Thursday, November 10, 2016

Will Russian Nation Law Debate Lead to Broader Revision of Russian Constitution?

Paul Goble

            Staunton, November 10 – A major Russian politicians who want to pass a law on the Russian nation as part of new state ideology face is that such legislation would require amending the Russian constitution. But one way to do that – a constitutional convention – could open the way for a broader rewriting of the country’s basic law, something Vladimir Putin may now want.

            In a commentary in yesterday’s “Nezavisimaya gazeta,” Velimir Razuvayev, deputy head of the Moscow paper’s politics section, points out that “all previous attempts to return an ideology have been unsuccessful” but the current one may not because it appears to be part of a bigger plan to rewrite the constitution (

            Most people assume that Putin’s playing with the idea of a state ideology is a public relations effort designed to bring together various political and social forces, the commentator says; but it may be that “certain power groups” have sparked this latest discussion in order to create a situation in which the constitution would have to be rewritten.

            Aleksey Mukhin, the general director of the Moscow Center for Political Information, is one of those who accepts the first explanation; but Igor Bunin of the Moscow Center for Political Technologies disagrees. He suggests that what is happening is a testing of the waters for a possible change in the constitution and discussions about how to achieve them.

            Any rewriting of the Russian constitution, Razuvayev says, faces some serious hurdles. The current constitution specifies that the Federal Assembly on its own can’t change most of the basic law but that via a two-thirds vote, it can convene a Constitutional Assembly which can either modify or refuse to modify the current version.

            If it votes to modify the constitution, then such changes could be presented to the population for a vote or be adopted by a two-thirds vote of the Constitutional convention itself. At least that is the most obvious reading of the country’s basic law, but “the main problem,” Razuvayev says, is that “there is as yet no law on a constitutional convention.”

            When he was president Dmitry Medvedev proposed that one be adopted, something many observers at the time saw as a concession to the opposition in the streets, but nothing much has happened in the intervening period despite the existence of two bills. The relevant Duma committee has declared that the time is not yet ripe for the adoption of either.

            But the situation may now be changing. On the one hand, the government now has a super majority which gives it the whip hand in such matters. And on the other, Vyacheslav Volodin, one of the authors of one of these drafts, is now the speaker of the Duma and may want to push it through.

            The bigger question is just what such a Constitutional Convention might do. Even if it were convened to deal with a specific amendment – such as dropping the prohibition on a state ideology or elevating the importance of the Russian nation – there appear to be no limits on what else it might do, including changing the federal system or anything else.

            That makes the idea a kind of “nuclear option” that many may want to avoid and that risk may be enough to bring to an end the current discussions on ideology and the Russian nation.  But at the same time, Putin’s desire to legalize these ideas and his own power aspirations may mean that Russia will be living under an entirely new constitution at some point in the future.

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