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Vladimir Putin faces ‘biggest crisis’ of his 20-year rule

The Russian leader’s approval rating has plunged and a plan to extend his presidency hangs in the balance. Tom Parfitt reports

Tom Parfitt, Moscow; Friday May 01 2020,

Tatiana Stanovaya, a non-resident scholar at Carnegie Moscow Centre, a think tank, believes Mr Putin is facing the biggest crisis of his two decades in power.

Yet the former KGB officer has survived many predicted downfalls and could yet ride out this storm.

Discontent is already tangible and could speed up an “erosion of Putin’s regime” that began about two years ago when he seemed to lose his common touch and began talking to the nation “like an accountant”, Ms Stanovaya said.

Nevertheless, if the pandemic can be contained and cases reach a plateau soon, the Kremlin could hold the constitutional vote in late June and push it through.

Even if the fallout from the pandemic extends into the autumn and protests begin, the vote has a good chance of receiving public approval. The Kremlin has cleverly freighted the key constitutional amendments allowing Mr Putin to stay on with social guarantees such as adjusting pensions and benefits to inflation. Those may seem increasingly attractive as the impact of the virus bites.

If the crisis continued to the end of the year, Ms Stanovaya said, that would be “very bad” for the Kremlin; until spring, “a disaster”.

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