Wednesday’s changes – made as President Putin delivered his annual State of the nation address – killed off hopes in some quarters of Europe that reform with Russia will be possible in the foreseeable future.
And in Britain senior military sources confirmed they will be factored into impending security and defence review, expected to take place before the summer.
Under sweeping proposals, the Russian premier wants to limit the power of the presidency, from which he is to step down in 2024, but proposed boosting the role of the State Council which he already heads.
Though the move will be put to Russians in a referendum, it’s non-binding nature leads experts to predict that whatever the outcome,they will be carried.
It means that 67-year-old Putin, who has already ruled Russia either as president of prime minister for 20 years, will cling on “until his dying breath.”
“The key question on Russia since 2018 is what happens in 2024 when he’s constitutionally obliged to step down? We suspected he would stay. Now we know it,“ said Dr Andrew Foxall, of the Henry Jackson Society think tank.
“Putin has spent two decades in power telling Russians there’s no alternative to him or his system. After last week’s announcement, there won’t be. These changes set the stage for Putin to rule for life. Given his age, however, we can reasonably expect to see him cling to power until his dying breath.”
Despite calls to focus more on Jihadist terrorism and China, Russia remains Nato’s number one threat, with Britain’s most senior soldier, Chief of the General Staff Sir Nick Carter, confirming that Russian activity in the North Atlantic and Europe had reached military and hybrid tensions with Moscow had reached a “post-Cold War high”.
Last night one senior military source said: “While they will be discussed, these developments are unlikely to alter Britain’s longer-term strategic thinking. Russia is currently NATO’s number one threat and, significant though they are, won’t drastically alter the posture of UK Armed Forces and our Nato allies.”
Putin’s 70-minute speech was followed by the resignation of his faithful right-hand man, PM Dmitry Medvedev, and the rest of his government, According to Moscow sources Medvedev – who, when he was president in 2008 extended the term of office from four to six years in anticipation of Putin’sreturn – had been given no notice about changes.
“It’s possible that Medvedev is being made a scapegoat for Russia’s economic stagnation – real income has decreased five years in a row, one in seven officially live below the poverty line and austerity measures have been introduced,” added Dr Foxall.
“Of course, this economic stagnation is caused by Putin’s policies. What is needed is wholesale reform and that’s what Putin won’t allow.”
His replacement, new PM Mikhail Mishustin, is a little-known technocrat who successfully transformed Russia’s federal tax service.
The announcement is more problematic for French President Emmanuel Macron who, over recent months, has tried to lead an EU rapprochement with Russia.
Dr Foxall added: “It would suit Macron, now the EU’s foreign policy strongman, to be able to say that Russia no longer poses a strategic threat. This would enable the EU to make a strong statement by openly abandon reliance on the US and Nato for defence, and replace it with something of its own.
“He may well point to other changes, such as the impression that more power is being given to the duma (Russia’s Parliament).
“But this is naïve. Moves like this are ornamental is a country where power lays not with the office but with a person.
“Putin’s speech also reiterated his continued opposition to the US-led international order, Nato and Western liberal ideals. If anything, it was the most isolationist speech he’s ever made,
“Russia has failed every reset with the West. We now know this mindset is set to continue indefinitely, This is our reality.”