The media has been abuzz with the reports of Russian President Vladimir Putin planning to quit in January on the grounds of poor health. While the Kremlin has denied these reports and termed them “non-sense”, some media reports are speculating that the president may have Parkinson’s disease.
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Earlier this year, Russians had voted in favor of the constitutional changes that enabled current president Vladimir Putin to stay in power up until 2036.
After the 2020 reforms, according to point 3 of article 81 of the Constitution of Russia, the same person cannot hold the position of the President of the Russian Federation for more than two terms.
Since the condition will not be applicable on the present president, the western media has interpreted it as the extension of Putin’s term, which will happen only if he is elected both the times. Considering the popularity that Putin enjoys in Russia, it would be bizarre if he resigns now, the experts believe.
Moscow political scientist Valery Solovey, who was previously a professor at Moscow State Institute of International Relations, has gone on record at a Moscow radio station that Putin intends to quit his lengthy leadership in 2021.
Solovey suggested the leader had Parkinson’s and that his family and lover Alina Kabaeva, who have a serious influence on him, had urged him to retire in the new year. Last week on Friday, Kremlin spokesman and deputy chief of staff Dmitry Peskov stated Putin was in ‘excellent health’ and dismissed the claims as ‘complete nonsense’.
He said the President is not stepping down and everything is fine with him. Putin, who is also an ex-KGB officer, enjoys the image of an adventurous man who is seen venturing into the wild and engaging in activities such as fishing, horse riding, and swimming in freezing waters.
However, The Sun has quoted a 2015 research at the Department of Neurology, Radboud University Medical Centre, in The Netherlands, which highlights signs in Putin’s gait pointing to Parkinson’s.
The researchers pointed out that the 68-year-old Russian strongman walked with his left arm not moving – almost pinned to his side – while his right arm swings freely. However, this could be a “gunslingers walk”, as KGB agents were trained to keep their weapons tightly pinned to their left-hand side.
As per The Sun’s report, observers noted that Putin’s legs appeared to be in constant motion and he looked to be in pain while clutching a chair’s armrest.
Sanjay Kumar Pandey, who is a professor at the Centre for Russian and Central Asian & East European Studies, Jawaharlal Nehru University, in conversation with the EurAsian Times says he would have called these reports as mere planted rumors by Putin just to gauge the public reaction and the extent of support he still has. However, the new bills lend some credibility to reports that hence all is not well.
The new bills, which are being termed as Putin’s retirement plan as well, are part of the larger constitutional reforms and changes initiated earlier this year. As per the new law, former presidents get lifetime immunity from criminal prosecution.
Up until now, the laws gave immunity to serving presidents, they could not be held criminally or administratively liable for crimes committed while serving their terms.
“This expands the timeframe of immunity guarantees for a president who stops exercising their powers,” Senator Andrei Klishas, who chairs the upper-house Federation Council’s Committee on Constitutional Legislation and State Building, told media.
Pandey divulges there may be something wrong since “the new provision is very difficult to change. In order to change it, you need overwhelming support, two-third support in both the houses of parliament”.
Another law has been proposed that former presidents would become the permanent member of state Duma. Pandey underlines that “a person who is planning to remain in office till 2036, why would he think about former presidents? He wouldn’t do this for Medvedev (ex-president). This new immunity clause cannot be preparation for 2036.”
Pandey says one can still argue that Putin is foreseeing a possibility that he may lose in 2024. “After Belarus, the kind of demonstrations Lukashenko is facing, he might be afraid. Bringing such clause near elections would elicit criticism, so he is preparing well in advance,” he says.
While Putin’s resignation will open up strange possibilities and uncertainties in Russia, which doesn’t have a really strong opposition, Russian opposition leader and former FSB officer Gennady Gudkov reckons that Putin has probably already agreed to leave and transit of power in Russia has begun.
Gudkov told Russian journalist Alexander Sotnik: “Putin agreed to leave – either voluntarily or because of his health condition (physical or mental).” He believes power will go to a group of “people headed by the security officials, who, it seems to me, will soon consider the question: how to preserve Putinism without Putin?”
He observed that while world leaders have been actively working since the beginning of the pandemic, Putin has been “behaving strangely”. He said Putin has also “become much worse at speaking.
Previously, he could flaunt figures during hours of interviews, telling us about numbers and facts but now the president continues to conduct his videoconferences, sits in his office, in the same position, in the same place”.