Russia’s prime minister Dmitry Medvedev unexpectedly submitted both his and his government’s resignation on Wednesday, with reports suggesting disagreements with President Vladimir Putin precipitated the move.
Mr Putin announced Mikhail Mishustin as his replacement a few hours later. An obscure technocrat, Mr Mishustin, 53, earned plaudits for his role revamping the country’s tax service, but is unlikely to be seen as a rival or potential successor. Approval of the appointment by the Duma, Russia’s lower parliament, on Thursday is virtually certain.
In Mr Putin’s new vision, the Duma would be granted powers to choose a prime minister and cabinet. The Federation Council, Russia’s upper chamber, would gain powers over the appointment of security officials. The constitutional position of the State Council, which Mr Putin currently heads, would also be strengthened.
Mr Putin has been in power longer than any other Russian or Soviet leader since Josef Stalin, who led from 1924 until his death in 1953. Under the current law, Mr Putin must step down in 2024 after his term ends.
Appearing glum-faced at a choreographed TV announcement, Mr Medvedev claimed he made the decision to resign in order to give Mr Putin the chance to implement his proposals.
Mr Putin responded by thanking his longtime associate for his work as head of the government. But then he also appeared to issue a sharp rebuke. “Not everything [Mr Medvedev’s government had done] worked out for the best,” he said. It was a surprisingly public admonishment for a man who had served as a loyal lieutenant for more than two decades.
Immediate reports suggested the resignation took members of the cabinet by surprise. “Nobody knew about it,” one minister is reported to have said. ”They brought us together and announced it just now.” Alexander Zhukov, a deputy speaker in the lower parliament claimed he had found out about the resignations only during the state-of-the-union address.
Some reports said Mr Putin had become “frustrated” by slow progress being made by the government on key strategic welfare projects. The Novaya Gazeta newspaper meanwhile suggested Mr Medvedev may have ”lashed out … spontaneously” after hearing about the proposed changes.
The prime minister, who served as president over 2008-12, was considered favourite to succeed Russia’s longtime leader. In 2011, he stepped aside to allow Mr Putin to return for a third term, and many expected the president to repay the favour come 2024.
“After handing back the presidential chair, Medvedev likely believed he was owed one by Putin,” said Konstantin Gaaze, a political commentator and former government advisor.
“Instead, today, Putin told the whole country that he owed him nothing.”