Putin faces backlash amid Russian shakeup
Russia’s opposition has announced a protest on February 29 to condemn Putin’s alleged power grab ahead of when his presidential term expires in 2024.
Putin’s trust ratings hit a 13-year low last year and prompted rumours of early elections.
The 67-year-old this week sacked one of his top law enforcement chiefs as part of the political shakeup.
The prosecutor-general, Yury Chaika, is being replaced by Igor Krasnov, the former deputy chief of the investigative committee, an agency that answers directly to Putin.
Chaika oversaw the posthumous prosecution in 2012 of Sergei Magnitsky on tax evasion charges. The whistleblower Magnitsky, 37, died in 2009 after 11 months in detention in Moscow after reporting government fraud. His death led to the US Magnitsky Act, which can impose sanctions on foreign government employees suspected of human rights violations.
Krasnov led the probe into the 2015 assassination of opposition leader Boris Nemtsov near the Kremlin. Five Chechen men were imprisoned. Nemtsov’s allies, however, say the authorities failed to follow up claims of Chechen leader Ramzan Kadyrov’s involvement.
“No one understands what is going on,” said opposition leader Alexey Navalny. “I’m certain that even Putin doesn’t entirely understand what he is doing. [The president] is stirring things up to stay in power forever.”
Putin appointed his economic adviser Andrei Belousov as first deputy prime minister and named eight deputy prime ministers. These included some new names, such as Dmitry Chernyshenko, who headed the organising committee for the controversial 2014 Sochi Olympics.
Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu and Finance Minister Anton Siluanov remain in their posts.
Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev and his cabinet resigned earlier this month.
Putin picked the 53-year-old former tax Mikhail Mishustin (pictured), who was previously unknown to the public, as the new prime minister.
Putin is looking to amend the constitution in what is seen as an attempt to ensure he can remain in office after his term ends in 2024.
The populist recently marked 20 years in power, longer than any other Russian or Soviet leader since Josef Stalin, who led from 1924 until his death in 1953.
Putin has sent his proposed constitutional amendments for parliamentary approval. The changes hand additional powers to the unelected State Council to set domestic, economic and foreign policy.
Some observers suspect Putin is hoping to become head of the State Council after his term ends in 2024.
New prime minister Mikhail Mishustin with Vladimir Putin. Picture credit: Kremlin