?he upper house of the Russian parliament will most likely pass constitutional amendments tomorrow, November 26, (article in Russian) paving the way for Vladimir Putin to return to supreme power in the Kremlin

President Dmitry Medvedev’s announcement last week that he may change the Russian Constitution to extend the presidential term to six years indicates that the process was orchestrated well in advance.

The proposal gained immediate approval in the nation’s parliament and regional legislatures. If this happens, Putin would be in control of the country for up to 24 years: Two terms of four years (2000-2007); a Medvedev interregnum under the Putin control (2008-2012), and potentially two six-year terms (2012-2024).

The Russian Constitution proclaims a presidential republic in a multi-party system, with president as a “guarantor” of the Constitution. However, checks and balances in Russia were underdeveloped since the collapse of communism in 1991 (and non-existent under communism).

Moreover, since 2000, Russia further suffered from a serious deterioration of those political institutions, such as the Duma and the Supreme Court, which had a potential to balance the executive branch of power. Furthermore, the mass media has increasingly come under state’s control, with the government now effectively controlling all TV channels and most of central newspapers.

Governors and senators are effectively appointed by the executive branch. Political parties were defanged and brought under the Kremlin’s control, with the current 7 percent electoral barrier ensuring that since 2003 only the parties that are given a green light by the Kremlin get elected to the Duma.

The economic crisis is buffeting Russia particularly hard. Being an energy and commodity exporter may be fun when global prosperity is in full blossom, but it really hurts when the world markets are tanking.

Many political analysts in Russia agree that the current rulers will not consider a peaceful power transition through election. If the Russian leaders are closing the door on the country’s peaceful political change, which may be necessary due to the current economic crisis, they may be planting the seeds of widespread popular discontent, if not a revolution.

Such internal political developments may make it difficult for the Obama Administration to deal with Russian on ballistic missile defense, the race for the Arctic, and other issues.