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Russian Government Resigns As Putin Calls For Constitutional Change


We're going to go to Moscow now, where the entire Russian government has submitted its resignation to President Vladimir Putin this morning. This move came soon after Putin gave his annual state of the union address in which he called for changes to the constitution. There has been increasing criticism of the Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev's handling of domestic policy, and now he is among those stepping down. There's also speculation that Putin is setting up a system for him to remain in power after his current term as president expires.

And let's talk this through with reporter Charles Maynes in Moscow. Good morning, Charles.

CHARLES MAYNES, BYLINE: Good morning, David.

GREENE: How did this all come down? I mean, how did Russians hear that their government was all resigning?

MAYNES: Yeah, it was a strange day in Russian politics. As you noted, Putin gave his annual address to the Federal Assembly. This is something like the state of the nation speech - State of the Union speech Russian-style. Putin proposed these significant changes to the constitution, including actually lessening the power of the presidency in the future and turning it over to the parliament. So for example, the prime minister would now be chosen by the parliament - or approved, excuse me, by the parliament.

And after making this speech, which seemed to imply pass for Putin to extend his sway over Russian politics for the foreseeable future, within a few hours, we had Putin and Medvedev before cameras. And Medvedev announced that in light of all these shifting constitutional grounds, which are, by the way, likely to pass, that he was resigning. And Putin thanked them for his service and said that Medvedev would actually go on to work on the security council here. So he's not quite out of the business.

GREENE: So this is all connected in some way. I mean, this sounds like it is Putin figuring out ways to remain in power potentially longer than his current term would allow. Is that right?

MAYNES: Yeah, and that's been the source of speculation really since Putin took the oath of office for his fourth term last year. Really it's been just a question of how he can stay or at least extend his influence in Russian politics. So for the last several months, we've had theories, for example, that Russia might join into a union with Belarus and that Putin might lead this new union of states. That's not going to happen apparently. There are also thoughts that Putin himself suggests that maybe he might get rid of term limits in the constitution here. He ditched that possibility as well. He said two term limits are enough; two terms are enough for the presidency.

And so now it seems that it's now about this shifting power to the parliament. And Putin could take some kind of role in that, whether it's as a kind of an enhanced prime minister, a role, in fact, he had before where he and Mr. Medvedev did kind of a shift of positions back in 2008. I believe you were here back then, David.

GREENE: Yeah, I was.

MAYNES: And then also - you know, or it might be something where if that doesn't appeal to him, and there are reasons why that may not, he might take a job is this enhanced security council, which is another role that - another shift that Putin proposed today.

GREENE: So he's just giving himself a lot of options with all of these moves. How is this likely to be received by the Russian people?

MAYNES: Well, I think it depends on your opinions about Vladimir Putin. I mean, his supporters, I think, are thrilled. They've been waiting for some sign of what Putin might do in ways that he might continue his influence over the Russian politics for the foreseeable future. I think for people that are not his supporters, of course, this is a disaster. I mean, they have been expecting it, I think, but also hoping for some way that there might be some shift in the political scene here. That doesn't appear to be the case.

GREENE: Big day in Russian politics and suggestions that Vladimir Putin might be in power in that country much longer than the current law would suggest. Reporter Charles Maynes covering it all for us. He's on Skype from Moscow this morning. Charles, thanks so much.

MAYNES: Thank you, David. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.