Russian parliament to vote for new PM in Putin’s reshuffle

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MOSCOW (AP) – Russian lawmakers are set to quickly approve the appointment of a new prime minister Thursday, a day after President Vladimir Putin kicked off an unexpected reshuffle of his inner circle that could keep him in power well past the end of his term in 2024.

Mikhail Mishustin, the chief of Russia’s tax service, met with lawmakers from various factions in the State Duma ahead of the confirmation vote in the Kremlin-controlled lower house.

Mishustin vowed to focus on social issues and improve living standards. “We have all the necessary resources to fulfill the goals set by the president,” he said.

Mishustin would succeed Dmitry Medvedev, a Putin associate who was Russia’s prime minister for eight years. Medvedev resigned hours after Putin proposed sweeping changes to the constitution.

Medvedev served as president in 2008-2012, keeping the seat warm for Putin who continued calling the shots from the premier’s after when he was forced to step down temporarily as president due to term limits.

Putin has kept his longtime ally Medvedev in his close circle, appointing him to the newly created post of deputy head of the presidential Security Council.

The 53-year-old Mishustin is a career bureaucrat who has worked as the tax chief for the past 10 years. He has won a good reputation among experts who praised him for boosting tax collection and streamlining Russia’s rigid tax administration system.

The reshuffle sent shock waves through Russia’s political elites, who were left pondering what Putin’s intentions were and speculating about future Cabinet appointments.

A constitutional reform that Putin announced in a state-of-the-nation address indicated he was working to carve out a new governing position for himself after his term ends in 2024, although it remains unclear what specific path he will take to stay in charge.

Putin has been in power longer than any other Russian or Soviet leader since Josef Stalin, who led from 1924 until his death in 1953. Under the current law, Putin must step down when his current term ends.

Putin suggested amending the constitution to allow lawmakers to name prime ministers and Cabinet members. The president currently holds the authority to make those appointments.

At the same time, Putin argued that Russia would not remain stable if it were governed under a parliamentary system. The president should retain the right to dismiss the prime minister and Cabinet ministers, to name top defense and security officials, and to be in charge of the Russian military and law enforcement agencies, he said.

In his address, Putin said the constitution must also specify the authority of the State Council consisting of regional governors and top federal officials.

Observers speculated that Putin might try to stay in charge by shifting into the prime minister’s seat again after increasing the powers of parliament and the Cabinet and trimming presidential authority.

Others suggested that he could also try to continue pulling the strings as head of the council and could even shift into a new position before his term ends.

Later on Thursday, Putin is expected to attend a meeting of the working group to draft constitutional amendments.

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Daria Litvinova in Moscow contributed to this report.

Russian President Vladimir Putin, left, listens to Tax Service chief Mikhail Mishustin during their meeting in the Kremlin in Moscow, Russia, Wednesday, Jan. 15, 2020. Putin has named Tax Service chief Mikhail Mishustin as Russia’s new prime minister Wednesday Jan. 15. The 53-year-old Mishustin has worked in the government since 1998, keeping a low profile while serving as the head of the Federal Tax Service since 2010. (Alexei Nikolsky, Sputnik, Kremlin Pool Photo via AP)
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