Khodorkovsky Warns Putin After Date Is Set For Presidential Power Grab Vote
Russian President Vladimir Putin can be expected to face protests over his decision to push forward with a vote on constitutional amendments that could keep him in power until 2036.
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Former billionaire Mikhail Khodorkovsky has told Forbes that he expects the Russian people to “strongly react” to the Kremlin’s power play with Putin’s popularity in freefall since the start of the coronavirus pandemic in March.
With the Kremlin seeking to address unanswered questions over the continuity of Putin’s power in Russia with elections expected in 2021, Putin told officials yesterday that July 1 this year would be a “suitable date” to hold the vote on the “constitutional amendments,” during a video conference broadcast on Rossiya 24 and reported by Aljazeera. “As the situation with the pandemic improves” Russia will return “to normal life” Putin said, stressing the need for “further work” on amending the constitution to allow for his presidency to continue until 2036.
However former Yukos billionaire Mikhail Khodorkovsky, who spent nearly ten years in prison after clashing with the President over corruption in 2004, told Forbes that it’s now or never for Putin to push through the constitutional changes he needs to stay in power.
‘Now or never’ moment
In a comment emailed across this morning Khodorkovsky said that as Putin’s approval rating crashes in Russia over his response to the coronavirus pandemic, it is “no surprise” Putin seeks “to rush with the plebiscite vote to legitimise the constitutional amendments,” warning that the public is braced for protest following the arrest of the union leader Vladimir Vorontzov.
Khodorkovsky warns that recent events since the first was cancelled in April, “have demonstrated that the opposition is ready to restart peaceful street actions and the power to be – to strongly react to those actions against all constitutional norms.”
Both Putin and the opposition voices within Russia are keen to see the president’s popularity tested in the immediate aftermath of the coronavirus pandemic.
The Tass government news agency said last week that the number of unemployed in Russia may swell to seven million people in 2020. Alexander Safonov, Vice-Rector of the Financial University said around 10.5% of the working population, predicting a “second wave of unemployment growth” as financial reserves run low.
Research from Moscow-based Levada Center published on Monday revealed that 28% of respondents said they were willing to take part in protests over falling living standards in Russia, a four percent rise since February.
Tatiana Stanovaya of the Carnegie Moscow Center describes the events that have unfolded since the onset of the pandemic – namely the postponement of the constitutional reform vote, and the decline in oil prices – as “the worst crisis for the Putin system” in 20 years. Adding that “No one knows how long it will last …. the durability of Putin’s regime is being put to the test.”
Putin Resets The Clock
Before the coronavirus crisis put Russia into lockdown the Kremlin was expected to convince voters that President Putin should be allowed to remain in Russia’s highest seat of power for another 16 years.
Putin and the Russian political establishment was looking to “reset to zero” the number of years (20) Putin has already been in power through a series of constitutional amendments. The mandate for such a drastic change was first planned for 22 April this year.
The former head of Yukos Oil and Russia’s one-time richest man (once worth $15 billion and ranked No. 15 in the world) Khodorkovsky has emerged as a leading opposition voice against the planned constitutional changes in Russia.
Having arrested Khodorkovsky in 2004, and jailed him in 2005 for tax evasion, embezzlement and fraud, Khodorkovsky was pardoned by President Putin and flown to Germany in 2013 as Russia prepared to host the 2014 Sochi Olympics.
However in March this year Vladimir Putin deliberately reignited his battle with the former oil billionaire, dubbing Khodorkovsky a “fraudster” whose security staff were involved in contract killings.
In a statement to Forbes, Khodorkovsky hit back, “I heard that Putin called me a cheat. [It is] The first time … I knowingly give way to Vladimir.
“[If] he implies that I’m a cheat, then Putin is above me in cheating. His scam with the Constitution, and his terms of being in power is impossible to outdo.”
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