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Russia Report: June 19, 2002

19 June 2002, Volume 2, Number 20
One of the most consistent themes of Russian President Vladimir Putin's rhetoric has been a call for Russia's greater integration into international organizations. Just last month, NATO and Russia increased their cooperation with the formation of a new Russia-NATO Council (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 28 May 2002). At the same time, talks on Russian accession to the World Trade Organization are also continuing. In fact, WTO Director-General Mike Moor recently predicted that Russia could join the organization before the next WTO ministerial forum in September 2003 (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 29 May 2002). This week, "RFE/RL Russian Political Weekly" asked Peter Maggs, Peer & Sarah Pedersen professor of law at University of Illinois-Urbana-Champaign, to comment on the legal aspects of Russia's cooperation with international organizations. JAC

RFE/RL: How would you characterize Russia's progress integrating into international legal structures?

MAGGS: Like domestic governments, international legal structures have executive, legislative, and judicial branches. Executive functions are performed by international organizations, such as the United Nations and the World Trade Organization, and regional organizations, such as NATO.

Legislative functions are performed by the system of international treaties, including treaties on such matters as human rights and intellectual property. Judicial functions are performed by the International Court of Justice and specialized tribunals such as the European Court of Human Rights and the World Trade Organization arbitration boards.

The progress of integration into the various international legal structures began under Stalin, when the USSR ratified a number of important international treaties and became a charter member of the United Nations. It continued under Brezhnev, when the USSR became more active in international organizations and adhered to the most important international human-rights and intellectual-property treaties. However, the USSR never accepted the jurisdiction of international judicial bodies. And, of course, it failed to carry out its obligations under international human-rights treaties.

Under Yeltsin, as the USSR crumbled, Russia began to really implement the basic human rights that were denied under communism. The 1993 Yeltsin constitution incorporated the principle of implementation of international treaties and international law. In 1999, the Constitutional Court suspended the death penalty, which Europeans regard as a violation of human rights, but suspended it only until jury trials became available throughout Russia. It was under Yeltsin that Russia accepted the idea of submitting to the jurisdiction of international judicial bodies. In 1998, Russia adhered to the European Convention on Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms and thereby accepted the jurisdiction of the European Court of Human Rights. In the 1990s, Russia also began the negotiating process for admission to the World Trade Organization, which requires its members to submit to binding international arbitration.

RFE/RL: And what has been the situation under [Russian President Vladimir] Putin?

MAGGS: When Putin took office, he was sitting on a legal time bomb. The Constitutional Court was regularly making decisions finding federal and local laws to be in violation of human-rights treaties. The European Court of Human Rights had begun processing cases from Russia, some of which were sure to result in decisions that Russia had been violating human rights. Russian legislation, however, particularly the Criminal Procedure Code, was clearly in violation of the Russian Constitution and Russia's international obligations. The situation in Chechnya was being contained only by continual violation of human rights. The Russian Orthodox Church was pressing for restrictions on other religions. Local governments were engaged in widespread violations of human rights through residence-permit laws and other measures. Russian negotiations for entry into the World Trade Organization were moving slowly for various reasons, one of them the poor protection of intellectual property in Russia.

President Putin has taken a number of steps to defuse this situation. In the area of legislation, he secured adoption of a new Criminal Procedure Code, which largely complies with international standards. He is moving to strengthen intellectual-property protection. He has started a major campaign to invalidate local laws that violate federal law, the constitution, and international treaties. Organizationally, he has brought Russia into partnership with NATO, and has cooperated in United Nations peacekeeping efforts and international antiterrorism campaigns. And his administration has indicated that Russia will honor the decision that it must pay damages to a wrongfully imprisoned Russian citizen who won a case in the European Court of Human Rights. Negotiations on Russia's entry into the World Trade Organization, however, are moving slowly. As the Central European countries join the European Union, Russia faces new barriers to travel and trade.

While Putin is said to be pushing for legislation to abolish the death penalty, there is not yet a law on the books that would prevent the automatic resumption of the death penalty in a couple of years when jury trials become available throughout Russia under the new Criminal Procedure Code.

RFE/RL: So, in general, would you say that Putin's rhetoric on integrating Russia into international structures has been matched by actions? Are there any examples of steps backward? I'm wondering specifically about international trade.

