Russian Gov’t Resigns after Putin’s State-of-the-Nation address Proposes Changes to the Constitution

Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev has announced that the entire government is resigning in a surprise statement released shortly after President Vladimir Putin delivered his annual state-of-the-nation address.

Accepting the resignation, Putin thanked the ministers for their hard work and asked them to function as a caretaker government until a new one can be formed.

Medvedev and Putin had met for a work meeting to discuss the state-of-the-nation address earlier on Wednesday, the Kremlin said. Medvedev explained that the cabinet is resigning in accordance with Article 117 of the Russian Constitution, which states that the government can offer its resignation to the president, who can either accept or reject it.

During his speech, Putin said he intended to create the position of deputy secretary of Russia’s Security Council, which would be offered to Medvedev.

Medvedev’s move to the new role will mean Russia will have a new prime minister when a new government is formed.

Putin also proposed multiple amendments to Russia’s constitution. His proposals would entail “substantial changes” to the constitution as well as to the “entire balance of power, the power of the executive, the power of the legislature, the power of the judiciary,” Medvedev explained.

“In this context, it is obvious that, as the government, we must provide the president with a capability to make all decisions,” which are required to implement the proposed plan, Medvedev said announcing the en-masse resignation.

Medvedev became prime minister in 2012, after serving four years as president. He currently heads the ruling United Russia party.

Under Putin’s plan, the State Duma – the lower house of parliament – will be granted the power to appoint the prime minister and the rest of the cabinet, as opposed to just approving their candidacies as is currently the case.

Another idea voiced by Putin is to make the consultation body, the State Council, a permanent fixture, with its status and role written into the constitution. The president praised the council’s effectiveness, stressing that its working groups ensure the most important problems for the people are thoroughly looked into.

‘Russia in Global Affairs’ Editor-in-Chief Fyodor Lukyanov told RT that the change will be a step towards the “diversification of power” at a time when the country is being “increasingly governed in a ‘manual control’ mode and fully fixated on the president.”

It is an attempt to transform a super-centralized personified system of power into a more balanced and diversified one… with a strong president but not as strong as today.

The resignation symbolizes the current ‘reboot’ of the political system” ahead of the 2021 parliamentary and 2024 presidential elections, Dmitry Badovsky, head of the Moscow-based Institute of Socio-Economic and Political Studies, told RT.

The cabinet’s resignation is also “tied in with the constitutional amendment package” proposed by Putin on Wednesday.

A possible departure for the outgoing cabinet was hinted at by the Russian president a year ago, when he promised personnel changes dependent on how well the top officials handled “national-priority projects,” according to Badovsky.

The resignation was “obviously a joint decision” by Putin and the outgoing PM, but was likely made at the behest of the Russian President, political analyst Dmitry Babich told RT. The move is bound to strike a chord with the majority of Russians, he said, describing it as “a very popular albeit somewhat belated” decision. Voters – who overwhelmingly propelled Putin into the nation’s highest office for the fourth time last year – have given the president a mandate to alter Russia’s political course, making it “more patriotic,” and the liberal-leaning government of Dmitry Medvedev simply did not fit. Medvedev is “a clear-cut liberal” whose cabinet was hellbent on integrating Russia into global economic structures, such as the World Trade Organization, even though many of these bodies have become increasingly hostile to Russia in recent years, Babich noted.

NOTE: Putin governs a nation that is rapidly becoming more Christian and more conservative, and his snubbing of liberal agendas suggests that Putin is well aware of how conservative his country is becoming. On social issues and taxation, Russia under Putin is more conservative today than Western Europe.

Though thanking Medvedev and his team for their hard work, Putin also said that not everything has been accomplished.

The nationwide programs are aimed at raising living standards and bettering the wellbeing of Russians. They encompass many spheres, including the improvement of education, housing and healthcare services.

The constitution should take priority over international law if the latter violates the rights of Russian citizens or violates Russia’s constitutional principles, President Vladimir Putin has proposed. Adopted back in 1993, it should serve as a primary source “in our legal environment,” Putin stated.

Amendments to the constitution could be put to a popular vote to ensure “the development of Russia as a welfare and rule-of-law state,” the Russian leader said in his annual state of the nation address.

Adopting a brand new constitution is not necessary because the current one will remain relevant for many years to come, Putin explained.

The president then suggested stricter profiling of the top political brass, starting with presidential candidates and going all the way down.

An amended constitution would include compulsory requirements for “persons holding positions crucial for ensuring the country’s security and sovereignty,” including the prime minister, cabinet members, governors, heads of federal agencies, MPs, and judges. They should be barred from having foreign citizenship or residence permits for other nations, Putin proposed.

