(Written on the evening of. So subject to reconsideration/revision/outright denial as we learn more.)
I didn't expect any of it. Neither did anyone else, whatever the so-called experts outgassing on the US Garbage Media may be pretending. I don't know what it all means. Neither does anyone else. (Well Putin & Co do, but they keep their cards close to their chests. As we've just seen.)
What do we know? Putin gave his annual address to the Federal Council (Rus) (Eng) and started off with how important it was that the birthrate should be raised. Fair enough: he wants more Russians on the planet, the government's programs have ensured that there will be quite a few more but there are still more to come. Many programs planned; some of which will work: after all, not everything works out as we hoped does it? He mentioned how dangerous the world is – especially the MENA – and said at least Russia is pretty secure (as indeed it is except against lunatics addicted to the Book of Revelation.)
Then the constitutional stuff. He believes the Constitution needs a few tweaks. Important officials should really be Russians and not people with a get-out-of-jail-card/alternate-loyalty-card in their vests. Reasonable enough: they should "inseparably connect their lives with Russia and the Russian people without any assumptions and allowances." (Good idea actually. Can we in the West steal the idea? We vote for X but who does he vote for?) Russian law should take precedence over decrees contaminated by the "Rules-Based International Order" ("we make the rules, you follow our orders"). The PM should be named by the Duma. (A pretty big change, actually: let's have more details on the division of labour please. In some countries the head of state is The Boss – USA, Russia (now), France – in others the head of government is The Boss – Germany, Canada, Denmark. There is a serious carve up of powers question here that has to be worked out in detail.) Constitutional changes should be approved in a referendum. The President either should or should not be bound by the no-three-terms-in-a-row-rule (I personally can't figure out what "этим" refers to in "Не считаю, что этот вопрос принципиальный, но согласен с этим. Не считаю, что этот вопрос принципиальный, но согласен с этим." But, no doubt we will soon learn.)
So, a somewhat less presidential republic. Details to be decided. Many details. But I'm confident that it's been worked out and we will learn. Putin & Co have shown us over 20 years that they don't make things up on the fly.
Then we learned that the entire government had resigned – but individuals to stay in place until replaced. Then we learned – a fast few hours indeed! – that Dmitri Medvedev was replaced by somebody that no one (other than Russian tax specialists) had ever heard of: Mikhail Vladimirovich Mishustin. (Russian Wiki entry – none in English so far.) Those cheering Medvedev's dismissal (something predicted and hoped for by a sector of Russianologists) had to then swallow this: not tossed out into ignominy and shame, as they wanted, but something else. Putin says that there is a clear distinction between government and presidential concerns; defence and security are clearly in the latter. But Medvedev has always been closely following defence and security issues and it is suitable and appropriate that he continue to do so. So a new position, deputy heard of the security council, will be created for him. So what are we to make of this? Medvedev has been given the boot and a sinecure? Or he's been given a crucial job in the new carve-up of responsibilities?
After all, Russia's problems keep getting bigger but nobody is getting any younger. Especially the problems from outside. For some years Washington, an implacable enemy of Moscow, has been getting less and less predictable. Lavrov and Kerry spend hours locked up negotiating a deal in Syria; within a week the US military attacks a Syrian Army unit; "by mistake". Who's in charge? Now with the murder of Soleimani, possibly on a Washington-approved peace mission, Washington has moved to another level of lawlessness and is exploring the next depth as it defies Baghdad's order to get out. A pirate power. The outside problems for Moscow aren't getting smaller, are they? Washington is certainly недоговороспособны – it's impossible to make an agreement with it and, if you should think you have done so, it will break it. A dangerous, uncontrollable madman, staggering around blowing everything up – is any foreign leader now to be assumed to be on Washington's murder list? Surviving its decay is a big job indeed. The problems are getting bigger in the Final Days of the Imperium Americanum.
So, maybe Moscow needs more people on the job.
So are we looking at a new division of labour in Moscow as part of managing the Transition? (To say nothing of the – what's the word? – Thucydides trap?). Mishustin looks after the nuts and bolt of Russia's economy and internal management. Medvedev looks after defence and security – something not likely to get smaller while Putin looks after the big picture?
But this is only the first step in The Transition and we will learn more soon.