MAGGS: With respect to institutional structures, there is NATO, and also the agreement to pay the guy who won the judgment in the European Court of Human Rights. In 2001, Russia got back its voting rights in the Council of Europe, which had been suspended because of human-rights violations in Chechnya. And by cooperating in the war against terrorism, Putin has cleverly pushed the public-relations image that Chechnya is Russia's war on terrorism.

On international trade, Putin has to be careful not to be a pushover. When the U.S. put an unjustified tariff on Russian steel, the Russians suddenly decided that U.S. chickens weren't sanitary enough for the Russian market. Eventually the Russians backed down -- probably because of the U.S.'s assurance that Russia would be reclassified as a "market economy." The U.S. recently did reclassify Russia, greatly reducing the risk that Russian exporters will face U.S. "antidumping" duties. Particularly with Russia not being in the WTO, Russia has to engage in this sort of thing or other countries will walk all over it. Entry into the WTO means individual negotiations on trade issues with the major WTO members. Again, Russia could give in on many points and join the WTO quickly, but Putin is smarter to engage in hard bargaining.

Another important example of integration into international structures is Russian acceptance of U.S. bases in Central Asia in the Afghan war, though there wasn't much Russia could do about it.

In addition, thanks to good oil revenues, Russia has been able to pay down its foreign debt and reduce dependence on the World Bank and IMF.

It has also the beefed up criminal punishments for copyright infringement.

(See also

By Jeffrey Kahn

By tradition, a fourth wedding anniversary is marked by gifts of fruits and flowers. Last month marked the fourth anniversary of Russia's ratification of the European Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms (ECHR). Pick your metaphor, but only Russia's record of violating human rights seems to be flowering. What fruits, then, have their been from this treaty?

By signing the ECHR, Russia accepted the obligation "[to] secure to everyone within [its] jurisdiction the rights and freedoms" described in the treaty. Russia recognized the authority of the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg to enforce this obligation, and the right of individuals to petition the court alleging violations by the Russian state. Such a right is virtually unheard of in international law, which is typically more concerned with sovereign states than individuals.

But has this remarkable convention borne fruit in Russia? Yes and no. In a series of rulings over the past 12 months, for the very first time the Russian state has found itself squarely in the European human-rights dock. Another positive sign comes from Russia's highest courts, where the ECHR is increasingly cited in legal decisions. This July, a new Criminal Procedure Code -- strongly influenced by Russia's European commitments -- will enter into force earlier than expected thanks to a Russian Constitutional Court ruling citing the ECHR for support.

Nevertheless, serious obstacles counsel against buying gifts for the crystal or silver jubilee just yet. In the first three years since ratification, not a single Russian case was declared admissible by the European Court of Human Rights. The dearth of admissible cases was not, however, for lack of complaints. By the end of 1999, Strasbourg had received almost 2,000 complaints; by this time last year, more than 6,000 complaints had been lodged against Russia. Most of the complaints, however, were routinely rejected as inadmissible on technical grounds that reflected the scant attention that has been paid to educating Russia's capable and growing cadre of human-rights lawyers on how to bring a case to Strasbourg. Some legal specialists even predict a heightening of these procedural barriers by the court, some of whose members fear the deluge of Russian cases that could choke the already slow docket of the court.

In June 2001, that deluge began. The court, for the first time, declared a Russian case admissible, i.e., suitable for a decision by the court on the merits of the complaint. The case of Burdov v. Russia involved a Russian pensioner who had been awarded state compensation in 1991 failing health resulting from his assistance in emergency operations during the April 1986 Chornobyl nuclear disaster. The pensioner, who won a civil suit in a Russian court in 1997 for continued lack of payment, nevertheless failed to receive any of the funds owed him until March 2001 (when, warned of this ECHR action, Russia paid up). The court ruled that, since Russia never acknowledged its violation of Burdov's rights, the case deserved to be heard on its merits.

In a remarkable decision in May, the European court doubled the historical significance of the Burdov case, making it also the first case against Russia to be decided on its merits and the first monetary award assessed for violation of the treaty. Two years after applying to the European Court of Human Rights, six years after his first legal victory in the Russian legal system, and 12 years after his obligatory service at Chornobyl, Anatolii Tikhonovich Burdov finally won his case. The court held that the right to a fair trial included the right to execution of a court judgment; lack of funds was no excuse for the interminable delay Burdov suffered. But, in a sad coda to such a historic case (and one that underlines the limitations of the ECHR process for immediate practical relief to victims), the court held Burdov's claim for $300,000 in damages to be excessive. For his troubles, Burdov was finally awarded 3,000 euros ($2,715).

