‘Which god did Putin have in mind, exactly?’ In unusually extensive back-and-forth with journalists, Kremlin spokesman engages on questions of God, history, and presidential responsibility for constitutional change
On March 2, Russian State Duma speaker Vyacheslav Volodin announced a series of additions to President Vladimir Putin’s proposed amendments to the country’s constitution. The amendments, introduced into the State Duma by Putin himself, include a measure banning same-sex marriage and a passage outlining the government’s view of Russian history and unity. On March 3, a group of journalists attempted to clarify the meaning of the newly proposed measures in the following conversation with Putin’s press secretary, Dmitry Peskov.
Kommersant FM: Vladimir Putin’s amendments to his own amendments to the Constitution came out [yesterday]. There’s a phrase in that document about the memory of our ancestors who gave us our ideals and our faith in God. Whose ancestors did Vladimir Putin have in mind?
Kremlin Press Secretary Dmitry Peskov: Which section being amended are you referring to?
Kommersant FM: The one Vyacheslav Volodin read. As far as I understood, it was a preamble.
Dmitry Peskov: I’ll tell you what. The thing is that not all of this information is true to reality. Not all of this information corresponds to what the president introduced. That is, what was published on a large scale yesterday wasn’t true to reality. Let’s continue. I’ll find it in the meantime. [Searches for quote]
Kommersant FM: Then could you publish it on the Kremlin’s website or send it out to media outlets so that we can at least understand what Volodin is talking about and what Putin introduced?
Dmitry Peskov: You know texts that are introduced like this don’t get published [like other bills usually do]. It’s what’s called an official introduction. However, needless to say, it will be published sooner or later. I just can’t tell you when. Right now, the working group [for Putin’s constitutional amendments] is also continuing to work, and so are the Duma and the relevant committees. Experts, lawyers — everyone’s still working.
Kommersant FM: Of course — it’s just that we all heard the announcement from the Duma yesterday that Putin proposed this and that, and now we’re being told that he didn’t actually propose this or that.
Dmitry Peskov: No, nobody said “neither this nor that,” and nobody said “this and that,” either. It’s just very important here to go off the specific language [of the proposals]. Some information that appeared in the media yesterday in that respect was not true. Now it’ll just take a while to figure out exactly what information wasn’t true and which facts it misrepresented.
Kommersant FM: Maybe you’ve found it by now — the sentence starts with “The Russian Federation, united by a thousand-year history and in testament to the memory of its ancestors, who gave us our ideals and our faith in God as well as the continuous development of the Russian state, recognizes this historically formed governmental unit.” Does that phrase appear in Vladimir Putin’s amendments?
Dmitry Peskov: I’m still looking because it’s quite a long text.
Kommersant FM: The attorneys we and other news sources have contacted have expressed doubts in the legitimacy of adopting these changes into [the Constitution] because the adoption process contradicts current Russian law. For example, [under the new amendments], the Constitutional Court would evaluate the constitutionality of acts that have not yet been passed, but it has no such right.
Dmitry Peskov: That’s a question for the lawyers. However, as you understand, attorneys in the Duma and the presidential administration are actively involved in expert legal analyses of these amendments. So a legal analysis has already been completely conducted here.
Kommersant FM: And on what basis did the Kremlin make the decision to circumvent established procedures and pass the amendments through a special process [i.e. through a non-binding nationwide vote as opposed to the binding referendum process described in Russian law]?
Dmitry Peskov: I don’t understand the point of the question. This process isn’t prohibited by law in any way.
Kommersant FM: What I mean is that there’s a particular process for passing [constitutional] amendments in the law, and what we’ve got is a different process.
Dmitry Peskov: But other processes aren’t prohibited. All of these clarifications should be directed toward the working group.
Kommersant FM: So the Kremlin doesn’t see any problems in the legitimacy of amendments to the law of the land if there’s a process that’s not provided for…
Dmitry Peskov: An expert legal analysis is constantly ongoing. [Finds quote] Look, yes, indeed, “who gave us our ideals and our faith in God.” Yes, that phrasing is in there.
