MOSCOW - Russia's prime minister submitted his resignation Wednesday as part of a surprise government shake-up directed by President Vladimir Putin.
Putin accepted the resignation of the prime minister, Dmitry Medvedev, and asked the member's of Medvedev's Cabinet to remain in place until a new government is formed, the state-run Tass news agency reported.
The sweeping moves came shortly after Putin gave his annual address to Russia's lower house of parliament and proposed constitutual changes to boost the powers of prime ministers and Cabinet members.
"For my part, I also want to thank you for everything that was done at this stage of our joint work, I want to express satisfaction with the results that have been achieved," the president told a meeting with the cabinet of ministers.
"Not everything was done, but everything never works out in full," Putin said.
Medvedev, a longtime Putin ally, served as Russia's prime minister since 2012. He spent four years before that as president in 2008-2012.
Earlier, Putin proposed sweeping changes to the constitution Wednesday, including strengthening parliament and revamping the country's state council, possibly hinting at his plans for after he leaves power in 2024.
In his annual address to lawmakers, Putin again suggested limiting presidential term limits to two, indicating that 20 years after he first became president, he won't attempt to seek a third consecutive term.
But Putin's plan to give constitutional status to the state council, a top advisory body to the president he created in 2000, and transfer more power to parliament, including naming the country's prime minister, could be a path for him to maintain significant influence in a different capacity once this presidential term is finished. As the Russian constitution stands now, the president has the sole power to appoint the prime minister.
"This is all about how to influence the prerogatives of the future president," said Tatiana Stanovaya, the head of a think tank called R. Politik and a scholar at the Carnegie Moscow Center. "Putin would like to have some leverage, some mechanism to control and to get involved in case his successor makes mistakes or has some disagreements with him."
After Putin served two presidential terms from 2000 to 2008, he swapped places with his prime minister, Dmitry Medvedev, who served one term. Medvedev was widely seen as a caretaker, enabling Putin to retain power behind the scenes, but there was also believed to be a rift between the two halfway through Medvedev's presidency. Putin then took over the presidency in 2012 and was reelected last year.
Stanovaya considers it unlikely Putin would want to be prime minister again after his presidency, but a role on a beefed-up state council could be appealing to him.
"He doesn't want to get engaged in routine social and economic policy, like the budget - it's boring for him," she said. "He wants to focus on foreign policy, and I think the state council is much more convenient for him. But for that, he will need to make it a constitutional body and significantly enlarge its possibilities."
Putin concluded his speech, which lasted slightly more than an hour, by saying those changes must be approved at a national referendum, Russia's first since 1993. But if that referendum will actually occur is unclear. Ella Pamfilova, the head of Russia's Central Election Commission, told Russian news agency Interfax, "I don't think it will go as far as a referendum," adding that "there are other forms of debate."
Other constitutional changes included limiting the supremacy of international law, raising the residency requirements for presidential candidates from 10 years to 25 years, giving the Russian constitutional Court the right to verify whether adopted laws are in compliance with the constitution before they are signed by the president, prohibiting civil servants from holding foreign citizenship and adding a provision to keep minimum wage and pension above the official poverty line.
"Our society is clearly demonstrating a demand for change," Putin said at the start of the address.
The annual speech to top Russian officials and members of parliament largely focused on how to improve domestic living standards. Putin opened with initiatives to improve Russia's demographics by proposing financial incentives for citizens who have children and then addressed low teacher salaries, boosting their monthly wages by roughly $80. He also touched on health care and environmental issues.
Putin's approval ratings remain high - at about 68 percent, according to a December poll from the Levada-Center - but it has been gradually declining due to a stagnant economic growth and unpopular moves in recent years to raise the retirement age and increase value-added taxes.
Wednesday's state-of-the-nation address was his first to be projected across several large buildings in Moscow. Putin also pointed out that the speech was unique in how early it was delivered; typically such speeches are given in February or March.