How Russia’s constitutional reforms went from nonexistent to fully drafted in only five days
On January 15, Vladimir Putin shocked the world by proposing a series of radical constitutional reforms. By January 20, those reforms were fully drafted into a legislative bill and had already been formally introduced into the State Duma for consideration. By the time an initial vote on the bill takes place, likely on January 23, fewer than 10 days will have passed since the proposals were first suggested.
Putin first revealed his plans for the Russian Constitution on January 15 during an address to the Federal Assembly. Later that day, he created a workgroup charged with turning the proposals into a State Duma bill. That workgroup included a nationalist novelist, an Olympic athlete, a doctor, multiple representatives of patriotic NGOs, and the author of multiple controversial Internet censorship bills, among others. The following day, Putin clarified the workgroup’s role, asking them to check “every word, every letter, maybe even every comma” in his proposals.
The group met formally for the first time on January 17. Only two days later, the its co-chairs announced that they had already managed to “polish up the wording of the president’s bill and recalibrate all its legal details” with help from the presidential administration’s own legislative bureau. News broke that the group had written to Putin with its suggestions on January 20.
According to Interfax, the workgroup’s letter proposed amendments to 14 different articles of the Constitution, including three on federal structure, two on the role of the president, three on the Federal Assembly, two on the prime minister’s cabinet, three on the judicial and prosecutorial system, and one on local and regional government. One of Putin’s most prominent recommendations involved creating a constitutionally recognized role for the State Council, which is currently a strictly advisory body. The workgroup’s letter appeared to affirm those plans. It also included a nod toward Putin’s request to increase the sovereignty of Russian constitutional law above international norms.
Two hours after the letter’s contents became public and less than a week after his initial Federal Assembly speech, Putin introduced his new bill into the State Duma and appointed the workgroup’s co-chairs as his official representatives in the legislative process for the proposal.