This past November, the European court declared another case admissible, Kalashnikov v. Russia. The Court will hold a hearing on its merits in July. The facts of this complaint were particularly gruesome, all the more so for their ubiquity in the Russian penal system. Suspected of embezzlement from the small Siberian bank of which he was president, Kalashnikov was held in pretrial detention for more than four years, crushed with 24 other prisoners into a 17-square-meter cell designed for eight. He also complained of beatings by guards and a variety of other abominable conditions.

Kalashnikov filed at least 15 motions for release and began a hunger strike to protest his detention, all in vain. Release was always refused on the same grounds: "the seriousness of the offense" and the "danger of his obstructing the establishment of the truth while at liberty." Refusals continued even after the investigation of his case had been completed, making interference with the truth impossible. In the ultimate display of Kafkaesque bureaucratic gall, the prosecution obtained a further delay in Kalashnikov's trial to conduct a psychiatric evaluation of Kalashnikov "in view of the length of the applicant's detention." Incredibly, Russia argued that Kalashnikov's claim was inadmissible because he had not exhausted the Russian appeals process before making his international claim. These arguments fell on deaf ears in Strasbourg. The merits of the case will be heard in July.

On the legislative side, ECHR obligations have strongly influenced Russia's new Criminal Procedure Code, which was approved in December. Prior to this reform (when Russia still operated under the heavily revised Soviet-era code), initial custody and pretrial detention were decisions that rested with the prosecutor, not with the judge. But a prosecutor, who investigates, prosecutes, and may appeal an acquittal, hardly possesses the objectivity or independence to determine such questions. The new Criminal Procedure Code -- passed with an eye to promises made when Russia signed the ECHR -- now assigns that function to judges, in line with all other modern criminal procedure codes. Critics of the Russian criminal justice system aren't holding their breath, however. A 1996 law on habeas corpus (giving judges the power to review the lawfulness of arrests) is grossly underutilized. At an informal meeting with five current Russian judges specializing in criminal cases, the author was told that both financial and psychological impediments justified gradual adoption. One judge argued that immediate adoption of court-supervised detention would require the doubling of judges in the Russian criminal justice system. Another noted that the shift in power from prosecutor to judge was presently impossible: Neither set of officials possessed the education, experience, or even mentality for such an abrupt change. The code's gradualism (judicial control of arrest and detention was delayed until 2004), not shock therapy, was the best approach.

In a surprising, and inspiring, decision this March, however, the federal Constitutional Court disagreed and struck down this transitional period. The court heard petitions from several Russian citizens who, like Kalashnikov, were suspects in criminal cases and placed in pretrial detention by order of the prosecutor. The citizens argued violation of Article 22 of the Russian Constitution: "arrest, detention, and custody shall be permitted only by authority of judicial order." Due to the transitional provisions of the Russian Constitution, however, Article 22 was in a state of suspended animation pending the adoption of the new Russian Criminal Procedure Code, which itself continued the delay. The court, however, put an end to this gradualism, making repeated and direct citation to the European Convention on Human Rights. The court ruled that since a new law of criminal procedure had been passed, the transitional period established in the constitution was over. The court directed the Federal Assembly to ensure that the provisions of the new Criminal Procedure Code establishing judicially controlled pretrial detention enter into force on 1 July. Work in the Federal Assembly to comply with that order continues now.

These cases demonstrate some of the most frustrating aspects of the European human-rights regime. The plodding pace of the court's overcrowded docket and the award of paltry sums for egregious violations offer little compensation for individual victims. But the pressure that the ECHR has put on Russia has helped spur reform of both Russia's courts and legal codes. A growing cadre of human-rights lawyers, inspired by recent cases, can contribute to increasing professionalization of Russia's criminal justice system. Will Russian participation in the ECHR human-rights regime see many more anniversaries? The only certainty is that, so long as Russia is a member, allegations of human-rights violations will continue to flood the Strasbourg court's docket. This marriage is worth saving.

(Jeffrey Kahn will be in Moscow this June lecturing at a Council of Europe summer school for human-rights lawyers. His new book, "Federalism, Democratization and the Rule of Law in Russia," will be published by Oxford University Press in July.)

