Putin Pushes Constitutional Change in Russia; Medvedev Resigns

MOSCOW—Russian President

Vladimir Putin

proposed sweeping constitutional changes that could set the stage for him to wield political power after his presidency ends, as his longtime ally, Prime Minister

Dmitry Medvedev,

unexpectedly announced he was stepping down.

Mr. Medvedev’s resignation came after Mr. Putin earlier Wednesday laid out changes to Russia’s constitution that would limit the power of a potential successor if he steps down when his term ends in 2024. Mr. Putin also proposed boosting the role of the State Council, which he already heads.

Critics and supporters of Mr. Putin have speculated that the Russian leader could remain in control after his current term expires and guide policy in a different role, possibly as head of an empowered State Council.

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“It’s not clear what role he will play, what will his status be. The only thing which is clear is that he will keep his role as the No. 1 person,” said Aleksei Chesnakov, a political analyst and former Kremlin aide.

Mr. Medvedev will stay on as prime minister until the new government is formed, Mr. Putin said on state television. He said Mr. Medvedev would be offered a newly created post of deputy chairman of Russia’s security council.

“Under these conditions, I believe it would be right for the government of the Russian Federation in its current state to resign,” Mr. Medvedev said, sitting next to Mr. Putin.

Mr. Putin proposed

Mikhail Mishustin,

a relatively unknown technocrat who has worked as head of Russia’s tax service since 2010, as the next prime minister, according to state news agencies. The Russian state Duma, or lower house of parliament, will consider his candidacy.

Russian stocks on the Moscow Exchange initially fell on the news of Mr. Medvedev’s resignation but quickly regained ground, with the MOEX Russia Index, the main ruble-denominated stocks benchmark, trading flat. The ruble was flat against the dollar.

Analysts said that Mr. Medvedev was likely ousted by Mr. Putin, who saw the biggest street protests against his rule in nearly a decade over the summer as Russians have felt the sting of chronic economic problems and falling living standards. While Mr. Putin has made decisions about defense and foreign policy, Mr. Medvedev has been responsible for domestic and economic policy.

“Medvedev had become quite toxic and unpopular for Russian people,” said

Tatiana Stanovaya,

founder of R.Politik, a political analysis firm.

She said that as Mr. Putin embarks on a potential transition from the presidency, he will need a figure who he can trust.

“This is an unexpected divorce between Putin and Medvedev,” said Ms. Stanovaya. “Putin is looking for somebody who can help implement his constitutional reform, through which he will want to control his future successor. And it appears Medvedev is not that person.”

Write to Thomas Grove at thomas.grove@wsj.com and Georgi Kantchev at georgi.kantchev@wsj.com

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