Russian History
 

Russia

Presidential Powers

Russia's president determines the basic direction of Russia's domestic and foreign policy and represents the Russian state within the country and in foreign affairs. The president appoints and recalls Russia's ambassadors upon consultation with the legislature, accepts the credentials and letters of recall of foreign representatives, conducts international talks, and signs international treaties. A special provision allowed Yeltsin to complete the term prescribed to end in June 1996 and to exercise the powers of the new constitution, although he had been elected under a different constitutional order.

In the 1996 presidential election campaign, some candidates called for reducing or eliminating the presidency, criticizing its powers as dictatorial. Yeltsin defended his presidential powers, claiming that Russians desire "a vertical power structure and a strong hand" and that a parliamentary government would result in indecisive talk rather than action.

Several prescribed powers put the president in a superior position vis--vis the legislature. The president has broad authority to issue decrees and directives that have the force of law without legislative review, although the constitution notes that they must not contravene that document or other laws. Under certain conditions, the president may dissolve the State Duma, the lower house of parliament (as a whole, now called the Federal Assembly). The president has the prerogatives of scheduling referendums (a power previously reserved to the parliament), submitting draft laws to the State Duma, and promulgating federal laws.

The executive-legislative crisis of the fall of 1993 prompted Yeltsin to emplace constitutional obstacles to legislative removal of the president. Under the 1993 constitution, if the president commits "grave crimes" or treason, the State Duma may file impeachment charges with the parliament's upper house, the Federation Council. These charges must be confirmed by a ruling of the Supreme Court that the president's actions constitute a crime and by a ruling of the Constitutional Court that proper procedures in filing charges have been followed (see The Judiciary, this ch.). The charges then must be adopted by a special commission of the State Duma and confirmed by at least two-thirds of State Duma deputies. A two-thirds vote of the Federation Council is required for removal of the president. If the Federation Council does not act within three months, the charges are dropped. If the president is removed from office or becomes unable to exercise power because of serious illness, the prime minister is to temporarily assume the president's duties; a presidential election then must be held within three months. The constitution does not provide for a vice president, and there is no specific procedure for determining whether the president is able to carry out his duties.

The president is empowered to appoint the prime minister to chair the Government (called the cabinet or the council of ministers in other countries), with the consent of the State Duma. The president chairs meetings of the Government, which he also may dismiss in its entirety. Upon the advice of the prime minister, the president can appoint or remove Government members, including the deputy prime ministers. The president submits candidates to the State Duma for the post of chairman of the Russian Central Bank (RCB) and may propose that the State Duma dismiss the chairman (see Banking and Finance, ch. 6). In addition, the president submits candidates to the Federation Council for appointment as justices of the Constitutional Court, the Supreme Court, and the Superior Court of Arbitration, as well as candidates for the office of procurator general, Russia's chief law enforcement officer (see The Procuracy, ch. 10). The president also appoints justices of federal district courts.