- Russian President Vladimir Putin has come out in support of a proposed amendment that could let him be president for another 12 years after his term ends in 2024.
- Russia’s constitution currently limits the president to two consecutive terms, but the new law would reset Putin’s term-limit clock so he could run for a third consecutive term.
- Putin said while he thinks Russia must become a country that changes presidents, they are not ready, and he needs to stay in power to maintain stability.
- The law was passed by Russia’s lower chamber of parliament after Putin gave a speech in support of the move.
Putin’s New Plan
Russian President Vladimir Putin endorsed a constitutional amendment Tuesday that could let him stay in the presidency until 2036.
Russia’s constitution currently limits the president to two consecutive terms, and right now Putin is two years into his second six-year term, which is set to end in 2024.
The keyword here is “consecutive”— the constitution just says a president cannot serve more than two consecutive terms. But if a termed-out president sits out just one term, then they can run for re-election again.
This is something Putin has done before.
He served as president for two terms from 2000 to 2008, before the terms were changed from four to six years. When he was termed out, he stepped down and took over the role of prime minister under then-President Dmitry Medvedev.
Then in 2012, he was elected again, and Medvedev basically just switched places with Putin, taking over the role as prime minister.
Putin won again in 2018, but with his fourth term set to end in 2024, many wondered what he would do next. Of course, under Russia’s constitution, he could sit out another six-year term and then run for president again in 2030.
But Putin is currently 67, which means he would be 77 by the time he was eligible to run again in 2030. So while his next move was up in the air, most experts expected the president to try to consolidate his power in some way.
In January, he proposed a series of constitutional amendments that experts said were part of a clear effort to retain some kind of influence after his term.
Some of those amendments involved limiting the power of his successor to the presidency and expanding the power of other bodies outside of the presidency— which he would presumably take over.
Now, it seems like he has gone back on those plans, instead opting to just change the rules so he can stay in the most powerful position longer.
Tuesday’s events appeared to set that plan in motion, in a series of developments that many have described as highly choreographed.
This was evident from the get-go, when the idea was first proposed by Valentina Tereshkova, a popular member of parliament who is famous for being the first woman to go to space.
Tereshkova said that Russia should either scrap term limits altogether or pass an amendment that would basically reset Putin’s term-limit clock so he could run for a third consecutive term.
“Given his enormous authority, this would be a stabilizing factor for our society,” the former cosmonaut argued.
That was reportedly met with applause and was followed by a call to Putin, who then made a rare appearance in parliament to express his support for resetting his term limits.
“The president is a guarantor of security of our state, its internal stability and evolutionary development,” he said. “We have had enough revolutions.”
“I’m sure that together, we will do many more great things, at least until 2024. Then, we will see,” he concluded.
Notably, Putin said did not want to scrap term limits altogether. Even more notably, he said the constitution should keep the two-term limit.
Putin asserted that he believes Russia must turn into a country that changes presidents regularly— just not now, because it is not ready. Shortly after that, the lower house of parliament approved the proposal by a large margin.
The law will now go to Russia’s Constitutional Court, which is all but assured to decide it is legal. From there it will go to the Russian people who will vote on it as a referendum on April 22 along with other proposed constitutional reforms.
If approved, Putin would get the green light to chance another 12 years in office— another 16 years, if you include 2020 through 2024.
Technically, Putin has not officially said that he will run, but given his remarks about how Russia is not ready for a new president yet, it would be a pretty good bet that he will.
See what others are saying: (The New York Times) (The Guardian) (The Associated Press)
U.K. Court Rules Julian Assange Can Be Extradited to U.S.
The judgment overrules a lower court decision that blocked the WikiLeaks founder’s extradition on the grounds that his mental health was not stable enough to weather harsh conditions in the American prison system if convicted.
New Developments in Assange Extradition Battle
A British court ruled Friday that WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange can be extradited to the United States to face charges of violating the Espionage Act that could land him in prison for decades.
Prosecutors in the U.S. have accused Assange of conspiring with former army intelligence analyst Chelsea Manning in 2010 to hack into a Department of Defense computer network and access thousands of military and diplomatic records on the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.
The information obtained in the hack was later published by WikiLeaks in 2010 and 2011, a move U.S. authorities allege put lives in danger.
In addition to a charge of computer misuse, Assange has also been indicted on 17 espionage charges. Collectively, the charges carry a maximum prison sentence of 175 years.
The Friday decision from the High Court overturns a lower court ruling in January, which found that Assange’s mental health was too fragile for the harsh environment he could face in the U.S. prison system if convicted.
Notably, the January ruling did not determine whether or not Assange was guilty. In fact, District Judge Vanessa Baraitser explicitly rejected the defense’s arguments that the charges against him were politically motivated and that he should be protected under freedom of press.
However, she agreed that the defense had provided compelling evidence that Assange suffers from severe depression and that the conditions he could face in the U.S. prison system were “such that it would be oppressive to extradite him to the United States of America.”
The U.S. appealed the ruling, arguing that Assange’s mental health should not be a barrier to extradition and that the psychiatrist who examined him had been biased.
