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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

What Happens If President ... Dies?




President-elect Vladimir Putin's abandoning of a self-imposed foreign travel ban highlights legal problems the nation could face if he died or was badly injured.


Putin, elected president on March 26, remains in the post of prime minister, which he has held since last August. He imposed the travel ban on grounds that as he held both top jobs, he could not be absent from the country.


Sudden death or inability to continue in office leaves open the question of who would succeed him. The constitution authorizes only the prime minister to take over the president's duties.


A spokeswoman for the Constitutional Court, the nation's highest authority in constitutional law, said the situation was so delicate that none of its 19 judges wanted to comment unless the court was summoned to make a formal judgment.


A Kremlin spokesman also declined to comment.


But Suren Abakyan, head of the department of constitutional law at Moscow State University, suggested the job was likely to fall to Putin's highest placed minister - First Deputy Prime Minister Mikhail Kasyanov.


Kasyanov is tipped to become prime minister after the president-elect's inauguration, set for May 7.


"If something happens to Putin, it is an open-end situation," Abakyan said by telephone.


"We have nothing like the U.S. Constitution, which specifically names, in order, 14 officials bound to take office."


By law, a presidential election is to be called within three months if the president steps down early. The prime minister becomes acting president in the interim period - as Putin did when former President Boris Yeltsin resigned New Year's Eve.


Abakyan said the only legal document offering a clue on who might succeed Putin was the law on the government, which stipulated that a deputy prime minister takes over if the prime minister gives up his office.


"But the constitution makes no mention of an acting prime minister fulfilling presidential duties," he said. Logic, he said, dictated that Kasyanov, as first deputy prime minister, would take charge despite a lack of legal clarity.


"If something happens, naturally, Kasyanov will become acting president. Not because the law clearly points to him, but because in the situation of legal instability and in the face of looming chaos he will have to take power to avert panic."


Complicating the problem even further, Kasyanov himself left Moscow last week for International Monetary Fund and World Bank meetings in Washington.


"If something happens to him, it will be even worse because after Kasyanov, the next in line are several deputy prime ministers who could start arguing who is first," Abakyan said.


Putin gave no reason for lifting the travel ban when he left Moscow this week to visit Minsk, London and Kiev.