Mikhail Mishustin, a former tax official little known both outside and even within Russian political circles, is set to be the nation’s new prime minister, having on Thursday morning received the backing of the governing party.
Mishustin has been hand-picked by President Vladimir Putin to oversee a new government, charged with implementing a range of constitutional reforms that could see the Russian president remain in power in some form after his term of office expires in 2024.
Wednesday’s shock resignation of Russia’s entire government followed Putin’s calls for widespread reforms to Russia‘s power structures, with former Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev saying the president deserved to have the type of government he wanted while the reforms were pushed through.
Medvedev will remain in office until his successor formally takes over, when the long-standing Putin ally will begin a new role in charge of defence and security in Russia’s highly influential Security Council.
Some analysts are suggesting 67-year-old Putin, who is two years into his fourth presidential term and has steered the country since 1999, could be laying the groundwork to assume a new position or remain in a powerful behind-the-scenes role.
It is unclear whether Mishustin, a technocrat whose recent career revolved around the tax service, is a temporary placeholder or could be groomed as Putin’s successor.
But his approval was imminent after the United Russia party – which holds 75 percent of seats in the lower house of the Russian parliament – gave its backing on Thursday morning.
“We decided to unanimously support the candidature suggested by our national leader for the post of the head of government,” the head of United Russia’s parliamentary faction, Sergei Neverov, told journalists.
Legislators are due to discuss and vote on Mishustin’s nomination at a plenary session at 11:00 GMT.
In his state of the nation speech, Putin said he wanted more authority transferred to Parliament from the president, including the power to choose the prime minister and cabinet members.
He also called for the power of the State Council, an advisory body, to be expanded and enshrined in the constitution – adding to conjecture that Putin could take it over after 2024 to preserve power.
Outlining the proposals, which would be the first significant changes to the country’s constitution since it was adopted in 1993, Putin said there was a “demand for change” among Russians.
He was set to meet on Thursday with a newly created working group to develop constitutional amendments.
A list of more than 70 names joining the group published by the Kremlin includes conservative public figures as well as celebrities like actor Vladimir Mashkov and pianist Denis Matsuev.
Independent political analyst Maria Lipman said the announcements indicated that Putin wanted to “stay on as number one in the country, without any competitors”.
She said he could be deliberately weakening the presidency before relinquishing the role.
Russia’s opposition also said the proposals indicate Putin’s desire to stay in power.
Opposition leader Alexei Navalny said on Twitter that Putin’s only goal was to “remain the sole leader for life”.
Once 53-year-old Mishustin is appointed he will have a week to propose a new government and ministers.
He told United Russia that some changes in the cabinet would be made but did not elaborate, legislator Viktor Vodolatsky told Interfax.
Mishustin, the former head of an investment group who trained as an engineer, has a PhD in economics and has led Russia’s Federal Tax Service since 2010.
He shares Putin’s love for hockey and has been seen at matches with security services officials.
Former opposition legislator Gennadiy Gudkov called Mishustin “a new faceless functionary without ambition” who embodies a system that is “detrimental for the economy”.