign and security policy at University College London, said Mr Putin’s “main function is to be an arbiter”, balancing the interests and demands of those in his inner circle.

He said if a stranger were to suddenly appear on the scene and take up the post it would jolt members of the system.

As it stands, Mr Putin would not be able to run for president again in four years’ time because of the country’s term limits.

But he should have no worries about that as the new legislation is widely expected to pass in the constitutional plebiscite.

Dr Alexandra Smith, reader in Russian studies at the University of Edinburgh, said many Russian voters who may not necessarily be big Putin fans will back him as they do not believe anyone would represent their country so boldly on the international stage as he does.

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The lack of domestic media scrutiny of the President also means Russia’s 144.5million inhabitants are regularly fed one-sided stories unless they tune into foreign news, she explained.

Dr Smith told Express.co.uk: “Society is divided but they are still more supporting of Putin [than otherwise] because Putin has for a long time used a certain narrative which promoted Russia’s pride.

“He has a lot of control over the media and a lot of people really don’t see a different point of view.”

Dr Smith also cited Mr Putin’s “personal appeal” to millions of voters as one reason why they support him.

She said both young and old voters view favourably his strong links with the Russian Orthodox church and his desire to “keep Russian spirituality” a part of everyday life.

The recent law endorsed by Mr Putin would see a proclamation of a “belief in God” inserted into the revised constitution.

Dr Nilsson said they failure of Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny to put forward any credible arguments on how he would solve the country’s problems convinces many people President Putin is their only man.

“I am not a betting man but if I were I would bet almost all of my non-existent fortune on this,” Dr Nilsson said when asked about the chances of the public vote passing.

“I think it is extremely likely.

“The vast majority of Russians are not necessarily huge Putin fans but look at it from the point of view ‘what’s the alternative?’”

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