Pavel K. Baev, Eurasia Daily Monitor/Jamestown Foundation: Putin’s Surprise and Russia’s Foreign Policy
The Russian political class suffered a massive shock from President Vladimir Putin’s address to the Federal Assembly last Wednesday (January 15) in which he delivered three unexpected bombshells (see EDM, January 16, 2020). The first was a set of vaguely formulated revisions to the Russian Constitution—even though Putin had pledged in 2005 never to open this fundamental document to changes “under any circumstances” due to unpredictable risks to political stability (Meduza.io, January 16, 2020). The second was the resignation of the government led by Dmitry Medvedev, a loyal lieutenant, who held the position of president in 2008–2011 and then smoothly returned to the role of prime minister (Nezavisimaya Gazeta, January 15, 2020). The third surprise was the appointment of Mikhail Mishustin, heretofore the head of the Tax Service, as the prime minister, which propelled the obscure bureaucrat to the highest level of officialdom (Carnegie.ru, January 16, 2020). Pundits of all persuasions in Moscow have been busy trying to make sense of this uncharacteristic rush by the usually procrastination-prone Putin to reconfigure the country’s political arena, but hardly any attention is being paid to the consequences for Russian foreign policy.
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WNU Editor: The above writer is correct when he states that the Russian political class were shocked by President Putin’s announcement that there will be changes to the constitution. No one expected this. But this shock is slowly changing into anger and (for some) fear. I do not know what is going to happen next, but from what I am hearing, no one is in favour of these changes. As to how this may impact Russia’s foreign policy, I predict the first casualty will be the retirement of foreign minister Sergei Lavrov. He will be 70 years old in March and he has been foreign minister since 2004. He will be there until this transition period to a new constitution has been completed, but he wants to retire, and this will be his opportunity to leave. His departure will definitely impact the foreign service, and since many senior diplomats owe their positions to him, they will be concerned on what his replacement may do. I can answer that right now. If history is any indication, many of them will be replaced. And while President Putin does have a good rapport with almost every leader in the world, it is the foreign service and its relationships with the foreign services of other countries that implements his policies and agreements. If key people are replaced and or transferred, which I predict will happen, it is going to take some time before things return to normal.
Update: Here comes the changes …. Russia: Putin announces new Cabinet after prime minister resigns (DW).