Russian Scholars, Legal Experts Sign Up Against ‘Constitutional Coup’

File Photo of Kremlin Tower, St. Basil's, Red Square at Night

(Article text ©2020 RFE/RL, Inc., Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty – rferl.org – March 16, 2020 – article text also appeared at rferl.org/a/russian-scholars-legal-experts-sign-up-against-constitutional-coup-/30490881.html)

Hundreds of scholars, journalists, and legal experts in Russia have warned in an open letter that the country faces a “deep constitutional crisis and an illegal, unconstitutional coup” as the Constitutional Court prepares to rule on a raft of amendments that could, among other things, allow President Vladimir Putin to run for two additional terms.

As of noon in Moscow on March 15, more than 420 people had signed the open letter published by Ekho Moskvy after Putin on March 14 sent a formal request to the court asking if he has the right to make changes to the country’s basic law. The court is expected to rule on the amendments — which have already been approved by all regional legislatures, both houses of parliament, and Putin himself — this week. [echo.msk.ru/blog/echomsk/2606224-echo/]

The letter makes three main arguments against the changes.

The first is that the amendment nullifying the terms of the current president, which effectively could allow Putin to start an entirely new presidential career, is “fundamentally unlawful, and politically and ethically unacceptable.”

The letter further expresses deep concern regarding amendments to Chapters 3 and 8 of the constitution, which pertain to federal structure and local self-government, respectively.

The letter says the changes are not in keeping with Chapter 1, which lays out the fundamentals of Russia’s constitutional system, and Chapter 2, which deals with individuals’ rights. Neither of those two chapters are changed, creating a “situation of internal contradiction” and leading to the “paralysis and degradation of constitutional legal mechanisms.”

Finally, the letter criticizes the “gross violation of the procedure for adopting constitutional amendments,” saying that the avenue taken for the pending amendments “openly violates” federal law.

Ultimately, the letter concludes that the situation “undermines the evolutionary development of our country on the principles of democracy and freedoms and threatens to turn into a new tragedy of national discord.”

The letter follows the publication of an online “manifesto” by Novaya Gazeta in January decrying what it called a “coup” to “keep Vladimir Putin and his corrupt regime in power for life.”

The initiative, which has been signed by more than 22,000 people, called on Russian citizens to vote against the amendments if they are put forward in a public ballot.

Upon approval by the Constitutional Court, a “public vote” is expected to be held on April 22, under which the majority would determine whether the amendments will be accepted or not.