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‘The president is happy with the system in place’ The Kremlin explains why Putin welcomes a state that malfunctions when he can’t run for re-election

Source: Meduza
Alexey Nikolsky / Pool / Reuters / Scanpix / LETA

In an interview aired on Sunday, June 21, Vladimir Putin said openly for the first time that he would consider running for a fifth presidential term, if Russians vote in an upcoming plebiscite to accept constitutional amendments that will allow him an additional two terms in office. The long-time president warned that stepping down in 2024 would disrupt the “normal rhythm” of government work as early as 2022, as state officials at various levels would begin searching “with wandering eyes” for potential successors. “We need to be working, not searching for successors,” Putin said. The next day, journalists grilled Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov about the president’s comments.

Kommersant FM: [Judging by the president’s comments,] are we meant to understand that the Russian system of government is incapable of operating normally under the conditions of power changing hands? Is the president happy with the system in place?

Dmitry Peskov: One, the president is happy with the system in place. Two, the system has demonstrated that it can hold up under stress. The president has already explained the situation’s potential threat. This honestly is, let’s say, a feature of our bureaucratic and national world. But that absolutely doesn’t mean that the system doesn’t work in conditions of power changing hands. Power changes, there’s a constant rotation process happening, and it would be wrong to ignore this.

Kommersant FM: In the Kremlin’s view, what besides the president’s potential irremovability from office is capable of motivating state officials to do their jobs — especially the officials he says will “search with wandering eyes” [for successors]?

Dmitry Peskov: The main motivation [to do one’s job] has nothing to do with the president’s removability or irremovability. Much higher considerations guide the people who serve in the government. This is working for the state. It’s service to the Motherland.

Kommersant FM: Among those who have come to work for the state, who exactly might “search with wandering eyes” and stop working in the event that the amendments are rejected? Does the president have any idea? Is the Kremlin able to name these people?

Dmitry Peskov: We’re able, but we’re not going to do it. [Laughs.] I mean, I’m joking, of course. The question itself is absurd, right? Because you’ve got to understand here that this isn’t about specific individuals but about the general mood.

Bloomberg: But could you explain a little? On the one hand, you’re saying that people work for the state, regardless of whether or not the president changes. And on the other hand, we have the president saying that zeroing out [his] term clock is necessary so people don’t go wandering [for a successor]. If people work for the state no matter who’s president, then why do they go wandering? 

Dmitry Peskov: It doesn’t mean that everyone does this. These ideas aren’t at all mutually exclusive. 

Bloomberg: But apparently part of the system does this and this part is so important that it necessitates changing the Constitution. 

Dmitry Peskov: Different parts of the system can do this.

Bloomberg: Right, but it doesn’t mean the system…

Dmitry Peskov: This is hardly the only reason for changing the Constitution. [Several] amendments are being introduced. You’ve got to be accurate here.

Bloomberg: Okay, but this amendment about the possibility of the president running for new terms — if we’re talking specifically about this part, then there’s the question: if the president is happy with the system he’s built, then why can part of this system go wandering [for a successor] if this system as a whole works for the state and not for a specific president? You’re saying that the president is happy with a system that can still go wandering? I’m sorry but I don’t understand this.

Dmitry Peskov: I’ll explain this to you separately, okay? I’ve probably said everything now that I wanted to say on this subject.

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Translation by Kevin Rothrock

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