Hundreds of Prominent Russians Send Open Letter Decrying Putin 'Coup' That Could Keep Him in Power Until 2036

Hundreds of prominent Russians have signed an open letter to President Vladimir condemning constitutional changes that would allow the strongman to remain in power until 2036—a move they described as an "anti-constitutional coup."

As of Sunday morning, more than 420 lawyers, academics, journalists and writers signed the letter, according to Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty. The letter was published by the Echo of Moscow radio station.

On Saturday, Putin sent a request to the country's Constitutional Court to approve the proposed constitutional amendments that will allow him to circumvent presidential term limits that would have forced him to step down in 2024. The proposals have already been agreed to by all regional legislatures, both houses of Russia's parliament, and the president.

The proposals—which will be put to a national vote in April—will mean Putin's previous two consecutive six-year presidential terms will not count towards the overall limit, effectively resetting the two-term count as of 2024. This could mean that the 67-year-old retains office until 2036.

The signatories of the protest letter said the proposed amendments represent "a deep constitutional crisis and an unlawful anti-constitutional coup in a pseudo-legal form is looming over our country."

The authors also argued that the situation "undermines the evolutionary development of our country on the principles of democracy and freedoms and threatens to turn into a new tragedy of national discord."

There has long been speculation over whether Putin would seek to dodge existing term limits and stay in power. Observers speculated that he may create a new position to retain power while giving up the president's office.

But in the end, the proposals actually seek to increase the power of the presidency and codify the supremacy of Russian law over international bodies that have issued legal verdicts against the Kremlin.

The amendments will also outlaw same-sex marriage and specify "a belief in God" as a traditional Russian value.

Putin is yet to confirm that he will run again in 2024, but the amendments will give him time to set out a blueprint for the post-Putin Russian political landscape.

One of the few officials seen as a candidate to replace him—former President Dmitry Medvedev—resigned as prime minister along with the rest of the government earlier this year as a prelude to the proposed constitutional changes.

Dozens of protesters were arrested this weekend in Moscow and St. Petersburg at demonstrations against the constitutional changes, RFE/RL reported. The website cited OVD Info, which tracks detained political protesters—it reported that 40 people were detained, some of whom were injured in the process.

Vladimir Putin, Russia, term limits, constitution, protest
Russian riot police officers detain a participant of an unsanctioned rally in central Saint Petersburg, Russia on March 15, 2020. OLGA MALTSEVA/AFP via Getty Images/Getty