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Putin's problem and Russia's future

Putin's problem and Russia's future

Vladimir Putin has ruled Russia for twenty years, but he has a problem: his current presidential term ends in 2024, and the constitution prevents him from running for re-election then.

As a result, the question of what he'll do in 2024 has been on the minds of Russia's oligarchs, spooks, bureaucrats, and a lot of ordinary folks, as well. After all, over the past two decades, Putin has made himself, for better and for worse, the indispensable arbiter, boss, and glue of Russia's sprawling and corrupted system of government. As the current speaker of Russia's legislature once said, "Without Putin, there is no Russia." Not as we currently know it, no.


The last time Putin faced the constitutional limit of two consecutive presidential terms back in 2008, he simply installed his pal Dmitry Medvedev as president and worked "like a galley slave" for four years as Prime Minister, while keeping all the real power for himself. In 2012, he again became president – one of the things that sparked mass protests that year.

This time, he looks set to make a different plan. Earlier this week, he proposed a constitutional referendum that would bring big changes to Russia's political system by transferring powers from the presidency to the State Duma (Russia's legislature) and "firming up the status" of the State Council, which until now has been a Kremlin advisory body with a vaguely defined purpose.

These proposals immediately set off speculation: would Putin become Prime Minister after 2024 in a system where the Duma holds much more power? Or would he indicate a preferred presidential successor, clip that person's wings, and then head a beefed-up State Council as a kind of "father of the nation" figure, above the quotidian fray of politics?

For now, it's still impossible to know exactly what Putin will do. His style is to keep people off balance until the very last minute (he pulled Medvedev out of a hat almost on the eve of the 2008 presidential election.)

But looking ahead, here's what we can say:

Until 2024: Putin keeps his power and his options wide open to avoid whispers that he's become a lame duck. So long as Russia's power set is uncertain about what happens next, Putin has the initiative.

After 2024: So long as Putin lives, he likely holds onto power. Whether that power comes with an official post doesn't matter. Whatever position he occupies will in practice become the most powerful position in Russia, not because of any laws, but because Putin is the person who holds it.

After that: Putin's a hardy guy, especially for a 67-year-old, but he won't be around forever. What does Russia look like after Putin is truly gone? When systems are built so firmly around one person, the loss of that person creates a fundamental problem. Russia's not there yet, but one day it will be.

Microsoft released a new annual report, called the Digital Defense Report, covering cybersecurity trends from the past year. This report makes it clear that threat actors have rapidly increased in sophistication over the past year, using techniques that make them harder to spot and that threaten even the savviest targets. For example, nation-state actors are engaging in new reconnaissance techniques that increase their chances of compromising high-value targets, criminal groups targeting businesses have moved their infrastructure to the cloud to hide among legitimate services, and attackers have developed new ways to scour the internet for systems vulnerable to ransomware. Given the leap in attack sophistication in the past year, it is more important than ever that steps are taken to establish new rules of the road for cyberspace: that all organizations, whether government agencies or businesses, invest in people and technology to help stop attacks; and that people focus on the basics, including regular application of security updates, comprehensive backup policies, and, especially, enabling multi-factor authentication. Microsoft summarized some of the most important insights in this year's report, including related suggestions for people and businesses.

Read the whole post and report at Microsoft On The Issues.

Donald Trump's presidency has irked a lot of people around the world. And in fairness, that's no surprise. He was elected in part to blow up long-standing assumptions about how international politics, trade, and diplomatic relations are supposed to work.

But while he has correctly identified some big challenges — adapting NATO to the 21st century, managing a more assertive China, or ending America's endless wars in Afghanistan and Iraq — his impulsive style, along with his restrictions on trade and immigration, have alienated many world leaders. Global polls show that favorable views of the US have plummeted to all-time lows in many countries, particularly among traditional American allies in Europe.

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GZERO Media, in partnership with the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and Eurasia Group, today hosted its second virtual town hall on the hunt for a COVID-19 vaccine and the challenges of its distribution.

The panel was moderated by New York Times science and health reporter Apoorva Mandavilli and featured Gates Foundation's Deputy Director of Vaccines & Human Immunobiology, Lynda Stuart; Eurasia Group's Rohitesh Dhawan, Managing Director of Energy, Climate & Resources; Gates Foundation CEO Mark Suzman; and Gayle E. Smith, the president & CEO of ONE Campaign and former Administrator of the U.S. Agency for International Development.

Watch the full video above.

The enormous scale of the coronavirus pandemic was captured earlier this week as the global death toll surpassed 1 million people. As the weight of the grim milestone sunk in, the New York Times noted that COVID-19 has now killed more people this year than the scourges of HIV, malaria, influenza, and cholera — combined. While some countries like Germany and South Korea are models in how to curb the virus' spread through social distancing and mask wearing, other countries around the world have recently seen caseloads surge again, raising fears of a dreaded "second wave" of infections. Here's a look at countries where the per-capita caseload has spiked in recent days.

"The jury is out" European Central Bank President Christine Lagarde says when asked if things in Europe will get economically worse before they get better. "All I know is that it's going to be a journey, and probably a long journey." Her conversation with Ian Bremmer is part of a new GZERO World episode.

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