Anyone willing to run for president will be subject to “even more stringent requirements.” Aside from the absence of foreign citizenship “not only during elections, but also at any time earlier,” a candidate must have lived in Russia for at least 25 years as opposed to the current 10 years.

Putin, who got re-elected in 2018, also took aim at the duration of the presidential tenure.

“I know there’s a debate in our society regarding a constitutional provision that the same person shall not hold the position of the president of Russian Federation for more than two consecutive terms,” he acknowledged. “I don’t think this is a fundamental issue, but I agree with that.”

Meanwhile, Russia’s Central Election Commission signaled a popular vote could be held as early as 2020. “If everything is solved quickly, this may happen this year,” the body’s secretary Maya Grishina said, according to Sputnik.

Mikhail Mishustin was ratified as next Prime Minister of Russia by MPs, the following day. Vladimir Putin had earlier proposed Mishustin, formerly head of the Federal Tax Service, as a candidate. The 53-year-old politician has worked in government since 1998 and has been described as a low-profile technocrat who managed to propel Russia’s tax service to remarkable efficiency.

In an overwhelming vote on Thursday, 383 lawmakers supported Mishustin’s candidacy. Not a single MP cast their vote against the Prime Minister, but 41 MPs — members of Russia’s Communist Party — chose to abstain, RIA Novosti reported. Later in the day, Vladimir Putin signed a presidential decree appointing Mishustin Prime Minister. 

Mishustin promised a major cabinet reshuffle, meaning that some fresh faces could emerge as new ministers. The incoming government must hold personal responsibility for the decisions they take to help economy grow, Mishustin told MPs ahead of the confirmation vote.

Russia’s new prime minister announced his first cabinet a few days later, on January 21st 2020. It didn’t amount to a radical overhaul, but there were new, and younger, appointees and some well-known ministers were replaced.

Sergey Lavrov and Sergey Shoigu held on to their “big beast” positions, which suggests foreign and defense policy wouldn’t change much. The cabinet retained 12 people from the outgoing one and replaced nine positions, bringing down the average age of ministers to 50 years. Here are the new faces of Mishustin’s cabinet.

First Deputy Prime Minister Andrey Belousov (replaces Anton Siluanov) A Muscovite and son of a prominent Soviet economist, the 60-year-old Belousov might have remained a theorist with his degree in economic cybernetics, if not for his 2005 report in which he made several prophetic predictions, including the 2008 financial crisis. He joined the Ministry of Economic Development in 2006 and became its head six years later, before being appointed as an aide to President Vladimir Putin in 2013.

Deputy Prime Ministers

Chief of Staff: Dmitry Grigorenko (instead of Konstantin Chuychenko, who moves to the Ministry of Justice) Born in Siberia, Grigorenko (41) began his career in the southern Krasnodar region. A career taxman, he previously worked with Mishustin at the federal tax service.

Victoria Abramchenko, Alexey Overchuk, Marat Khusnullin, Dmitry Chernyshenko are new deputy PMs, while Yuri Borisov and Tatyana Golikova retained their posts.

Yuri Trutnev remains the Presidential representative to the Far Eastern Federal District.

New Ministers

Culture: Olga Lyubimova (was Vladimir Medinsky) A cultural blue-blood, Lyubimova (39) is the great-granddaughter of the great Russian theatre actor Vasily Kachalov. Her grandfather Vadim Shreubovich ran the Moscow Art Theater where no less a figure than Konstantin Stanislavski was a fan.

A qualified journalist, she worked as a TV correspondent and producer for a number of popular shows and work, before moving to documentary production. She replaces Medinsky, who was a very divisive figure in the world of Russian arts due to his controversial views on movies and comics, as well as a scandal over his doctoral dissertation.

Digital Development, Communications and Mass Media: Maksut Shadaev (replaces Konstantin Noskov) Shadaev, a 40-year-old Muscovite, held a variety of public service posts, before rising to deputy PM of the Moscow Region. In 2018, he moved to Rostelecom, Russia’s largest digital and long-distance telephony provider, to work on digital platforms.

Economic Development: Maxim Reshetnikov (was Maxim Oreshkin) One to watch, Reshetnikov was previously the governor of Perm, where he was highly rated. He’s only 40 and has a background in linguistics, mathematics and economics. A Dmitry Medvedev protégé, he worked in the Moscow mayor’s office before returning to his home region. In September 2017, he won 82.06 percent of the vote in the gubernatorial election. He replaces the 37-year-old Oreshkin, once deemed the economics “golden boy” but who ultimately failed to boost economic growth in Russia.

