Academic journal article Washington International Law Journal

Reverse Revolution: Russia's Constitutional Crisis

Academic journal article Washington International Law Journal

Reverse Revolution: Russia's Constitutional Crisis

Article excerpt


In September 2011, Vladimir Putin, Russia's current Prime Minister and former President, surprised no one when he announced that he would once again seek the Russian presidency.1 Later in the winter, opposition to his candidacy arose, and a once-inevitable outcome appeared less decided.2 Nevertheless, initial criticism of his potential reelection manifested itself as little more than disgruntled complacency,3 and those opposing his reelection ultimately lost steam and focused less on preventing his reelection than on achieving incremental changes to Russia's electoral process.4 As a result, Putin regained the Russian presidency in the spring of 2012 with relative ease 5 and will likely remain in power until 2024, making his reign comparable in length to that of the average Soviet dictators.6

Putin's campaign and reelection should sound a warning bell for those who hoped Russia would eventually free itself from the grip of autocracy. Thus far it has not, in large part because the election, while disappointing, was ostensibly legal. Consequently, some Russians have resigned themselves to simply leaving Russia7 and the West has begun preparing for a renewed but familiar strain on its relationship with the Kremlin.8

Putin's reelection sounds the final death knell for Russia's constitution. This is demonstrated first by Russia's current political crisis, which is evidenced by an acutely unstable political climate and, ultimately, the demise of democracy in Russia. Second, it is shown by the Constitution's inability to remedy this crisis, caused by a breakdown in the Constitution's structure and mandates, specifically the separation of powers, the federalist structure, and a multi-party framework.

Part II of this note will provide an overview of the formation and adoption of the Russian Constitution and Putin's rise to power. Part III will discuss the symptoms of the constitutional crisis mentioned above. It will describe the present political crisis, compiling and describing symptoms of the unstable environment, as well as analyze the breakdown of the 1993 Constitution and its consequent inability to resolve the political crisis. Finally, Part IV will suggest remedies for the constitutional crisis which Putin's control has created, proposing particular methods for strengthening the other branches of the Russian government, especially the judiciary, through the Constitutional Court.


The demise of the Soviet Union in 1991 created the need for a leader who could unify Russia and bring about stability. This section will provide background on the formation of Russia's Constitution, explaining how Boris Yeltsin initially assumed Russia's leadership role. This section first describes how Yeltsin oversaw and largely controlled the process of drafting and adopting a presidentialist democratic constitution within a year of assuming the presidency. Second, it explains the structure of government established by Yeltsin's constitution, emphasizing in particular how it held the key to its own demise. Finally, it will explain how Russia's presidentialist government and Yeltsin's "anointment" of his successor allowed Vladimir Putin to consolidate power and undermine the Constitution's structures.

A. The 1993 Constitution Establishes a Super-Presidentialist Democracy

During the Soviet Union's sharp decline in the late 1980s, the calls for reform by Boris Yeltsin, a young reformer and republican separatist, became increasingly popular.9 In 1990, he led the Russian Republic to declare independence from the Soviet Union and helped push then Soviet president Mikhail Gorbachev out of power.10 Though Gorbachev attempted to patch up the broken union, party extremists, the Komitet Gosudarstvennoy Bezopasnosti or Committee for State Security ("KGB"), and the military staged a coup and arrested Gorbachev. …

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