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Putin’s 2020 Constitutional Amendments: What Changed? What Remained the Same?

In: Russian Politics
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  • 1 Deputy Director, Kennan Institute, Wilson Center, Washington, DC, USA
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Abstract

Constitutional reform dominated Russia’s legal and political agenda in 2020. Starting with Putin’s January 15, 2020 state-of-the-nation address, the 1993 Yeltsin constitution was amended and substantially transformed to meet Putin’s immediate and more long-term political objectives. In the process a flawed but forward-looking document has been stripped of much of its liberal potential and instead been converted into a more traditional top-down system of governance. Putin did not just overturn the term limits on his presidency. He created a new power vertical (the unified system of public power), a stronger presidency, and a more subservient judiciary. Moreover, Putin’s amendments undermine the constitution’s internal consistency by introducing numerous contradictions into Russia’s founding law. In particular, while technically observing the constitution’s procedural requirements, he managed to downgrade Russia’s civil liberties—the highest value under the 1993 constitution—while elevating and expanding Russia’s social rights.

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