Education: Sergey Kravtsov (replaces Olga Vasilyeva) Kravtsov is 45 and a native of Moscow and a former teacher of mathematics and computer science. He previously served as deputy Education minister and was credited with fixing the glitches with Unified State Exam. He replaces Vasilyeva, who was criticized for pushing religion studies and cutting down foreign language classes in school.

Health: Mikhail Murashko (was Veronika Skvortsova) Dr. Murashko (53) hails from Yekaterinburg, and he previously ran the Federal Service for Health Supervision (Roszdravnadzor). A gynecologist, he ran the Ministry of Health in the Komi Republic, and has also edited medical journals. It’s hoped that his practical experience as a working doctor will bring a new dynamic to the post. His predecessor’s hospital reforms were heavily criticized.

Justice: Konstantin Chuychenko (was Alexander Konovalov) A former KGB officer, Chuychenko was a classmate of Medvedev’s in the Law Department of Leningrad State University back in the 1980s. He spent many years working for Gazprom, while also juggling a role in Medvedev’s presidential administration. He stayed there when Putin returned to the Kremlin, working for two years as the government chief of staff.

Labor and Social Protection: Anton Kotyakov (was Maxim Topilin) Kotyakov (39) is from Samara, where he was a precocious youth in the regional administration, rapidly rising in the ranks. In March 2014, he was appointed Minister of Finance of the Moscow Region, before transferring to the post of deputy Finance minister of Russia three years later. He’s married, with two children.

Science and Higher Education: Valery Falkov (was Mikhail Kotyukov) Falkov, 41, leaves his post as rector of Tyumen State University to enter the cabinet. He spent four years as a member of the Tyumen Regional Duma (parliament) before joining the Presidential Council on Science and Education in December 2018. This is a big step up.

Sports: Oleg Matytsin (was Pavel Kolobkov) The Muscovite Matytsin is president of the International University Sports Federation and his job will be to restore Russia’s battered sporting reputation, with a particular focus on full reinstatement to the Olympics. A former elite table tennis player, he has published more than 80 scientific papers, including seven books.

Returning faces

Sergey Shoigu stays at the helm of Defense, with Sergey Lavrov at Foreign Affairs and Anton Siluanov in Finance. Vladimir Kolokoltsev remains the Minister of the Interior.

Dmitry Patrushev will continue to lead Agriculture. Evgeny Zinichev remains in charge of Civil Defense, Emergencies and Disaster Management (EMERCOM). Energy is headed by Alexander Novak, with Vladimir Yakushev overseeing Construction and Housing & Communal Services.

Denis Manturov remains the Minister of Industry and Trade. Alexander Kozlov stays in charge of Development of the Far East and the Arctic. Dmitry Kobylkin is overseeing Natural Resources and Ecology, while Evgeny Ditrikh kept Transport.

The Ministry of North Caucasus Affairs, held by Sergei Chebotarev, was abolished.


The Swiss Voters Approve More Gun Control

On May 19, 2019, Swiss voters approved a new set of gun control restrictions. This newly-approved gun control measure would put Switzerland’s gun control laws in line with European Union standards. Under this new law, military-style, semi-automatic weapons would be heavily restricted, while also tightening up gun registration standards. A few exemptions were made for participants in shooting sports who will still be able to nominally exercise their right to own arms without going through many more hurdles.

Those in the international gun community expressed concern after this vote, where Swiss voters resoundinglycast their ballots in favor of these new regulations by a 64-36 percent margin. Switzerland is commonly viewed as having relatively pro-gun laws similar to countries like the United States, so it’s generally used as an international example for the feasibility of civilian firearms ownership. Proponents of the right to self-defense have every reason to be worried, but this vote has implications that go beyond gun rights.

The European Firearms Directive

According to Claudio Grass, a frequent contributor at Mises based in Switzerland, and Dimitrios Papadopoulos, an officer in the Swiss militia, 80 percent of shooters in Switzerland use semi-automatic weapons, which will effectively be prohibited under this new directive. The only way people can acquire the newly prohibited weapons is through an exemption where the prospective gun owner declares himself to be a sports marksman. The only proof that he needs to provide is that he was shooting at least five times within a five-year timespan. Whether this exception will be maintained in the future is unknown, as the EU announced further restrictions and the Swiss law will have to adopt these, too, according to the Schengen treaty.

The Militia Origins of Switzerland’s Gun Culture

Switzerland has a militia tradition dating back to the Middle Ages. Unlike other European countries during the period, Swiss cantons did not have nobility systems. Thus, defense and security were provided by villages and citizens themselves. One caveat to note is that military service is compulsory in Switzerland for healthy Swiss male citizens.

