Russian Activists Launch ‘Public Campaign’ Against Putin’s ‘Constitutional Coup’
(Article text ©2020 RFE/RL, Inc., Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty – rferl.org – January 24, 2020 – article text also appeared at rferl.org/a/russian-activists-launch-public-campaign-against-putin-s-constitutional-coup-/30395186.html)
A group of more than 30 activists, public figures and local Moscow politicians have created an online “manifesto” urging Russian citizens to resist President Vladimir Putin’s proposed constitutional amendments.
Novaya Gazeta, which published the document late on January 23, said more than 8,000 have already signed the manifesto, which calls Putin’s amendments a “constitutional coup” that is directed at keeping “Putin and his corrupt regime” in power until he dies.
The document recognizes that the current Russian Constitution is far from ideal, but stresses that “changing the text of the basic law for immediate political purposes will destroy the last institution that is protecting Russia from the complete usurpation of power.”
It calls on like-minded Russians to sign the document and “take part in a mass public campaign” against Putin’s proposals.
Among the signatories was economist Sergei Guriyev, human rights activist Sergei Davidis, and political analysts Denis Bilunov, Ivan Preobrazhensky, and Aleksandr Shmelev.
Ten district council members from Moscow, including journalist Ilya Azar, Yulia Galyamina, and Yelena Rusakova, also signed the appeal.
“Earlier, although they violated the constitution, at least they didn’t touch it or destroy it,” Galyamina told RFE/RL. “Now they have opened Pandora’s box.”
Putin, 67, announced the proposed amendments during a 17-minute section of his January 15 state-of-the-nation address. By January 23, the text of the amendments had been endorsed by a hastily convened public advisory group and approved in their first reading by lawmakers in the Duma, the lower house of Russia’s legislature.
Russian media have reported that a national “public vote” on the amendments will be held in April.
“In truth, this is the usurpation of power,” said opposition politician and signatory Andrei Pivovarov of the Open Russia foundation.
“This has only been done to keep Putin and the group of figures surrounding him in power permanently.
“We only have two months to inform as many people as possible about our view and get them to turn out and vote ‘no,'” he added, saying the changes “deprive us of any chance for positive developments in this country.”
The proposed amendments include limiting one person to two presidential terms, regardless of whether they are served consecutively. They would tighten citizenship restrictions on presidential candidates, establish the priority of the Russian Constitution over international law, make the State Council an official state organ, and give the Duma the power to appoint the prime minister and the cabinet, as well as other changes.
In all, 22 articles of the constitution would be amended.
Many analysts believe the Kremlin is pushing the changes as part of a plan to manage political power after Putin’s current — and final — term ends in 2024.
On January 20, opposition figure Ilya Yashin urged Muscovites to protest the proposed amendments at a rally on February 29 that had been planned earlier to mark the fifth anniversary of the assassination in Moscow of opposition leader and former Deputy Prime Minister Boris Nemtsov.
“It will be a political march, the main aim of which will be to call for the rotation of power and to protest against the usurpation of power,” Yashin was quoted by Reuters as saying.
With reporting by Novaya Gazeta and Reuters