The Russian parliament’s lower house – the Duma – is supporting legislation to grant Russian presidents and their families immunity from criminal prosecution after they leave office.
It is one of the many constitutional amendments that were approved by Russian voters during a referendum in July, and it was not difficult for Russian President Vladimir Putin to push this bill through both houses of Russia’s parliament, as both are dominated by his party United Russia.
The timing of this law is no coincidence, as there have been rumors reported in the media recently that Russia’s 68-year-old President could retire as early as next year due to ill health.
Putin has been President of the Russian Federation since 2000, and his latest move hints that he is paving the way for someone to succeed him, though he is still allowed to run for two more terms after 2024.
Putin Will Not Face Prosecution for His Crimes
Under the immunity provisions, a former president and his family would have immunity from any police searches or questioning, or any confiscation of their property.
Furthermore, they would not be prosecuted for any crimes committed in their lifetime, except for alleged acts of treason or other grave crimes in exceptional circumstances.
Former Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev will not be protected by these provisions as he is a former President of the USSR, not Russia.
Medvedev Will be one of the Main Beneficiaries of the Law
One of the first beneficiaries of this new law is former Russian president Dmitry Medvedev. Alexey Navalny’s Anti-Corruption Foundation published a report and a movie that link Medvedev to an impressive number of yachts, residences and even two vineyards, both in Russia and abroad. The residences that Navalny mentioned are connected to charity foundations headed by the former Russian leader’s close friends and colleagues from school, but none of them are formally owned by Medvedev himself.
The investigation says that companies associated with charity foundations were resold to each other, and that it remains unclear if various loans were ever paid back to creditors. But Russia’s immunity provisions would allow the likes of Medvedev to get away with his alleged crimes.
And then there is Putin himself, who stands to benefit the most from this new law. For example, the immunity provisions mean that the Russian President will never be held to account for the deaths of liberal politician Boris Nemtsov, investigative journalist Anna Politkovskaya, exiled Russian spy Alexander Litvinenko, and the poisonings of Sergei and Yulia Skirpal.
Putin’s Lifelong Free Ride
According to a list from the Russian human-rights group Memorial, 102 people have been held in Russian prisons for their political beliefs. Famous past prisoners have included oligarch Mikhail Khodorkovsky. Putin will never be questioned for the reasons why he imprisoned numerous political dissenters, thanks to this new legislation.
There are many other reasons why Putin deserves to be held to account for past actions such as the illegal invasion of the Ukraine, but these immunity provisions are a devastating blow to opponents of the Russian President’s regime, who were hoping that they would one day see justice served.
The Washington Post claims that the Russian leader’s biggest fear is to be held accountable for his choices, and that is a pretty accurate way to sum up Putin’s immunity provisions. Political leaders who have nothing to hide should not be afraid to be questioned over decisions that they made throughout their terms in office. As of this week, Russia has moved closer toward becoming an authoritarian regime.
There is no evidence yet that Putin has found a worthy successor, but whoever it is will more than likely continue to grant him lifelong immunity. Putin has no interest in appointing someone who will radically alter the path he has taken Russia down for the last twenty years.
This week marks another sad occasion for Russian politics.