Servicemen in Switzerland receive a SIG550 assault rifle or a SIG P220 pistol and are required to keep their firearms at home as long as they are enlisted. After serving, veterans can keep these weapons, however, the automatic and burst-fire functions of the SIG550 must be disabled. Military service in Switzerland is inextricably tied to marksmanship, with servicemen having to go to the shooting range once a year to demonstrate their shooting chops. The SIG550 and SIG510 are the preferred rifles of choice for shooting sports and also for civilians in Switzerland. However, under the new EU Directive, the SIG550 and SIG510 have been reclassified as “prohibited” weapons even though the Swiss government issues about 20,000 of these weapons to recruits every year.

The Decentralized Approach to Gun Control in Switzerland

Cantons still handle all weapons permitting in Switzerland, and in fact, there is no centralized bureaucracy for guns in Switzerland. Even though the firearms law is federal, certain cantons have stricter permitting requirements than others. (Although not libertarian, this system does show the benefits of decentralization, where people can choose between competing jurisdictions.)

In the past, to attain a weapons license in a Swiss canton, one did not have to give local authorities a special reason for why they’re acquiring a firearm. It was only a matter of asking the police of the canton an individual is residing in for a permit — a “Waffenerwerbsschein.” Authorities are obliged to grant a permit unless the person applying has a glaring criminal record, mental health issues, or other pertinent indicators of being dangerous. Once obtained, the firearm cannot be confiscated except for extreme circumstances in which the person presents an immediate threat to others.

However, this new EU directive now requires that all military-style, semi-automatic weapons used by Swiss marksmen and serviceman be re-classified as “prohibited weapons.” In other words, these semi-automatic firearms fall under the same category as machine guns and fully automatic weapons which require an “Ausnahmebewilligung” (exception permit) to attain. In these cases, authorities have more discretion in rejecting potential applicants. A prospective gun owner would have to justify his reasons for owning a gun and fully document that they are not criminals.

This New Gun Control Scheme Threatens Swiss Sovereignty

Grass and Papadopoulos highlight that the EU directive could lead to potential gun control micromanagement by the EU, as it now will be confident in knowing that Swiss voters will comply with any of its threats when it decides to pressure the country into accepting its pet policies.

Papadopoulos makes a candid assertion that strikes at the heart of this debate:

What is particularly scary is that the whole argument for the new law was not really about saving lives or reducing gun violence, but rather focused on Brussels ordering Switzerland to modify gun laws to comply with EU gun control standards. Failure to do so could lead to a potential expulsion from the Schengen Agreement. We did not vote on a subject but on avoiding potential punishment by Brussels.

The Swiss value neutrality as evidenced by their decision to stay out of the EU. However, Switzerland is a member of the Schengen Area which was established by the Schengen Agreement in 1985. Countries within the Schengen Area have abolished all passport and border controls at their mutual borders. Given their membership in the Schengen Area, non-EU members such as Switzerland, Norway, Iceland, and Liechtenstein must comply with certain EU Laws. In 2017, when the EU expanded firearms restrictions in light of mass shootings in Paris, it became clear that this standard was about to be extended to the non-EU members of the Schengen Area.

Switzerland was originally given an August 2018 deadline to implement these changes, which the Swiss parliament decided to implement. This decision generated backlash among gun and other right-wing groups such as the Swiss People’s Party. In response, they immediately wanted to take this issue to the ballot. One of the most outspoken figures in right-wing politics in Switzerland, Christoph Blocher, went on record saying that Switzerland should consider leaving the Schengen system of passport-free travel if Swiss voters reject this gun control proposal at the polls.

The European Union was clever in dangling the carrot of the Schengen Agreement while also wielding the gun control stick, which was enough to get Swiss voters to comply with EU gun regulations. Had voters not approved this ordinance, the EU may have taken more punitive alternatives to break Swiss sovereignty.

Switzerland Should Resist the Temptation of Centralization

What has made Switzerland truly exceptional among countries, is its decentralized approach to governance, which has effectively depoliticized it, unlike other traditional states in the EU and North America, which are mired in identity politics, welfarism, or militarism of some sort. Switzerland offers a pragmatic alternative that many of Europe’s budding separatist movements can look at as an example.

More than just Switzerland capitulating to gun control, this referendum demonstrates the EU’s universalistic vision for the European continent. There’s a good reason to believe that this won’t be the last time that the EU will coax Switzerland into accepting other top-down schemes. If Switzerland wants to remain Europe’s most decentralized state, it will have to stand up against Brussels in future battles. Not doing so, will put it on the path of being another lifeless political appendage of the EU superstate.


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