Publication: Monitor Volume: 7 Issue: 20

Dmitry Medvedev, deputy Kremlin administration chief, and Mikhail Krasnov, a former presidential legal adviser, have reportedly drafted a series of amendments of and additions to Russia’s constitution which would: (1) increase the presidential term from 4 to five years; (2) consolidate around thirty of the country’s regions, mainly those in the central part of the country, into six or seven, to minimize the influence of the leftist opposition, which did well in last fall’s gubernatorial races; and (3) reintroduce the post of vice president, which was abolished following the October 1993 parliamentary uprising, which was led by Aleksandr Rutskoi, who was then President Boris Yeltsin’s vice president. According to Novaya gazeta, the proposed constitutional changes would have the vice president serve simultaneously as prime minister, in essence turning the cabinet of ministers into a “presidential structure.” One deputy prime minister would be responsible for coordinating the activities of the cabinet, while a second would coordinate the activities of the “power” ministries (meaning defense, interior, the security services, et cetera). The paper reports that the presidential administration plans to introduce laws governing the powers of the vice presidential post and its functions as federal premier into the parliament over the period of May-July of this year. Novaya gazeta also quoted “informed experts” as saying that the new vice presidency was being created for Sergei Ivanov, the security services veteran and long-time associate of President Vladimir Putin who is currently secretary of the Security Council, the powerful Kremlin advisory body, while Mikhail Kasyanov, who is currently prime minister, would take over the post of first deputy prime minister in charge of coordinating the cabinet’s activities. The planned constitutional changes are said to be the result of a new understanding between Putin and his inner circle, which includes Ivanov, and the “Family”–the Yeltsin-era Kremlin inner circle–which includes Kasyanov (Novaya gazeta, January 29).

Just last week, the State Duma passed a bill which will allow sixty-nine of Russia’s eighty-nine incumbent regional leaders to seek third or even fourth terms in office. A number of observers speculated that the Kremlin, which backed the bill, expects the governors to return the favor by supporting constitutional changes that would extend Putin’s stay in the presidency. Under the present constitutional provisions, Putin would have to leave office when his second term runs out in 2008. Yabloko called the bill extending the governor’s terms “a constitutional coup,” which could be a first step toward extending Putin’s stay in office (Moscow Times, January 26; Moskovsky komsomolets, January 29).

If the Novaya gazeta report about the planned constitutional changes is accurate, it suggests that the so-called “Chekists”–the Kremlin faction made up of St. Petersburg special services veterans, including Ivanov and Federal Security Service Director Nikolai Patrushev, among others–is indeed strengthening its position, as has been widely reported, but is not poised to oust the “Family” completely, as many observers have speculated. Whatever the case, there is little doubt that Russia’s law enforcement agencies either enjoy Putin’s favor or are in a position to dictate policy to him. This was evident in the recent controversy surrounding the Kremlin’s decision to withdraw legislation which would have put the power to issue arrest warrants and order searches into the hands of the courts. While the Russian constitution already states that only the courts have these powers, the Prosecutor General’s Office in practice issues warrants and orders searches without first getting such permission. The law reinforcing the constitutional provisions was quickly withdrawn after being submitted to the State Duma. While Dmitry Kozak, a deputy Kremlin chief of staff, said the withdrawal was simply a technical matter and that Putin still backed it, a number of observers said that Putin ordered the bill be withdrawn after top law enforcement officials, including from the Prosecutor General’s Office and the Interior Ministry, threatened to resign en masse if it were not withdrawn. Still other observers speculated that Putin engineered the whole thing as kind of a “good cop, bad cop” exercise, introducing the bill to impress liberal Duma deputies who backed it, but then quickly withdrawing it and creating the impression that he did so as a result of pressure from hardliners. Whatever the case, Nikolai Federov, the Chuvash governor who served as Russian justice minister in the early 1990s, said in an interview over the weekend that as long as the Prosecutor General’s Office continued to issue arrest and search warrants without a court order, Russia would remain “a police state” (Moscow Times, January 23; NTV, January 28).