Wednesday, March 23, 2016

Could Courts in Non-Russian Republics Undercut Putin’s Power Vertical and Promote Federalism?

Paul Goble

            Staunton, March 23 – A decision by a Kabardino-Balkarian court to allow Circassians with Turkish passports to remain there despite earlier Russian efforts to expel them and a call by Chuvash activists to create a constitutional court in their republic suggest courts in non-Russian republics may undercut Vladimir Putin’s power vertical and promote Russian federalism.

            Both Putin in his effort to control Russian government at all levels and analysts of his actions have focused on the legislative and executive branches of political authority apparently confident in the one case and convinced in the latter that courts in Russia remain so tightly controlled and thus cannot become a problem for the Kremlin.

            But these two cases suggest that at least some people in the non-Russian republics of the Russian Federation, increasingly unable to promote their ideas in the executive and legislative realms are now turning to the courts, a trend that suggests at the very least that the judicial branch in those republics may now be the locus of real politics.

            Yesterday, Circassian activists told the Kavkaz-Uzel portal that a court in the Kabardino-Balkarian capital of Nalchik had found in favor of a group of Circassians with Turkish passports whom the Russian Federal Migration Service had sought to deport in the days following the downing of a Russian warplane by Turkish forces (

            The court’s decision has been confirmed by Asker Sokht, head of the Adyge Khase organization in Krasnodar kray, who noted that “the judicial organs of power had spoken in defense of the rights of compatriots” and that “with regard to all citizens of Turkey, there had been positive decisions.”

            As a result, he said, these Circassians “can calmly continue their life in their historical motherland in Russia.”  He said he wanted to “express his gratitude to all those who did not remain indifferent and who defended the rights of our compatriots: government employees, public activists, lawyers, and ordinary citizens.”

            While this court decision does not have precedential value in the Russian Federation, it is likely to stimulate Circassians and others to turn to the courts to allow the return of their compatriots from abroad and to challenge efforts by Moscow to block such moves as well as to defend the other rights of their communities.

            Also yesterday, the Nazaccent portal reported that activists of the Ireklekh Movement in the Middle Volga republic of Chuvashia had called for the creation of a constitutional court there. They said that the republic’s constitution requires this and that the authorities must thus create it and establish the rules for its operation (

            In an open letter to the authorities, Ireklekh noted that most other republics have such institutions but that Chuvashia, along with the Altay Republic and Crimea, does not. The lack of such a court means, it declared, that there are “frequent violations of the rights and freedoms of people” and that citizens have nowhere to complain about unjust government decisions.

            Given Ireklekh’s tract record – the Chuvash authorities have rejected its earlier calls for boosting the state language of the republic, for re-inserting the state nature of the republic in the constitution, and for erecting a monument to the national hero Ulypu – this latest appeal may not succeed.  But it is likely to get others to think about how they might use the courts.


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