Staunton, July 12 – After the adoption of the Stalin constitution in 1936 and the Brezhnev constitution in 1977, the republics of the USSR modified their laws and even their constitutions to bring them into line with the new Soviet one. And after the adoption of the Yeltsin constitution in 1993, non-Russian republics within the Russian Federation did much the same.
Vladimir Putin’s newly approved amendments do not really constitute a new Russian constitution, but already two republics, Tatarstan and Kalmykia, have announced that they will be modifying their laws and possibly even their constitutions to ensure they are consistent with Moscow’s (kommersant.ru/doc/4414937 and asiarussia.ru/news/24716/).
If the process is strictly limited to bringing the laws and constitutions of the republics into line with the relevant portions of the amended Russian Constitution and the laws the Duma is likely to pass implementing its provisions, that will be a largely technical operation, much like the earlier Putin push to bring all republic legislation into line with Moscow’s.
But there are at least three reasons to think that this process at least in some places will prove explosive. First, many in the non-Russian republics, both populations and officials, opposed the Putin amendments; and they will be anything but pleased by having to insert his chances into their own basic laws.
They may not be able to stop that from happening in the end, but it is almost a certainly that some political activists will use this occasion to stress the importance of republic laws relative to federal ones, especially as some legal scholars agree with them. (See windowoneurasia2.blogspot.com/2017/12/under-russian-constitution-federal-laws.html.)
Second, the amendment process in Russia was anything but orderly with all kinds of proposals for change being made. Some were accepted but others were not, and the debate was lively. It will be difficult barring the imposition of really tight controls to prevent a replication of that chaotic period at the republic level.
In that event, some non-Russians are likely to make proposals for change that far exceed their supposed brief of simply bringing their constitutions into line with those of the Moscow document. They may want to talk about state-forming nations, languages, and other issues the center would prefer they not discuss.
And third – and this is less likely but far from impossible – when predominantly ethnic Russian oblasts and krays see what the non-Russian republics are doing, they may demand the chance first to change their charters and then elevate those to the status of constitutional documents.
Interest in Russian regions in achieving equality with the republics is growing, and by sponsoring this kind of discussion, the Kremlin is opening the way to debates about federalism that will involve not just the republics but the oblasts and krays as well. Indeed, given Putin’s tilt to Russian nationalism, he will have difficulty in holding all of this back.