20 November 2021
by Aleksandr Podrabinek
Last week in America it was discovered that the president in Russia isn’t the real president! We’ve known this for a long time and talked about it many times, but no one listened. That is, of course they listened, but they paid no attention. They kept on consorting with us and visiting us, inviting us over, shaking our hands, and sometimes even hugging.
A GLOBE FROM THE SCRAP HEAP
And then it happened. On 16 November, Steve Cohen, co-chair of the U.S. Congress’s Helsinki Commission, introduced a draft resolution in the House of Representatives on the impossibility of recognizing Vladimir Putin as Russia’s president after 2024.
Congressman Cohen’s conclusions are based primarily on an analysis of the so-called Russia-wide vote on amendments to the Constitution held in the summer of last year. A large part of this draft resolution is devoted to exposing this amusing plebiscite.
And devoted how! In detail and with taste! It talks about the verbal balancing act with “two consecutive terms,” voter coercion, multiple voting, ballot-stuffing, violation of the secrecy of the ballot, and prohibitions on the opposition’s campaign rallies, and also about voting in makeshift locations, ballots stored overnight by the electoral commissions with no independent oversight, and the absence of international observers. Everything has been painstakingly collected and convincingly laid out. On the basis of which the conclusion is drawn that any attempt by President Putin to remain in office after 7 May 2024, guarantees nonrecognition by the United States.
A perfectly correct conclusion. Only it stands on feet of clay, on a legal trifle, on a buffoonish enterprise not worthy of sensible people’s attention. This is like drawing the conclusion that the Earth is round on the basis of a conscientious study of a globe picked up randomly at a scrap heap. Or drawing a conclusion about the lethality of nuclear weapons on the basis of the eschatological prophesies of early Medieval church fathers.
The Russia-wide voting on the Constitutional amendments had no legal foundation or legal consequences whatsoever. According to the previous Constitution, the amendments Putin proposed could go into effect after the State Duma passed the bill, the Federation Council confirmed it, at least two-thirds of Federation subjects supported it, the president signed it into law, and the law was published following official procedure. Such was the constitutional sequence of legal actions.
On the morning of 11 March 2020, the State Duma passed the bill on the Constitutional amendments on its third and final reading. That same day, a few hours later, the Federation Council confirmed the bill. By 13 March, the legislatures of all 85 Russian regions had voted to approve the amendments. On 14 March, President Putin signed the law. That same day, it was published on the president’s website and on the Official Internet Portal of Legal Information. On 14 March 2020, in accordance with the Constitution then in effect, these amendments went into legal force.
EASY PREY FOR PROPAGANDA
Why did Putin need a “popular declaration of will”? Ask Putin! The law did not require him to do this. I think he wanted the moral satisfaction of nationwide support because the falsifications at every stage of the amendments’ passage were too easily noticed.
I don’t know whether he got any satisfaction from the week-long plebiscite, which had no rules of any kind and followed a hastily conceived procedure. Many people helped him then. Venal figures in science and culture – from Leo Bokeriya and Evgeny Pliushchenko to Vladimir Mashkov and Sergei Bezrukov – persuaded everyone to come vote for the Constitutional amendments. Opponents of the amendments, independent journalists, municipal deputies, and many human rights activists – from Ilya Azar to Lev Ponomarev* – tried to persuade everyone to go vote “against.” They even collected more than 20,000 signatures for their manifesto “Against the constitutional coup and usurpation of power.” But the main thing was: come vote! This whole circus with polar opposite opinions but a common appeal to take part in this buffonery went on until July, when this wholly unfunny buffoonery was held.
Now the question is why Congressman Steve Cohen needed, as proof of Putin’s future illegitimacy, to cite propaganda nonsense not provided for by law and having no legal consequences? Wasn’t there enough evidence of the real falsifications committed in the course of passing the amendments? Why did the congressman focus society’s attention on something so easy to discount from any serious discussion? Even Ella Pamfilova, chair of the Russian Central Election Commission, explained that the proposed amendments did not require holding a national referendum. So why did the American legislator need to become such easy propagandistic prey for the Kremlin?
Naturally, we remember that what man has done, man can do, including on Capitol Hill. We remember how US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton gave Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov a symbolic button that said “overload” instead of “reset.” But this is merely grammar, while the State Department more than likely had simply economized on translators.
The question here is more serious, though. Ultimately, Steve Cohen is a lawyer with a university education. Raising such important questions in Congress given such lousy preparation of his material is at the very least strange.
*The Russian Justice Ministry considers Ponomarev a “foreign agent.” — Ed.
Translated by Marian Schwartz