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Putin signs decree on constitutional amendments, changes take effect July 4

Russia's President Vladimir Putin. (Alexei Nikolsky/Russian Presidential Press and Information Office/TASS/Abaca Press/TNS)

This article was originally published by Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty and is reprinted with permission.

Russian President Vladimir Putin has signed a decree that will bring into force a sweeping package of constitutional amendments that among other things open a path for him to stay in power until 2036, if he chooses to take part in two more presidential elections.

According to the decree, signed on July 3, the amendments will take effect on July 4.

“The citizens of Russia have made their choice, and in accordance with this decision, I have signed a decree to officially publish the constitution to include the amendments,” Putin said during a televised meeting with officials.

He also signaled further changes for Russia, saying that some of the proposed constitutional amendments that were not included in the package approved in the plebiscite should be considered as the basis for new laws.

“It is practically impossible to squeeze everything into the constitution,” he said. “And that is not necessary. Suggestions that came from people and could not be included in the constitution, but which are of value to society, must be put into action either as laws or bylaws.”

Although the final package included more than 200 amendments, more than 600 modifications were proposed during the brief discussion period between January and March.

Putin signed the decree hours after the Central Election Commission (CEC) announced the final results of a national vote held between June 25 and July 1.

The Kremlin has hailed the landslide victory that saw almost 78 percent of ballots approving the package of more than 200 changes to the constitution as “a triumphant referendum on trust in President Vladimir Putin.”

But reports of irregularities at some polling stations, and intimidation of activists and journalists seeking to monitor the vote, have prompted calls from the West for an immediate investigation.

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov rejected Western concerns about the vote, saying that Russia “has been and will remain committed, first and foremost, to national sovereignty.”

“We are not ready to take these so-called concerns into account and will not do so,” he told the state news agency TASS.

The Kremlin has said the amendments are necessary for the country’s stability and security, while Putin’s critics charge they are a bid for the 67-year-old to secure power for life.

The most-controversial among more than 200 amendments in the package is one that resets Putin’s term-limit clock to zero, opening the way for him to run for reelection when his current six-year term expires in 2024, and again in 2030.

In addition to enabling Putin to seek additional terms, the amendments broaden the powers of the parliament in the formation of the government and redistribute some authority among various government structures.

They also explicitly state the priority of Russian law over international law, ban same-sex marriages, describe a “belief in God” as a core national value, define the Russian language as “the language of the state-forming ethnicity,” and make it “impossible to alienate parts of the Russian Federation.”

The vote came amid growing discontent in Russia over the economic consequences of the coronavirus pandemic, and as polls have shown a decline in Putin’s popularity in recent years. His approval rating sank to a low of 59 percent during the spring, according to the independent Levada Center polling agency.

Putin, a longtime KGB officer during the Soviet era, has been president or prime minister of Russia since 1999.