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Russia has come a long way since 1993; Putin’s constitutional changes reflect the needs of a revitalized state

What is so problematic with the current 1993 Constitution, and what are the reasons behind the proposed amendments?

The answers can be found in the circumstances under which President Boris Yeltsin’s document came into effect and in the major transformation that Russia has undergone since then.

First of all, it is necessary to stress that Russia in 1993 and Russia in 2020 are essentially two different countries. In 1993, it was a bleak shadow of the Soviet Union, with a grim present and uncertain future.

Yeltsin, along with Minister of Foreign Affairs Andrey Kozyrev and other liberal-minded members of his team, were doggedly pushing their country into the American sphere of influence.

It, therefore, comes as no surprise that Yeltsin’s Constitution – adopted just two months after his team’s undemocratic usurpation of power (by means of shelling and storming the parliament during the October putsch) – wasn’t fit for its purpose as the supreme law of a great power. Instead, it legitimized the servicing of Western elites and Washington in particular.

The widely known consequences of such policies had been tragic for Russia, as it descended into a decade of lawlessness, poverty, and war.

In 2020, the situation is completely different.

President Vladimir Putin’s policies have been by and large ‘Russia first’, in comparison with those of Yeltsin, and have enjoyed widespread support among the ruling elites as well as the general population.

New Reality

Moreover, today’s Russia is a strong regional power and a major player in global politics, which no country in the world, including the US, can ignore.

It is also relatively stable and more independent; therefore, the proposed ‘new’ Constitution, unlike the 1993 edition, is a domestic effort, rather than an externally ‘inspired’ formation.

Therefore, it comes as no surprise that certain Western media – and some Western-leaning press outlets within Russia – have launched such a fierce campaign aimed at discrediting the vote and the proposed amendments.

The poll offers Russian citizens the opportunity to exercise their democratic right to express their approval or refusal of the proposed package that involves a wide range of topics, such as the strengthening of sovereignty and independence, social guarantees, civilizational vision, governance model, new priorities, the role of the state in the lives of its citizens, and the place of Russia in the emerging multipolar world. As the amendment to Article 79 reads:

“The Russian Federation takes measures to support and strengthen international peace and security, to provide for the peaceful coexistence of nations and states, to prevent interference in the internal affairs of the state.”

One of the amendments confirms today’s Russia as the successor of the Soviet Union, in particular, in relation to “assets of the USSR outside of the Russian Federation territory.”

This change, which for obvious reasons could not have been included by the authors of Yeltsin’s Constitution, seems to indicate the intention to recover some Soviet assets currently held by certain statesmen in the post-Soviet space, given the fact that Russia has paid off the debt of all of the Soviet republics, including Ukraine.

There is also a clause outlining the superiority of the Constitution of the Russian Federation in the event of it being contradicted by certain “decisions of inter-state agencies, made on the basis of their interpretation of provisions of international treaties of the Russian Federation.”

Such great power assumptions were practically impossible in 1993. However, they do correspond to modern-day Russia, which may indeed purport to be one of the centers of influence in 2020, alongside states such as the US, which has long put its national interest above any international treaties.

Furthermore, other changes forbid those holding foreign citizenship and residency permits abroad from holding a number of high public office positions, thus preventing the ‘political legionnaires’ phenomenon, not uncommon in certain neighboring states with low levels of sovereignty, from appearing in Russia. This proposed change concerns all the top officials of the constituent entities of the Russian Federation, heads of federal state bodies, senators, deputies of the State Duma, the Commissioner for Human Rights, judges, and prosecutors.

There are more limitations in regards to presidential candidates, who are ineligible to run if they have previously held foreign citizenship and have lived in Russia for less than 25 years (with an exception for residents of Crimea). These amendments certainly further strengthen Russia’s sovereignty and independence at the highest legislative level.

There are also a number of rather interesting alterations, such as the one that provides for the potential formation of federal territories within Russia. Judging by recent comments from Senator Andrey Klishas, these would be regions with a special status, most likely serving either a military or an ecological purpose, and controlled directly by Moscow rather than regional government officials.

Something similar already exists in a number of countries, including the US. It must be noted that this is one of many proposed amendments that provide for further centralization of powers and tighter control at all levels – from the executive branch of the Federation to local governments.

Among them are several amendments to the fourth chapter of the Constitution, which essentially transform the super-presidential regime into the hyper-presidential regime, giving the president even greater powers at the expense of other authorities.

For instance, if the amendments are adopted, the president will be able to dismiss the prime minister, appoint and dismiss the prosecutor general, stall the legislative process in order to check the proposed bills for their constitutionality, and much more.

However, we must also point out a number of proposed limitations, such as the amendment to Article 81, which provides for a two-term limit for future presidents of the Russian Federation.

Perhaps the authors of these amendments have been studying the Chinese experience from the years of rapid economic growth under Hu Jintao (and Jiang Zemin) in terms of combining a highly centralized system of governance and control with regular rotation at the top.

Header: Palace Square, Sankt-Petersburg, Russia – Viktor Malyushev, Unsplash

Original: Ernest A. Reid – RT