In October, the Biden administration vowed that if Assange were to be convicted, he would not be placed in the highest-security U.S. prison or immediately sent to solitary confinement. Officials also said that the native Australian would be eligible to serve his sentence in his home country.
High Court Ruling
The High Court agreed with the administration’s arguments in its ruling, arguing that the American’s assurances regarding the conditions of Assange’s potential incarceration were “sufficient.”
“There is no reason why this court should not accept the assurances as meaning what they say,” the ruling stated. “There is no basis for assuming that the USA has not given the assurances in good faith.”
Assange’s fiancé, Stella Moris, said in a statement that his legal team would appeal the decision to the British Supreme Court at the “earliest possible moment,” referring to the judgment as a “grave miscarriage of justice.”
The Supreme Court will now decide whether or not to hear the case based on if it believes the matter involves a point of law “of general public importance.” That decision may take weeks or even months.
If the U.K. Supreme Court court objects to hearing Assange’s appeal, he could ask the European Court of Human Rights to stay the extradition — a move that could set in motion another lengthy legal battle in the already drawn-out process.
Assange and his supporters claim he was acting as an investigative journalist when he published the classified military cables. They argue that the possibility of his extradition and prosecution represent serious threats to press freedoms in the U.S.
U.S. prosecutors dispute that Assange acted as a journalist, claiming that he encouraged illegal hacking for personal reasons.
See what others are saying: (The New York Times) (NPR) (The Washington Post)
Early Data Indicates Omicron is More Transmissible But Less Severe
The studies come as Pfizer and BioNTech claim that preliminary research shows a third shot of their COVID vaccine appears to provide sufficient protection against the new variant, but two doses alone may not.
More Information About Omicron
Several preliminary studies published in recent days appear to show that the new omicron COVID-19 variant may be more transmissible but less severe than previous strains.
One recent, un-peer-reviewed study by a Japanese scientist who advises the country’s health ministry found that omicron is four times more transmissible in its initial stage than delta was.
Preliminary information in countries hit hard by omicron also indicates high transmissibility. In South Africa — where the variant was first detected and is already the dominant strain — new COVID cases have more than doubled over the last week.
Health officials in the U.K. said omicron cases are doubling every two or three days, and they expect the strain to become dominant in the country in a matter of weeks.
In a statement Wednesday, World Health Organization Director Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said that while early data does seem to show high transmissibility, it also indicates that omicron causes more mild cases than delta.
Centers for Disease Control and Prevent Director Rochelle Walensky echoed that sentiment, telling reporters that of the 40 known omicron cases in the U.S. as of Wednesday, nearly all of them were mild. One person has been hospitalized so far and none have died.
Studies on Vaccine Efficacy
Other recent studies have shown that current COVID vaccines are effective at preventing severe illness and death in omicron patients, and boosters provide at least some added protection.
On Wednesday, Pfizer and BioNTech announced that laboratory tests have shown a third dose of their COVID-19 vaccine appears to provide sufficient protection against the omicron variant, though two doses may not.
According to the companies, researchers saw a 25-fold reduction in neutralizing antibodies for omicron compared to other strains of the virus for people who had just two Pfizer doses.
By contrast, samples from people one month after they had received a Pfizer booster presented neutralizing antibodies against omicron that were comparable to those seen against previous variants after two doses.
Still, Pfizer’s chief executive also told reporters later in the day that omicron could increase the likelihood that people might need a fourth dose earlier than previously expected, which he had initially said was 12 months after the third shot.
Notably, the Pfizer research has not yet been peer-reviewed, and it remains unclear how omicron will operate outside a lab, but other studies have had similar findings.
See what others are saying: (The New York Times) (Bloomberg) (NBC News)
40 Camels Disqualified From Beauty Contest After Breeders Inject Their Faces With Botox
The animals were barred from competing for $66 million in prizes at this year’s King Abdulaziz Camel Festival in Saudi Arabia.
Camels Booted From Beauty Contest
More than 40 camels were disqualified from a beauty contest in Saudi Arabia this week after judges found artificial enhancements in their faces, marking the biggest crackdown on contestants in the competition to date.
The animals were competing for $66 million in prizes at the King Abdulaziz Camel Festival, a month-long event that is estimated to include around 33,000 camels.
However, according to The Guardian, they were forced out of the contest when authorities found that breeders had “stretched out the lips and noses of the camels, used hormones to boost the animals’ muscles, injected heads and lips with Botox to make them bigger, inflated body parts with rubber bands, and used fillers to relax their faces.”
Those types of alterations are banned since judges look at the contestant’s heads, necks, humps, posture, and other features when evaluating them.
An announcement from the state-linked Saudi Press Agency said officials used “specialized and advanced” technology to detect tampering.
“The club is keen to halt all acts of tampering and deception in the beautification of camels,” the SPA report added before warning that organizers would “impose strict penalties on manipulators.”
While it’s unclear what that actually entails, this isn’t the first time people have tried to cheat in this way.
In 2018, 12 camels were similarly disqualified from the competition for injections in their noses, lips, and jaw.