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The architect of Putin’s ‘zeroing out’

How a Swiss lawyer and legal scholar Taliya Khabrieva prepared the procedure for rewriting the Russian Constitution to make Putin’s presidency last forever, and now removes evidence of her hard work

Andrey Zayakin, Dissernet co-founder
Andrey Zayakin, Dissernet co-founder

Taliya Khabrieva. Photo: gup.ru

In March 2021 the Russian State Duma adopted amendments to the Constitution of the Russian Federation that, among all, allowed Vladimir Putin to ‘zero out’ the number of his presidential terms thereby allowing him to run for the presidency in two more elections and thus to potentially stay in power until 2036 (the Russian legislation states that a Russian citizen may only hold the presidency for two terms — translator’s note).

Taliya Khabrieva was one of the three co-chairs of the working group on the preparation of the amendments to the Constitution. Back in February 2020, Khabrieva assured everyone that resetting Putin’s terms to zero was “not under discussion.” But actually, at the moment Khabrieva already had some experience in testing out the “zeroing out” mechanism: she had worked out this maneuver on the chairman of the Higher Attestation Commission (Higher Attestation Commission is a national government agency in Russia and some other post-Soviet states that oversees awarding of advanced academic degrees — translator’s note), Vladimir Filippov.

This mechanism has been described in detail in the publication of Novaya Gazeta “The Constitutionalist and the Guinea Pig” republished also on the site of Dissernet — the volunteer community network whose aim is to expose falsifiers and liars in Russian science. On Sunday, 7 August, the administrators of both Novaya Gazeta and Dissernet websites received requests from a Russian regulator to remove the publication under the threat of blocking the site. Now the text of the article is only available on Web Archive. Such thoroughness on a random Sunday implies that for Taliya Khabrieva these memories are not the most pleasant and certainly not the most comfortable ones.

We publish a detailed story about the prominent scientist who developed and empirically tested the “zeroing out” technique.

Scientific reputation as an asset

Since 2001, Khabrieva has been Director of one of the key state expert institutions in the field of law: The Institute of Legislation and Comparative Law under the Government of the Russian Federation (IZiSP). According to Khabrieva, the main aim of her work in the Institute is expertise consulting government officials on drafting bills. And Institute does get an abundance of requests “from the government, from ministries, departments, from the presidential administration, from the Constitutional Court, from the Supreme Court.” Therefore, the academic reputation of IZiSP is the main asset that Khabrieva has. Owing to it she was able to take the role that she now plays in the current political configuration.

The Institute of Legislation and Comparative Law under the Government of the Russian Federation (IZiSP). Photo: Yandex. Maps

And what about the scientific reputation of Khabrieva herself?

In May 2007 the defense of the doctoral thesis of the now-Moscow mayor Sergei Sobyanin at IZiSP was to take place, with Khabrieva as a scientific advisor of the work. But suddenly everything fell apart and the defense was cancelled.

However, the Russian state library has Sobyanin’s simultaneously published monograph and an abstract of the undefended thesis with a completely identical title. Presumably the text of the dissertation should have been very similar, if not the same as that of the monograph.

Dissernet performed a thorough research of the text of the monograph, and it turned out that the work consisted largely of the works of Khabrieva herself or under her editorship, of pieces from university textbooks, and of extremely many pieces from the works of Khabrieva’s colleague Alexander Chertkov. Khabrieva would later on become Chertkov scientific advisor, too.

The impression was that Chertkov might have been the “ghost writer” for the compilation of Sobyanin’s dissertation.

Khabrieva should have at least guessed it — if not knowing for sure, but we never heard her demanding retraction of the notorious scientific monography after the Dissernet investigation appeared.

Dr. Chertkov is one of the few people who were convicted by Russian court under the article “fraud” for trading in fake academic degrees. And then he was acquitted. In the court of appeal (where Khabrieva was mentioned as a witness) he confirmed that he had violated the norms of ethics by writing another person’s dissertation — amazing confession! And then he claimed that he had never taken money for illegally assisting the defense, but only for writing the text of a dissertation and scientific articles — those being, according to jurist Chertkov, “civil legal relations” protected by the law. The court agreed that sales of doctoral theses should be legally protected.

But well, why ask from Khabrieva for defenses that never took place or similar, when her own doctoral students have been exposed by Dissernet. The Director of the Foreign Intelligence Service and the former chairman of the State Duma Sergey Naryshkin defended a thesis with mass plagiarism and falsifications: data on transnational corporations and on Russia's GDP copied from old works have not been updated; old IMF information has been presented as up-to-date, and so on and so forth.

Not an asset but debt

The aforementioned article “The Constitutionalist and the Guinea Pig” described in detail how scientists under Khabrieva’s control prepared a “legal opinion” that the former chairman of the Higher Attestation Commission Vladimir Filippov may hold his position as long as he pleases.

Аormer chairman of the Higher Attestation Commission Vladimir Filippov. Photo: indicator.ru

But this was not the first or last delicate mission carried out by Khabrieva: as member of the Higher Attestation Commission, she was often handy when it was necessary to brush off someone important. Dissernet stores a list of 26 cases of plagiarised Doctor of Law theses when the Higher Attestation Commission with Khabrieva on board “did not notice” apparent violations — plagiarism or even obvious falsification of data. For example, Higher Attestation Commission has approved as valid a Dr. Juris dissertation in the field of criminology where murders were replaced by rapes without changing the statistics or qualitative reasoning. Or a Dr. Juris thesis describing money laundering by prisoners, in which the author (a prosecutor) copied the work of another prosecutor as a source and replaced “prison riots” with “money laundering”. Or when the copying-and-pasting of another person’s text made the “King of England” to become the “Control of England.” Khabrieva has been a member of the Higher Attestation Commission and one of the few with a legal qualification; however, we never heard her protesting against the justification of works with obvious plagiarism of falsifications.

We requested Professor Khabrieva to comment on all the issues that we discuss above, and she has not answered yet.

European house

Even in 2021, Talyia Khabrieva continued to praise in every way the Venice Commission of the Council of Europe, an advisory body on constitutional law, while congratulating the Commission on its anniversary. This is the very Commission that harshly criticises the presidential “zeroing out”, for example: “The ad hominem exclusion from the term limits of the current and previous Presidents contradicts the very logic of the adopted amendment limiting the President’s mandate to two-terms.”

In her congratulatory text Khabrieva also praises the idea of a “common European home”.

Now we know that the “European home” means much more for Khabrieva than for Russian oppositionists who have been imprisoned or forced to emigrate. 

The anti-corruption centre of the opposition party Yabloko published information that academician Khabrieva and her husband, also academician, who, besides a land plot and a house in a private village near Moscow (plot area — 2616 sq. m, estimated cost — 5 million euros) own an apartment in Switzerland in Montreux with an area of 118 sq. m costing approximately 1.5 million euros.

Taliya Khabrieva. Фото: ysia.ru

We have verified this information. The land plot 50:11:0040219:21 in Russia at the time of our request belongs to Khabrieva. And real estate in Switzerland now, according to an extract from the register of the canton of Vaud, belongs to the full namesake of her son Bulat Khabriev.

Khabrieva’s situation is a remarkable one. In her academic and expert capacity she has contributed greatly to cementing Putin’s dictatorial powers, polishing the autocratic 2020 Constitution and providing legal advice for a full crackdown on political freedoms in Russia. By doing this she joined the ranks of the top instigators of the current European catastrophe. All that with the purpose to enjoy her apartment next to Lake Geneva.

Adapted English version by Larisa Melikhova

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