The year Vladimir Putin is supposed to step down from power after more than two decades of serving as both President and Prime Minister. After rising to power in the 1990s as a former-KGB-spy-turned-deputy-mayor, Putin was named Prime Minister in 1999. Once Boris Yeltsin stepped down from the Presidency in December of 1999, however, he named Putin the interim leader. Putin won the presidential election in May of 2000.
According to the Russian Constitution, the President of Russia, officially known as the President of the Russian Federation, is elected by the citizens of Russia to a six-year term. Presidents can only serve two consecutive terms (similar to the U.S. law where a president can only serve two four-year terms for a total of eight years under the 22nd Amendment). Unlike the U.S. Constitution, however, the Russian Constitution makes no reference to how many terms in total a President can serve. In 2008, after serving as President since 2000, Putin assumed the role of Prime Minister again, this time under Dmitry Medvedev. In 2012, Putin was re-elected President by a massive margin following his stint as Prime Minister. After his re-election in March of 2018 to his second consecutive term, Putin’s presidency is finally due to expire in 2024.
Less than a month ago, perhaps disguised amid the news and chaos of the novel Coronavirus pandemic, the Russian Parliament approved a constitutional amendment that would essentially reset the clock on Putin’s time in office. In other words, they’re throwing term limits and the rest of the democratic rules of the game to the wind  and clearing the way for Putin to maintain power for the rest of his life— or at least until 2036.
Since rising to power in 1999, Putin has worked tirelessly to turn Russia into an authoritarian machine. He has undermined partisan alternation by significantly increasing the costs of unseating the incumbent, taking actions that make it harder and harder for opposition to compete for power on an equal basis . When he managed to side-step the constitutional limits in 2008, for instance, he placed his protégé Dmitry Medvedev in the front-seat.
Though there seems to be nothing “stealth” about Putin’s authoritarian nature, there is still something about him and his strategy that has allowed him to maintain power for so long. He is part of a “new generation of authoritarians [who] cloak repressive measures under the mask of law, imbue them with the veneer of legitimacy, and render authoritarian practices much more difficult to detect and eliminate” . Putin relies on the exercise of legal mechanisms that exist in his “democratic regime” to make it difficult to differentiate between their abuse and legitimate application. Take the 1999 Apartment bombings in Russia, for instance. Those bombings catapulted Putin into the 2000 presidency as he promised revenge for Russia and blamed Chechen rebels for the bombings. In doing so, he also created a pretext for a new war in Chechnya. Journalists, however, began to uncover evidence that suggested Russian FSB agents were behind the attack instead, pointing towards an inside job from the Kremlin in order to bolster Putin’s approval ratings. To this day, no Chechen has ever been convicted of participating in the bombings.
Putin has also made use of non-political crimes to prosecute dissidents . Mikhail Khodorkovsky, an infamous Russian oligarch, was an outspoken critic of the Kremlin as well as an oil magnate and Russia’s richest man. Putin had him arrested on charges ranging from personal and corporate tax evasion to fraud and embezzlement. Khodorkovsky was sentenced to 14 years in prison, and as of 2013, he continued to insist that the cases against him had been fabricated.
After the additional two terms in office that Putin’s latest power grab would allow him, Putin will have been the President of Russia for 32 years. This puts Putin’s reign smack dab in-between two bulwarks of Russian history: Joseph Stalin who served for 24 years, and Peter the Great who served for 43. Should Putin serve until 2036, he would be 83 years old.
Cosmonaut-turned-politician Valentina Tereshkova proposed the amendment, suggesting that they either scrap the term-limits for presidents, or they reset the clock so that the existing law would not apply to Putin and his time in office. According to Politico, Putin argued Russia was too “vulnerable” to political infighting and attempts at “containment” by Western countries for him to step aside. The president should “guarantee stable development,” he said, because “we’ve had enough revolutions.”
“Constitutional Retrogression” is just another phrase for democratic erosion. Perhaps the real question is, when has Russia ever actually been a stable democracy? They declared themselves a democracy with their constitution, but between Putin’s concentrated effort at centralizing executive power, undermining bureaucratic autonomy, and now amending the constitution , democracy and Russia are two words that are rarely used in the same sentence. For example, in the past, regional governors were elected in Russia, but Putin changed that so regional governors are appointed by Moscow. While elections can be rigged, the real problem was that some governors were more popular in their regions than Putin because they had to listen and attend to their constituents.
The initial vote on the constitutional referendum was scheduled for April 22nd, but in the wake of the Coronavirus pandemic, Putin has decided to delay the vote. The new date for voting has not yet been determined. Even still, the referendum is expected to pass.
Putin is here to stay. Levitsky, Steven & Daniel Ziblatt. (2018). How Democracies Die. New York: Crown.  Varol, Ozan. (2015). Stealth Authoritarianism. Iowa Law Review 100(4).  Huq, Aziz & Tom Ginsburg. (2017). How to Lose a Constitutional Democracy. Working paper.