20 years under Putin: a timeline

Today, there is every indication that Russia is facing an anti-constitutional coup. Power is being concentrated in the hands of unconstitutional authorities who have replaced constitutional institutions. It isn’t clear who Russia is governed by, let alone who controls its people. What are the specifics of the current constitutional crisis? Can the reactionary reforms that have eroded the democratic essence of the Russian Constitution be rolled back? Should a new Constitution be developed? Russia’s leading constitutional law experts Elena Lukyanova, Ilya Shablinsky, and Vladimir Patukhov analyze these and many other crucial issues in a new report entitled “Constitutional Crisis in Russia and How to Resolve It.”


Photo:  Vladimir Astapkovich / TASS



Why this report is important

IMR legal expert Ekaterina Mishina, Ph.D., a visiting professor at the University of Michigan, highlights the key reasons why this unique report is a must-read for those who strive to understand the current regime in Russia.

The report on the constitutional crisis in Russia that you are about to read is unique for a number of reasons. The first unique feature has to do with the authors’ credentials. All three are prominent constitutional law experts who have published extensively both in Russia and abroad. Elena Lukyanova has been practicing law for two decades as a defense attorney and therefore has firsthand operational knowledge of and experience with the Russian system of criminal justice. Ilya Shablinsky is a member of the Presidential Council for Development of Civil Society and Human Rights, for which he works on a variety of issues, including freedom of information, the rights of journalists, and penitentiary system reform. Vladimir Pastukhov holds doctorates in political science and law, and he combines both legal and political analyses in his research.

The second unique feature of this report is the quality and depth of its analysis. The report explicitly details how counter-reforms have distorted various components of the constitutional order, and it highlights the signs of a constitutional crisis that are evident in the current form of government, political regime, and state structure. The report paints a terrifying picture of the degradation of fundamental governmental institutions and the ensuing imbalance of state powers. For instance, the Russian Parliament has morphed into a Soviet-like institution, with no place left for political discussion, and the repressive role of the courts remains mostly unchanged since Soviet times.

The third unique feature of the report has to do with its analytical approach, which applies the principle of path dependence to the Russian constitutional crisis. In understanding the current constitutional crisis, history matters, as some of the current problems Russia faces are rooted in the circumstances surrounding the drafting of the Russian Constitution in the early 1990s. Subsequent issues with the implementation of the Russian Constitution arose as a result of specific features of the semi–presidential constitutional system envisaged in the fundamental law of Russia.

The final reason for reading the report has to do with its constructive nature. Unlike many other opponents of Putin’s regime who offer scathing criticism but few solutions, Lukyanova, Shablinsky, and Pastukhov suggest practical steps that can make Russian constitutional reform a reality. Their suggestions are both well founded and feasible, raising the hope that they will eventually be heard.


A word from the authors 

Russia is at a constitutional turning point. The outcome of this moment—an anti-constitutional coup or the beginning of a long effort aimed at the restoration of constitutional freedoms and principles that have been gradually usurped for 15 years by reactionary reforms, which have one by one eroded the democratic essence of the Russian Constitution—depends upon the people. Today, everything points to the willingness of the authorities to use foreign and domestic challenges—some of them real, others of their own making—to eradicate any remaining sense from the Constitution. 

There is every indication that an anti-constitutional coup is already in process. In Russia, power is being concentrated in the hands of unconstitutional authorities that have taken the place of constitutional institutions. Some of these authorities have been formalized (such as the Presidential Administration or the Security Council), while others exist somewhat “beyond politics”—as a small circle of presidential insiders. Russia does not know by whom it is governed, let alone who controls these people.

Simultaneously, there are signs that the parliament is being transformed into a Congress of the Peoples’ Deputies, designed after the Soviet model. Its only function is to legitimize the decisions made by the president and his inner circle. Absolutely unconstitutional “joint meetings” of deputies of the State Duma and the Federation Council have become more frequent, indicating that the political system is accelerating toward a so-called “re-Sovietization” period. All of these signs are evidence of a gathering constitutional crisis, one of the deepest to strike Russia in its history.

The constitutional crisis that faces us today must and can be overcome by restoring the democratic essence of the Russian Constitution through a radical but balanced and gradual reform aiming at the restoration of constitutional order in Russia. The Russian public will need to make the decision to embrace such reform in the near future; and it has to be ready to do so.

We dream of a strong and prosperous Russia, and we understand that in the modern world, Russia can be strong and prosperous only if it becomes a constitutional state, governed by the rule of law. It took over one hundred tragic years during which the Russian people suffered enormous losses, for this truth to be realized. The current generation needs to make sure that these losses were not in vain.



You can also download this report in Russian here.