Sunday, November 4, 2018

Legal Experts Split on Role of Russian Constitutional Court on Ingush-Chechen Border Issue

Paul Goble

            Staunton, November 3 – It is still far from clear, legal experts say, what the outcome of the legal case involving the border agreement between Chechnya and Ingushetia, whether the Russian Constitutional Court will take up the issue, and what that court might decide if it in fact does so.

            The Ingush Constitutional Court on October 30 held that Yunus-Bek Yevkurov had violated that republic’s constitution by submitting the border agreement he reached with Chechnya’s Ramzan Kadyrov not to a referendum as the republic constitution requires but only to the republic parliament where he pushed the matter through.

            Despite that decision, however, Yevkurov continues to insist that the border agreement remains in force; and the Kremlin has indicated that the entire matter is now before the courts so that Vladimir Putin and his administration will not intervene.  But five Russian legal specialists say the role of the courts in this situation is complicated.

            Elena Lukyanova, a specialist on constitutional law at Moscow’s Higher School of Economics, says “in general, a decision by any Constitutional Court must be fulfilled. The Constitutional Court of Ingushetia held the law on the ratification of the agreement to be unconstitutional. This means this law no longer is in effect” (

            She points out that the republic court did not rule on the border accord per se but rather on the law adopted by the republic parliament that Yevkurov insists ratified the agreement.  According to Lukyanova, this decision can’t be disputed by anyone, “including the Constitutional Court of the Russian Federation.”

            The Moscow court, she says, “could reach another decision on this issue if there is an appeal, but it cannot overturn the decision” of the republic constitutional court on such a matter. The only way things could proceed in that direction is if the Constitutional Court of Chechnya rules that the agreement is legitimate, and then the Moscow court could be asked to decide between them.

            Yevgeny Chernousov, a lawyer who served in the interior ministry, offers a somewhat different legal analysis.  He says those in Ingushetia unhappy with the republic court’s decision can appeal to the Russian Constitutional Court and that court can overrule the republic one, with the consequences extending to all the subjects of the federation as a result.

            According to him, either those in Ingushetia who are unhappy with the decision or the federal government can appeal to the court in such cases.  And once the Russian Constitutional Court rules, its decision is final. He expects the Ingush side to appeal and the Chechen side to continue to act as if the border accord remains in force.

            A third specialist, lawyer Igor Trunov, says that a major problem in the current case is that the sphere of responsibilities of regional Constitutional Courts is “not entirely clear.” They were created as a mark of respect to democratic procedures but so far have not taken enough actions to define their true role within the Russian system.

            The current case, he suggests, may help to resolve that problem.

            A fourth specialist, Dmitry Timchenko of the firm Trunov, Ayvar and Partners, says that it is important to remember that the current case is not about changing borders between federal subjects but about establishing them. Procedures for the former task are well defined legally; those for the latter are not. 

            In this situation, the decision of the Constitutional Court of Ingushetia “must be implemented.” There is no need for the involvement of Moscow courts or the Federation Council.  He also argues that Yevkurov does not have standing to bring any case anyway since he is responsible for ensuring the laws are obeyed and would be appealing against himself.

                But a fifth specialist, Aleksandr Balobanov of the Russian Academy of Economics and State Service, argues that the issue of the procedures of ratifying any border accord “must be considered by the Federal Center with the final decision taken by the Constitutional Court of the Russian Federation.”

            Unfortunately, he continues, the substantive issue, that of the border agreement itself, is beyond the purview of the courts.  “My position is that this is already not a judicial issue but a political one” and thus must be solved by the executive and legislative branches not by the judicial one.

            In short, there are enough differing opinions about this case that its resolution is likely to be lengthy and difficult – and that any decision about the border accord will not be accepted by everyone regardless of who makes it.  

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