Putin signs law making him effectively president for life

In the words of a famous Mel Brooks character, it’s good to be the king. And as of yesterday in Russia, President Vladimir Putin might as well be royalty. On Monday, he signed a bill into law that formally “reset” his previous terms in office, wiping out the term limits that are supposedly in place and allowing him to run for two more terms if he chooses to do so. His current term isn’t up until almost three years from now so that would allow him to remain in office until 2036. But does that mean that he actually plans on sticking around that long? According to Putin, he hasn’t made up his mind yet. He’s apparently just keeping his options open. (Associated Press)

Russian President Vladimir Putin on Monday signed a law allowing him to potentially hold onto power until 2036, a move that formalizes constitutional changes endorsed in a vote last year.

The July 1 constitutional vote included a provision that reset Putin’s previous term limits, allowing him to run for president two more times. The change was rubber-stamped by the Kremlin-controlled legislature and the relevant law signed by Putin was posted Monday on an official portal of legal information.

The 68-year-old Russian president, who has been in power for more than two decades — longer than any other Kremlin leader since Soviet dictator Josef Stalin — said he would decide later whether to run again in 2024 when his current six-year term ends.

If Putin were to stick around for two more full terms he would be well into his eighties by the time he finally retired. (That’s assuming that he doesn’t just change the laws again so he can stick around forever.) You have to wonder if he really wants to keep on going at this point. By most estimates, Putin has vacuumed so much cash out of his country’s coffers over the years that it’s widely speculated that he might be the world’s first trillionaire. I mean, how much money can one person steal before reaching the point where he won’t be able to spend it all? Doesn’t he feel the desire to simply go enjoy life in one of his billion-dollar palaces?

Then again, it’s a proven fact that some personality types are simply addicted to power. That may be the case with Putin. If so, it’s not hard to picture him hanging on until he finally kicks the bucket.

When asked to explain why this change in the law was needed, Putin brushed off the question and described it as a matter of keeping the government functioning smoothly. He claimed that having this option would keep his underlings in the government focused on their work rather than “darting their eyes in search of possible successors.” In a brutal sort of way, I suppose that makes sense. There’s no need to jocky for position in the next election if you already know who’s going to win, right?

The strange thing about Putin is how his own people view him as compared to the perceptions of the rest of the world. Most of us probably think of Vladimir Putin as a massively corrupt kleptocrat and a violent, authoritarian tyrant. But the people of Russia still seem to support him for the most part. It’s true that he’s dealing with some large protests at the moment over the jailing of Alexei Navalny, but according to Reuters, his approval rating is still in the mid-sixties. I’ve long suspected that many Russians were quite dejected after the end of the cold war and the breakup of the Soviet Union. Putin has always come across as a strongman who was going to return his country to its former position of dominance and a lot of his people very likely support that prospect. It’s arguable that he’s made a lot of progress toward that goal.

If tossing Navalny in prison (where he may have contracted tuberculosis already) didn’t shake Putin’s approval numbers, there may be nothing that will stop him. As I said at the top… it’s good to be the king.