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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

An Idea That Just Won't Die

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Just when the political noise had subsided over the idea of amending the Constitution to allow President Vladimir Putin to run for a third term, recently re-elected Federation Council Speaker Sergei Mironov has proposed that the Constitution be amended to allow the president to serve three consecutive terms of five to seven years, rather than the current two terms of four years.

Such an amendment would require support from two-thirds of the State Duma, three-quarters of the Federation Council and two-thirds of the regional legislative assemblies. The Constitutional Court's 1995 interpretation of this procedure states that the president would not have veto powers in this event.

What is interesting is that less than six months ago Mironov was an outspoken critic of the third-term idea. Mironov is generally considered to be close to Putin, and his unexpected forecasts have a knack for coming true. Mironov and his A Just Russia party reflect the mood of a significant segment of the Kremlin administration, including deputy chief of staff Igor Sechin. Does this mean Mironov was voicing the hopes of this group? The evidence suggests this is the case.

Some uncertainty has developed among the country's political elite with the emergence of A Just Russia as a second "party of power," as was demonstrated during the March 11 regional elections. More used to and comfortable with taking directions from above, local elites were confused by the choice between United Russia and A Just Russia.

And now the political elite is faced with another burdensome choice -- should Putin stay or go. And that was the response in the Federation Council, with few voices daring to label Mironov's initiative as what it really was -- a downward slide toward dictatorship. It is unlikely that many people at the regional level will summon the courage to buck this trend.

Those who support the third-term initiative will be working on at least two parallel policies. The first is to stop worrying about Russia's image in the West. This image has deteriorated significantly in recent months, as Putin's energy doctrine is perceived more as energy blackmail, the murder of journalist Anna Politkovskaya and poisoning of former security services agent Alexander Litvinenko occurred on his watch, and his February speech in Munich demonstrated a more aggressive stance toward the West. Officials close to the Kremlin are increasingly saying Russia has nothing to gain by trying to ingratiate itself with the West.

The second policy is related to what could becalled the Orange threat." The West, as the theory goes, is preparing to stage a Ukrainian-style revolution in the run-up to December State Duma elections, as seen in support for the Dissenters' March on April 14 and for opposition groups led by former Prime Minister Mikhail Kasyanov and Garry Kasparov. This concern was behind the formation of the pro-Kremlin Nashi movement. Although today it does little more than assemble in flash mobs that send a thousand SMS messages to Putin, it could still be mobilized into a street army to fight the opposition. The message is that only Putin can prevent a revolution.

As the end of his term nears, those who want him to stay will increasingly argue that the country will fall apart without him. And it is difficult to predict how much pressure there will be and what methods might be used to convince others. Ultimately, Putin may have to make an unpleasant choice: either cast off those members of his inner circle who are desperately trying to allow him to stay, or else give in to the pressure to remain in office.

If he does stay, of course, he will explain it as bowing to the wishes of millions of Russian working people.

Georgy Bovt is editor of Profil magazine.