Morning Brief

Russia Paves Way For President Putin Until 2036

Putin signaled his approval for a constitutional amendment that could keep him in the presidency for another 16 years.

Russian President Vladimir Putin leaves after addressing lawmakers during a session of the State Duma, Russia's lower house of parliament, in Moscow on March 10.
Russian President Vladimir Putin leaves after addressing lawmakers during a session of the State Duma, Russia's lower house of parliament, in Moscow on March 10. ALEXANDER NEMENOV/AFP

Here is today’s Foreign Policy brief: Russia paves way for Putin to stay on as president, Britain slashes interest rates as U.S. President Trump attacks the Fed and weighs an economic stimulus, and the latest on the coronavirus.

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President Putin Forever?

On Tuesday, Russian President Vladimir Putin said he would approve newly-proposed changes to the Russian constitution that would allow him to remain in power until 2036. Under the current constitution, Putin would be required to step down when his term ends in 2024, and speculation was rife about what Putin would do next.

Valentina Tereshkova, a member of parliament for the ruling United Russia party, proposed the surprise constitutional amendment that would reset Putin’s presidential term count to zero.

Is it all a done deal? As Reid Standish reports in Foreign Policy, the decision “has not eliminated ambiguity about the Kremlin’s course of action. Rather, the dramatic move is widely seen as part of an effort to create options for the Russian leader.” Notably, Putin was not definitive as to whether he would continue as president, telling Russia’s parliament, “I’m sure that together, we will do many more great things, at least until 2024. Then, we will see.”

What happens next? In approving of the amendment proposal, Putin said that any such move would need to be voted on in a public referendum. Andrea Kendall-Taylor, a Russia expert the Center for a New American Security and former intelligence officer at the U.S. National Intelligence Council, said that a vote, floated for April 22, would come at an opportune time for the measure to pass. “There’s now less time for the opposition to organize against it. You also have the confluence of the coronavirus outbreak, which makes it easier for authorities to ban mass gatherings,” she said.


What We’re Following Today

U.S. stocks rebound as Trump weighs stimulus. The S&P 500 and Dow Jones industrial average both rose by just under 5 percent in a late rally after Monday’s plunge of nearly 8 percent. The gains came as U.S. President Donald Trump said he would take “major steps” to stimulate the economy, including a payroll tax cut. On Twitter, President Trump pressured the U.S. Federal Reserve to cut interest rates, calling it “pathetic” and saying competing nations have as much as a “two point advantage” over the United States at present.

Interests rates cut in Britain. On Wednesday morning, the Bank of England announced an emergency interest rate cut of 0.5 percent—from 0.75 percent to 0.25 percent, a record low for Britain. The cut is the first since August 2016, when rates briefly declined to 0.25 percent before being raised back to 0.5 percent a few months later. The bank’s Monetary Policy Committee voted unanimously in favor of the move on Tuesday, along with other relief measures for small businesses.

Foreign Policy’s Keith Johnson reports on the limits of economic remedies in tackling the impacts of the coronavirus.

Big Tuesday Results. Joe Biden continued his quest to become the Democratic party’s nominee for president with a strong showing in six states. Biden took the top prize, Michigan, defeating his rival Sen. Bernie Sanders by a margin of 53 percent to 37 percent according to preliminary results.


Coronavirus Updates

Italy continues its attempts to contain the outbreak at home. Meanwhile, Austria and Slovenia have closed their borders with the country, but those of France and Switzerland remain open. Yesterday, Italy’s Deputy Finance Minister Laura Castelli confirmed that mortgage payments would be temporarily frozen for individuals and households. Italy’s death toll from the coronavirus outbreak jumped 36 percent from 366 to 463, making it the worst-hit country after China.

Japan’s government announced $4 billion in spending to mitigate the economic effects of coronavirus and improve medical facilities. Finance Minister Taro Aso said the funds would come from an existing budget reserve and not from any extra budget. According to the Wall Street Journal, the measures include offering emergency zero-interest loans of $1,900 to support the newly unemployed and others facing hardship.

