Putin Backs Constitutional Changes in Vote Described by Opposition as Illegal

Russian President Vladimir Putin said Sunday that constitutional amendments, which were approved on July 1 and could make him eligible to remain in power for years to come, are part of the country's "progressive development."

Putin responded to political opponents at several levels of the Russian government who characterized last week's nationwide election as illegal. Critics called the week-long vote on 206 constitutional amendments a "plebiscite on the consolidation of society around Russian President Vladimir Putin," as Moscow mayor Sergei Sobyanin told domestic news outlets.

One of the changes approved in the vote makes it possible for Putin to remain in office until 2036, something he described to state-run media Saturday as "strengthening our nationhood."

"I am absolutely convinced that we are doing the right thing in adopting amendments to the current constitution," Putin said, responding to critics who continue to say the referendum was illegitimate. "[The amendments] will strengthen our nationhood and create conditions for the progressive development of our country for decades to come,"

Under the governmental changes allowed by the amendments is one which allows Putin -- who first assumed his current role as president in December 1999 -- to seek two more terms as leader of Russia. His political opposition and Western media outlets immediately criticized the move by describing it as his effort to designate himself, "President for life."

Putin would be 83 years old should he remain in office through 2036.

Other changes made in the vote also directly benefit Putin, including one amendment which grants former presidents immunity from prosecution. Another amendment enshrines a reference in the Russian Federation constitution toward God. And keeping in line with Putin's longtime conservative views against gay rights, another amendment defines marriage solely as a union between a man and a woman.

Russian political opponents say Putin didn't need to hold the vote last week, because Parliament had already given the changes approval through regional governments and the court system. The referendum worked too well, according to Putin's critics, who floated accusations of voter fraud after an overwhelming 77 percent of voters backed changes to the Russian constitution.

A Washington Post report revealed one Russian journalist was allowed to vote twice through the country's election system -- both online and in person.

The vote was initially set to take place in April, but was postponed due to Russia's difficulties in containing the coronavirus pandemic. Russia's Central Election Commission released early results that found a 65 percent voter turnouts, with roughly three-quarters approving the pro-Putin amendments.

A Levada Center poll conducted between April and May found that 59 percent of respondents saying they approve of the job Putin is doing as president.

Newsweek reached out to the Russian Embassy in Washington for additional remarks.

Russian President Vladimir Putin
Russian President Vladimir Putin said Sunday that constitutional amendments which were approved on July 1 that make him eligible to remain in power for decades are part of the country's "progressive development." Alexey DRUZHININ/Getty Images