‘Leader for Life’: Putin Shows Israelis What They Should Fear

The Russian government’s resignation, which was announced on Wednesday, took many around the world by surprise – but the move did not seem all that surprising to anyone who knows President Vladimir Putin.

Putin also announced that day that he would conduct a reform that would take powers from the next president and hand them to the Russian parliament and prime minister, subjecting the president to the prime minister’s decision regarding ministers’ appointments.

Putin’s proposed changes suggest appointing himself as Chairman of the State Council, whose status will be bolstered in the constitution. By doing so, Putin is paving his way to the status of “leader for life.”

Putin has been bolstering his violent rule in Russia for 20 years. During this time he has taken steps to stifle any illusion that after the fall of the Soviet Union Russia might become a free democracy. He changed the constitution to extend his grip on power, intervened in foreign states’ affairs, eliminated enemies in Russia and outside it, established strongholds in the third world and built a domestic and global leadership brand that he uses as a powerful weapon. Putin has become a model many other world leaders aspire to imitate, and for good reason: most of his country’s citizens support him, even after his popularity faded with the deterioration of the Russian economy.

Leaders like Viktor Orban in Hungary, Recep Tayyip Erdogan in Turkey, Rodrigo Duterte in the Philippines – are all familiar with the Putin label and its power. These leaders are a living demonstration of how the 20th century’s liberal pendulum has swung back in the 21st century, bringing to power authoritarian autocrats. Prominent among them is China’s president, Xi Jinping, who amended the constitution in 2018 to enable him to extend his term in office indefinitely. He did so after years in which a leadership rotation ensured there would be no single ruler in the rising economic power.

Putin’s rule in Russia had been limited by law. By 2024 he was supposed to retire from the presidency and not to contend again. He had already served two terms as president – as long as the law permitted – between 2000 and 2008. But then he appointed himself prime minister, and his confidant Dmitri Medvedev as “acting” president until he completed legislation that enabled him to run for president again, in 2012, with an expiry date in 2024.

Prime Minister Medvedev, Putin’s perennial sidekick, wasn’t ashamed to admit the cabinet’s resignation was intended to strengthen Putin. “The president made a few fundamental constitutional changes…and in this context clearly we as the government will provide our country’s president the opportunity to make all the necessary decisions,” he said.