Putin’s Constitutional Autocracy
Recent amendments to Russia’s constitution reflect the political and economic changes that have taken place during President Vladimir Putin’s 20-year rule. Above all, they abolish the fundamental constitutional principle of power rotation, and fix the institutional framework of what is now a mature authoritarian state.
MOSCOW – Earlier this year, Russian lawmakers and voters approved amendments to the country’s constitution that would allow President Vladimir Putin to reset the term limits of his office and prolong his rule until 2036. Even if he decides not to exercise this option, a proposed law that would greatly expand former Russian presidents’ criminal immunity will protect him from prosecution. Other constitutional amendments establish the primacy of Russian law over international law, define marriage as the union between a man and a woman, and protect official historical discourse from falsifications.
What do these changes tell us about the state of Russian statehood?
Countries change their constitutions when they undergo significant social and political transformations. For example, post-war Europe witnessed a wave of new basic laws, such as the 1946 French constitution and the 1949 West German Grundgesetz. Subsequent political upheavals, such as the Algerian crisis, led to a new French constitution and the establishment of the Fifth Republic in 1958, and in the 1970s, Greece, Portugal, and Spain introduced new constitutions after getting rid of military dictatorships.
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