To write about Russia for a living is, to an unavoidable degree, to be in the business of analyzing the thoughts, decisions, and machinations of one man, Vladimir Putin—which, inevitably, means often getting it wrong. The latest unexpected turn in Russian politics came on Tuesday, when, in a tragicomic bit of political theatre, Valentina Tereshkova, a former Soviet cosmonaut and a member of Russia’s parliament, stood to offer an amendment to the country’s constitution. The proposal put forward by Tereshkova, who was clearly put up to the job, was simple and brazen: to reset Putin’s time as the President to zero, granting him the chance to run again in 2024, when his current, fourth term is set to end. “Given his enormous authority, this would be a stabilizing factor for our society,” she declared.
The 2024 question has lingered since the moment that Putin was most recently reëlected, in 2018; Russia’s current term limits dictated that he could not run again, and thus, to do so, he would have to cook something up. In January, with no warning, Putin dismissed the government and declared a need to revise the constitution, a process that most observers assumed would lay the groundwork for the next Putin epoch in Russian politics. Moscow was consumed with talk of a looming “transit” period. In typical Putin style, the particulars were left vague, to be decided later. Putin himself offered cryptic, contradictory hints about his intentions—too much detail would allow his rivals and foes, whether inside the palace walls or out on the streets, to prepare for whatever he had in store.