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Just try to stop him Russian lawmakers draft legislation that would make it harder than ever to prosecute a former president

Source: Meduza
Scanpix / LETA

Earlier this year, amid a global pandemic, Russia held a nationwide plebiscite on a series of constitutional amendments. Scholars and election watchdogs criticized how the vote was carried out, but the initiative passed with a whopping 77.9 percent and turnout hit almost 65 percent. Russian lawmakers are now writing the legislation needed to implement the new constitutional amendments. This week, the Parliament got to work on expanding immunity for former presidents. Today and for the foreseeable future, this means just two men: Vladimir Putin and Dmitry Medvedev.

Two Russian lawmakers, Senator Andrey Klishas and State Duma deputy Pavel Krasheninnikov, have submitted draft legislation that would guarantee the legal immunity of former presidents. The bill would expand a federal law that already lays out guarantees for ex-presidents and their families by adding the following article:

After performing his duties, the president of the Russian Federation enjoys immunity. He or she cannot be held criminally or administratively liable or detained, arrested, searched in any way, or interrogated. 

In other words, Russian presidents are free to violate the nation’s Criminal Code and Administrative Code without risk of prosecution. Federal law currently grants former presidents immunity only for crimes committed while in office.

The bill will make it harder to prosecute former presidents 

Under Russia’s current statutes, former presidents can be prosecuted only after the Federal Investigative Committee opens a criminal case acknowledging “a grave offense,” and the State Duma and Federation Council consent to strip away the president’s immunity. 

Once the law is amended, this process becomes more complicated: the Federation Council will be able to strip a former president of immunity only if the State Duma (not the Investigative Committee) charged him or her with high treason or some other grave offense, the Supreme Court determines that a crime had been committed, and the Constitutional Court also rules that the established procedure for bringing charges had been observed. 

The details are even more convoluted

While the State Duma will be responsible for bringing charges against former presidents, the draft legislation stipulates that the Federation Council can strip them of immunity only with the support of two-thirds of all members of Parliament, provided that a special State Duma commission also adopts a corresponding resolution and at least one-third of all State Duma deputies supported bringing charges in the first place.

The draft legislation on presidential immunity is designed to regulate principles embodied in amendments adopted earlier this year to Articles 92 and 93 of Russia’s Constitution. 

In October 2020, President Putin submitted a bill to the State Duma that regulates another legal principle codified in a new constitutional amendment: former presidents’ right to serve as senators for life. 

In a national plebiscite held earlier this year, Russians endorsed a series of constitutional amendments, including changes that reset the term-limit clocks for Vladimir Putin and Dmitry Medvedev, making it possible for Putin to run for another two terms and remain president until 2036. 

Text by Alexander Baklanov

Translation by Kevin Rothrock

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