A Russian newspaper reported today that President Vladimir Putin’s team may, before next summer, begin the process of amending Russia’s constitution to extend the presidential term from four to seven years. According to Novye Izvestia, this will be done in such a way that the three years Putin will already have served as head of state will not count as time in office. Putin will thereby be allowed two more seven-year terms, which would give him a total of seventeen years in office, just one year less than Soviet leader Leonid Brezhnev served (NTV.ru, RBK, December 7).
Novye Izvestia, it should be noted, is owned by Boris Berezovsky, the former Kremlin insider who went into self-imposed exile last year after denouncing Putin for authoritarianism, and is thus not favorably disposed towards the Russian president. At the same time, the rumor is bolstered by the fact that Putin himself has said that he favors extending the presidential term. Indeed, in February 2000, a month before he was elected president, Putin said he favored the idea of extending the presidential term from four to eight years. He said then it should not be done before the impending election, but could be prior to the next presidential election in 2004. Putin said that the idea should be “put before the country’s population,” implying that there might be a referendum on the idea. Putin’s comments followed the publication of a plan put forward jointly by Novgorod Governor Mikhail Prusak, Belgorod Governor Yevgeny Savchenko and Kurgan Governor Oleg Bogomolov recommending that the presidential term be extended to seven years, that Russia’s governors be appointed by the president and that the president be appointed by the parliament, prime minister and the “power ministries” rather than be chosen in a direct popular election (see the Monitor, February 29, 2000). At the beginning of this year, the newspaper Novaya Gazeta reported that Dmitry Medvedev, deputy Kremlin administration chief, and Mikhail Krasnov, a former presidential legal adviser, had drafted a series of amendments of and additions to Russia’s constitution which would, among other things, increase the presidential term from four to five years (see the Monitor, January 30).
Meanwhile, the Gazeta web newspaper is reporting that Russian Interior Minister Boris Gryzlov may step down before December 10. According to the paper, Gryzlov has achieved most of the tasks he was appointed to carry out–the main ones being, first, to remove high-level Interior Ministry officials appointed by his predecessors–Vladimir Rushailo, Anatoly Kulikov and Sergei Stepashin–and replace them “with either former KGB officials or friends of Vladimir Putin from St. Petersburg,” and, second, to restructure the ministry so as to remove the regional heads’ control over the regional ministry departments and reestablish centralized control. Gryzlov, however, has reportedly asked to stay on as interior minister for another year to oversee the introduction of a new system of recordkeeping aimed at doing away with the cooking of crime statistics that is common today throughout the law enforcement system. If Gryzlov is asked to step down now, he will reportedly be given a deputy prime minister’s post and be replaced by Deputy Interior Minister Nikolai Bobrovsky, who the paper described as a close associate of Putin who, like the president, is a lawyer and fluent in German. Prior to Putin’s accession as head of state, Bobrovsky worked with the president-to-be in the Kremlin’s Main Control Department and also held the positions of first deputy head of the presidential administration’s personnel department and first deputy head of the cabinet’s apparatus (GZT.ru, December 7).
The rumors about a possible extension of the presidential term and impending changes at the top of the Interior Ministry jibe with the persistent reports that Putin and his team are steadily consolidating their control over the main levers of state power.
ANOTHER PRIMORSKY CANDIDATE ATTACKED.