South Korea has seen a decrease in reported cases of coronavirus for the fourth consecutive day. The country still has 7,513 confirmed cases but has managed to slow the outbreak with aggressive measures, such as free testing and setting up drive-through rapid testing stations.

British Health Minister Nadine Dorries has tested positive for COVID-19 and is self-isolating at home. Her diagnosis has prompted worries about the virus spreading in Parliament and at Downing Street, where Dorries attended a reception with Prime Minister Boris Johnson a few days ago. Although some have called for shutting down Parliament as a precaution, Johnson has shown no intention of doing so.

Chinese President Xi Jinping made a visit to Wuhan, the capital of Hubei province, where the outbreak began and the vast majority of coronavirus-related deaths have occurred. His appearance on Tuesday was a show of confidence in China’s ability to handle the outbreak, and comes after Chinese officials reported on Monday that only 17 new cases were reported in Hubei. As the virus epicenter, mainland China has been worst hit by the coronavirus outbreak, with over 80,000 confirmed cases so far.

Beijing continues to censor coronavirus whistleblowers. As China celebrates the decline in cases, it is also stepping up censorship of whistleblowers calling attention to Beijing’s botched early response to the disease. Ai Fen, Wuhan Central Hospital’s director of emergency medicine, gave an interview to the Chinese magazine Renwu, chronicling how she discovered one of the first confirmed cases after seeing lab test results on Dec. 30 and shared a photo of the results with colleagues—and how she was subsequently reprimanded for spreading rumors.

“If I had known what was to happen, I would not have cared about the reprimand. I would have fucking talked about it to whoever, wherever I could,” she said in the interview, which has now been erased from the Chinese internet. Readers have scrambled to preserve it through screenshots and transliteration into emojis, morse code, and pinyin.

What is driving the coronavirus panic? Foreign Policy Editor in Chief Jonathan Tepperman lays out the three overarching reasons why this crisis is different.


Keep an Eye On

South African court clears Ramaphosa. The high court in Pretoria has cleared South African President Cyril Ramaphosa after he stood accused of misleading parliament over a $34,000 campaign contribution from the CEO of a local company. It’s a rare boost for Ramaphosa, who is presiding over a recession in South Africa and whose leadership of the ruling African National Congress is in question ahead of a July party conference, where his internal opponents may seek to recall him. 

Turkey Patriot deal. Turkish officials said that the United States is open to renewing a deal on Patriot missile systems as well as returning Turkey to the F-35 fighter jet program in return for Turkey backing out of its air defense deal with Russia. The deal appears to hinge on whether the United States will agree to terms on joint production and knowledge transfer. If no deal is made with the United States, Turkey plans to activate its Russian-made S-400 systems next month.

Irish rivals seek coalition. Four weeks after the Irish general election delivered a stalemate, long-standing rivals Fianna Fail and Fine Gael have announced they are entering talks to form a government. If talks are successful, it would be the first time the two parties would share power in Ireland’s history. It’s also likely to be a weak coalition, as both parties combined do not have enough seats for a majority.


Foreign Policy Recommends

When two protesters were killed in Hong Kong, it made headlines around the world. Over 600 people have been killed over the past five months in ongoing anti-government protests in Iraq, and it has barely scratched the surface of the news cycle. The journalist and illustrator Andrew North reports from Baghdad for Tortoise Media about how Iraq’s post-Saddam Hussein generation is facing down tear gas and gunfire as they call for new elections, an end to U.S. and Iranian interference, and a way to overcome the ethnic and religious divides that have driven the country’s politics. –Amy Mackinnon


Odds and Ends

In France, the mayor of the small town of Landerneau that played host to a gathering of 3,500 people dressed as Smurfs over the weekend has defended of the event, which had come under fire over fears it could spread the coronavirus. “We must not stop living … it was the chance to say that we are alive,” Mayor Patrick Leclerc told AFP.


That’s it for today. 

For more from FP, visit foreignpolicy.com, subscribe here, or sign up for our other newsletters. Send your tips, comments, questions, or corrections to morningbrief@foreignpolicy.com.

Colm Quinn is an Irish freelance journalist based in Washington, D.C. Twitter: @colmfquinn

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