Michael McFaul, former US ambassador to Moscow, told CNBC that there is “a sense of panic among [Russia’s] elites right now” that could lead Russia’s President Vladimir Putin to change his government.
The Stanford professor suggested that Putin could undertake a surprise reshuffle in an effort to reassure key players in the country that the president is in control of the situation.
“I actually get a sense of panic among economic elites right now, and that makes Putin more cautious,” he told CNBC in an interview. “I think he may think about changing his government. I think that may be the surprise move you might see in the coming days or weeks.”
Doing so, however, would mean removing Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev from office — a role he was given after stepping down as president after only one term to allow Putin to return to Russia’s top office.
Under the Russian constitution the same person may not be elected President of the Russian Federation for more than two terms running. The role of prime minister was widely seen as a reward for Medvedev’s decision not to seek another term, as would he would have been entitled to.
Firing him at this stage could be particularly galling for a man who was once half of what was called Russia’s “tandemocracy” (tandemokratiia in Russian), or joint rule with Putin.
Of course, McFaul has some experience of the machinations of the Kremlin after he was himself caught up in efforts to discredit a nascent opposition movement in 2012. After taking office he came under heavy attack from corners of the media and the political establishment for his academic work on Ukraine’s Orange Revolution, with his accusers suggesting that the appointment was intimately linked to protests against electoral fraud in the Russian capital that attracted tens of thousands of participants.
Following a meeting with opposition figures at his official residence Russia’s state-owned TV station Channel One ran a report under the caption “US embassy: Receiving instructions from the new ambassador”. In parliament Vladimir Zhirinovsky, a political firebrand and leader of the Liberal Democratic Party of Russia (LDPR), called for all opposition politicians who attended the meeting at the US Embassy to give up their mandates.
Even the then president Dmitry Medvedev warned the ambassador that “he needs to realise that he is working in the Russian Federation, not in the United States of America“.
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