When Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev and his entire cabinet resigned en masse in January, it was clear something significant was happening. President Vladimir Putin had suggested it was time to make changes to the constitution just hour earlier.

The Russian constitution allows the president to serve two consecutive terms. Putin reached that limit long ago in 2008. He then swapped jobs with Medvedev and became Prime Minister for four years from 2008-2012. Then Putin returned to the presidency in 2012 for a six-year term. He won re-election again in 2018 which meant he had until 2024 before he faced another constitutional term limit.

The sudden shuffle in January was clearly about getting around that obstacle but it wasn’t clear at the time how Putin would do it. It appeared he might return to the Prime Minister position for four years, but some other, more esoteric possibilities (such as becoming head of the ruling party) were considered possible. Today we learned that Putin doesn’t plan to do any of that tiresome job shuffling. Instead, he’s removing the term limit to allow himself another possible two terms in office:

The Kremlin’s carefully choreographed operation to install Mr Putin as president-for-life unfolded at breathtaking speed. It began at about 1.45pm Moscow time when Valentina Tereshkova, 83, the first woman to fly in space, who is now an MP with the ruling United Russia party, suggested that Mr Putin be allowed to run for two more six-year terms as part of a package of constitutional reforms…

Ms Tereshkova said that allowing Mr Putin to stand for president again would be “a stabilising factor for our society”…

Mr Putin said that he would support the proposal to allow him to seek an extension to his presidency as long as the constitutional court ruled that it was legal. Analysts said there was almost no chance that the Kremlin-controlled court would rule against the proposal.

Within three hours of Ms Tereshkova’s initial comments, the State Duma had approved the move. MPs had been given only 20 minutes to study the text of the amendment.

If Putin remains in office for the rest of his current term plus the two additional terms he’s been given, he would finally leave office in 2036 at the age of 83, assuming he lives that long. That would mean he’d spent more years in power that Stalin.

Officially, Putin would still have to stand for election to win those two additional terms, but no one believes Putin can’t manage to stuff enough ballot boxes to ensure the appearance of democracy remains even as the substance is gone. Putin, for his part, sounded a bit philosophical about the whole thing:

“I’m sure the time will come when the highest, presidential authority in Russia will not be, as they say, so personified — not so bound up in a single person,” Mr. Putin said. “But that is how all of our past history came together and we cannot, of course, disregard this.”

Putin’s take sounds like a paraphrase of Saint Augustine: ‘Lord give me democracy and term limits, just not yet.’ Putin’s opponents are already calling this a “coup attempt.”

Leonid Volkov, the chief aide to Alexei Navalny, Mr Putin’s most prominent domestic opponent, said: “March 10, 2020, will go down in the history books as the date of a coup attempt.” Mr Navalny, 43, said that Mr Putin had been “appointed tsar”.

Opposition groups announced a series of protests, including one to be held outside parliament this Friday. Some opposition figures said that they would rally near the Kremlin this evening.

Here’s a news report on the situation including a bit of what Putin said today.