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‘It’s always a surprise’ Putin may finally be preparing to make presidential appointments to the Russian Senate

Source: Meduza

On Wednesday, September 23, Russian President Vladimir Putin will meet with the full complement of the Federation Council in the Kremlin. Previously, the head of state and the upper house of parliament didn’t stage these kinds of events. According to Meduza’s sources, the Federation Council is anticipating important changes: Putin may, for the first time ever, appoint his own senators to the council under the presidential quota. In addition, there’s renewed talk about a possible change to the upper house of parliament’s speaker — and once again sources say it’s possible that Foreign Intelligence Service Director Sergey Naryshkin will be named as the successor to the current chairwoman, Valentina Matviyenko.

Two sources close to the Presidential Executive Office told Meduza that Vladimir Putin could exercise his right to appoint senators on September 23. A high-ranking source in United Russia also spoke about such a scenario. A government official didn’t exclude the possibility of the president appointing senators either. Meduza sent a request for comment to Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov, but at the time of publication he had yet to respond.

The head of state obtained the right to appoint members of the Federation Council in 2014 — at the time, they set a quota of 17 senators (officially, they’re called “representatives of the Russian Federation”), but Putin has yet to exercise this right. Presumably, these 17 representatives will be in addition to the 170 sitting senators.

Officially, this idea came from Liberal Democratic Party Leader (LDPR) Vladimir Zhirinovsky. He explained the initiative as “a group of senators who will represent Russia as such” — and not just the country’s regions. According to Zhirinovsky’s reasoning, this would make the Federation Council more balanced. He suggested that Putin give 16 senators, or 10 percent of the senate’s representatives, lifetime appointments. However, the final bill — which was endorsed by deputies from the Communist Party (KPRF), LDPR, and United Russia factions, — referred to 17 senators (the 10 percent proportion changed after the annexation of Crimea) and excluded any mention of lifetime appointments.

At the time, the Federation Council’s Speaker, Valentina Matviyenko, said: “For about one and a half to two years, there’s no urgent need to make a decision about filling the presidential quota. There’s time to think, to ponder, to decide, although we are prepared to receive new senators and seats have even been prepared for them. Seats for the 17 new senators.” She repeated this sentiment three years later, in 2017: “I don’t think that all 17 senators will be appointed at once. Most likely, the appointments will be made gradually.” As previously mentioned, the president still has yet to exercise this right.

But in 2020, the working group responsible for drawing up the amendments to the Russian constitution proposed raising the presidential quota to 30 senators. This proposal was adopted and written into the new version of the constitution. Seven of the 30 presidentially appointed Federation Council members will remain in their posts for life. In addition, former presidents of Russia are entitled to a seat on the Federation Council and can maintain the status of senator for life (so far, only the Security Council’s Deputy Chairman, former president Dmitry Medvedev, can take advantage of this option). 

In February 2020, Pavel Krasheninnikov, the head of the State Duma’s Constitutional Legislation Committee and the chairman of the working group on constitutional amendments, said that the proposal to introduce lifetime appointments for senators was based on “studying the experience of the upper houses of parliaments in different countries.”

During one of the working group’s meetings, member Alexander Chubaryan suggested studying the experience of the Italian Senate, which has senators who serve for life. The working group’s co-chair, Talia Khabrieva — the head of the Institute of Legislation and Comparative Law under the Government of the Russian Federation — claimed that life-long senatorial status would help establish “more effective contact with citizens,” because the Federation Council would include “leaders of the nation.” 

According to Meduza’s source, State Duma Deputy Valentina Tereshkova from United Russia could become one of the presidentially appointed senators — the former first woman in space was also the one who, during a State Duma session on March 10, put forward the proposal that Vladimir Putin “zero” his presidential terms. The president accepted this offer.

Meduza’s source from the Yaroslavl Region’s corps of deputies (the region that Tereshkova represents in the State Duma), admitted that there’s no “clear indication” that Tereshkova will join the Federation Council, but he considers this a “logical” next step. “A senator’s post from the president is an honour, it’s yet another sign of the recognition of her merit. She fits the post in every respect. The powers of this convocation of the State Duma will expire in a year, and a new campaign would be too difficult for her due to her age,” he noted (Valentina Tereshkova is 83 years old).

What’s more, two sources close to the Presidential Executive Office told Meduza that the Federation Council could also get a new speaker. So far, they consider former State Duma speaker and current Foreign Intelligence Service (SVR) Director Sergey Naryshkin the most likely candidate for the position. 

Kommersant wrote about the possibility of Naryshkin being appointed as the Federation Council’s chairman back in 2019. Publishing this report spelled the end of the newspaper’s politics department: the publication’s leadership demanded that the reporters who authored the text, Maxim Ivanov and Ivan Safronov, reveal their sources — they refused and were forced to resign. In turn, their colleagues from the politics department followed suit in a show of solidarity, along with deputy managing editor Gleb Cherkasov (In the summer of 2020, journalist Ivan Safronov was charged with treason; state investigators insist that the case against him has no connection to his journalistic activities, but Safronov’s defense lawyers think otherwise).

Naryshkin belongs to the president’s inner circle, Kommersant wrote at the time, citing a high-ranking source in the government: “He’s a universal soldier with experience working in key state structures and he’s an important part of the president’s circle.”

According to Meduza’s source close to the Kremlin, “Naryshkin’s skills set and competence haven’t changed” since then. 

“Naryshkin’s people are already entering the Federation Council — for example, Andrey Petrov,” Meduza’s source added. Petrov, who is one of Naryshkin’s closest associates, recently became the head of the Federation Council’s Analytical Department. Petrov headed the lower house of parliament’s analytical department when Naryshkin was State Duma speaker. He’s also the secretary of the Russian Historical Society (RIO), which is presided over by Sergey Naryshkin himself. 

Andrey Petrov declined Meduza’s request for comment. But a source in the Federation Council doubts that Naryshkin will head the upper house: “Naryshkin is minding his own business, he’s where he wants to be.” The Federation Council’s spokespeople didn’t respond to Meduza’s request for comment either.

But even if the Federation Council is expected to get a new speaker, Meduza’s source in the government doesn’t think it will be announced during the president’s meeting with the senators on September 23. “Vladimir Putin isn’t so direct, significant events aren’t announced, it’s always a surprise,” the source said.

Story by Andrey Pertsev and Farida Rustamova

Translation by Eilish Hart

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