Kommersant FM: So whose ancestors did Vladimir Putin have in mind?
Dmitry Peskov: Our ancestors, yours and mine. The ancestors of those who live in the Russian Federation.
Kommersant FM: And what ideals did those individuals give us?
Dmitry Peskov: Our common ideals. Well, that’s implied in the text.
Kommersant FM: And which god did Vladimir Putin have in mind, exactly?
Dmitry Peskov: I think that will be clarified in due time.
Kommersant FM: How? In a separate federal law?
Dmitry Peskov: No. I can’t answer that question right now.
Kommersant FM: Will our government consequently stop being secular in nature? And how will the government treat atheists if these amendments are passed?
Dmitry Peskov: I can’t answer that question right now either. [Pause.] Obviously, the government is not losing its secular nature in any way.
Kommersant FM: In what way and at what time will this question regarding ambiguity in [the language about] God and ancestors be resolved?
Dmitry Peskov: I can only say that [it will be resolved] in due time. I cannot currently offer you the precise format and the precise timing of these explanations.
Kommersant FM: Will it at least be before the amendments are passed?
Dmitry Peskov: Well, that should go without saying. Before they’re passed, before they’re voted on, there will be a wide-ranging campaign to elucidate these amendments. Both the president himself and the members of the working group have said this on numerous occasions.
Kommersant FM: The amendments also include language about the continuous development of the Russian state and the historical formation of this governmental unit. What is to be done with the more controversial points in our history? For example, does this recognize the unity of the Romanov dynasty and the Bolsheviks who ultimately shot them to death?
Dmitry Peskov: Let’s not get into a deep historical discussion here because that’s not my role. I recommend that you contact the members of the working group.
Kommersant FM: But it was the president who introduced the amendments.
Dmitry Peskov: Yes, of course. But because we’re talking about changes to the Constitution, a juridical evaluation would be appropriate, and I am not qualified to offer such an evaluation.
Kommersant FM: I understand. But here, there’s also an aspect of the government undertaking to defend the historical truth. But again, about those controversial points. How should the results of the Civil War be evaluated here? Whose side is the historical truth on — the whites or the reds?
Dmitry Peskov: I’ve already said everything I had to say on this topic. I will not be adding anything more at this point. Without a doubt, you have the right to ask these questions. I am simply giving you a hint as to where you can redirect them.
Kommersant FM: But it’s not the working group that’s introducing [the most recent amendments]. It’s Vladimir Putin who introduced them.
Dmitry Peskov: Yes, but a juridical interpretation is still necessary here.
Ekho Moskvy: If you’d permit a clarification question — will this be edited by the president himself, or is this the final text? There are a lot of potential problems [in this version].
Dmitry Peskov: How can something the president has already introduced be edited? The only thing is that right now, the State Duma is conducting an evaluation. Wait a while. With time, there will be explanations and clarifications here. The [Duma’s] deliberations are ongoing. The second reading hasn’t happened yet. But right now, the most important work is being done in the State Duma.
Kommersant FM: One more thing — a clarification question about the voting process. Will it be all or nothing, or will [voters] be able to choose individual amendments?
Dmitry Peskov: We’ve already provided clarification on that count.
Kommersant FM: But you can’t explain it to us yourself.
Dmitry Peskov: Because deliberations in the working group are ongoing, I don’t want to provide any conclusions, any clarifications. It would be premature. You and I can go on discussing this for a long time yet. You can see an abundance of topics and interest in those topics. But it’s not a topic for a conference call.
Ekho Moskvy: Another clarification, if you please — does this [the new set of amendments] match the president’s vision of what the amendments should be?
Dmitry Peskov: And what do you think, that he would introduce something that doesn’t match his vision?
Ekho Moskvy: Are you unable to explain these things on his behalf because you don’t completely understand his vision, or what?
Dmitry Peskov: I cannot offer an explanation on this matter at this time.