Duma deputies adopted on 13 June a bill on state standards for general education in its first reading. The vote was 368 in favor, according to Interfax. If adopted, the bill, which was suggested by members of Yabloko, would preserve the existing norm of 11 years of primary- and secondary-school education and establish a minimum number of school subjects and a maximum number of classroom hours for five-day and six-day school weeks, according to The bill was supported by the government. On the same day, deputies rejected two bills, one that would have created a free economic zone in the republic of Daghestan and another that would have amended the law on mass media so that the government could not have more than a 25 percent stake in a media company. Only 41 deputies supported the media bill, according to JAC

Also passed in its second reading was a bill that tightens punishment for violating authors' rights, such as through the illegal use of authors' intellectual property and/or plagiarism, RIA-Novosti reported. The fine was doubled from 200 minimum monthly wage units to 400. Deputies also approved on 13 June in its first reading a bill that would allow private individuals the right to mine gold and other precious metals, ITAR-TASS reported. However, individuals would only be allowed to mine small fields or deposits where commercial production has stopped. Currently, only licensed legal entities have the right to mine gold. JAC

The State Duma passed a government-sponsored anti-extremism bill in the first reading on 6 June. The controversial bill (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 5 June 2002) is intended to clamp down on racist and nationalist crimes. The vote was 271 for, 141 against, with one abstention, according to ITAR-TASS. President Putin and law-enforcement officials had urged the Duma to pass the bill quickly, but liberal critics maintain that its vague provisions could lead to abuses by the authorities. According to, Deputy Pavel Krasheninnikov (Union of Rightist Forces), who chairs the Legislation Committee, said that deputies' complaints will be addressed before the bill is presented for its second reading. If adopted, the bill would amend 13 different federal laws and would give the courts the right to sentence the organizers of extremist groups to up to six years in prison, according to ITAR-TASS. On the same day, a bill introducing a new method for calculating housing subsidies for residents of the Far North was adopted in its second reading, ITAR-TASS reported. The vote was 376 in favor, with zero abstentions or votes against. RC/JAC

Also on 6 June, a bill simplifying the tax system affecting small business passed in its second reading. The vote was 286 in favor, 12 against, with zero abstentions, according to Interfax-AFI. First Deputy Finance Minister Sergei Shatalov told deputies that the bill could save small businesses as much as 10-15 million rubles ($318,000-$478,000) a year in revenue. JAC

The State Duma adopted on 5 June in its first reading a bill establishing the Cyrillic alphabet as the written basis for state languages in the Russian Federation, ITAR-TASS reported. The vote was 343 in favor, 15 against, with one abstention, according to Interfax. One of the authors of the bill was Unity Deputy Kadyr-Ool Becheldei, who said the bill was designed to take into account the interests of all of Russia and its citizens and not just those of separate regions. Fandas Safiullin, a deputy who was elected from a single-mandate district in Tatarstan, tried to introduce his own "protest" bill, which would have allowed each region to select its own alphabet for Russia's various national languages. During the debate over the bill, Safiullin commented that, "Not one Russian tsar, including Ivan the Terrible, encroached upon the written languages of the peoples of Russia." It is generally believed that the bill is aimed at Tatarstan, which recently introduced a Latin alphabet for its language. JAC

The State Duma on 5 June passed in its third reading amendments to the law on the Central Bank intended to make the bank's operations more transparent. The vote was 310 for, three against, with two abstentions. The process of revising the law on the Central Bank has been a long one: The Putin administration began circulating draft versions as early as two years ago (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 3 October 2000). Under this version, the bank functions independently of other state organs but is accountable to the State Duma, ITAR-TASS reported. JAC


Name of law_______Date approved_________# of reading

On state standards for_______13 June________1st
a common education

Criminal Code_______________13 June________2nd
(Article 146)

On the prevention of__________6 June__________1st
extremist activities

On housing subsidies for______6 June_________2nd
peoples living in the Far North

Tax Code, second part_________6 June________2nd
(small businesses)

On the Russian language_________5 June_______1st
as the state language

On the Central Bank__________5 June__________3rd

OUT: The Federation Council voted on 14 June to accept the resignation of Chief Military Prosecutor and Deputy Prosecutor-General Mikhail Kislitsyn, Russian agencies reported. The prosecutor-general's representative to the upper legislative chamber said that Kislitsyn asked to resign due to ill health, reported.

IN: Lieutenant General Aleksandr Zdanovich has been appointed deputy director of the All-Russia State Television and Radio Broadcasting Company (VGTRK), Russian agencies reported on 3 June. Zdanovich formerly headed the Federal Security Service's Public Relations Center.

SHIFTED: Two Duma deputies have joined the Fatherland-All Russia (OVR) faction, "Kommersant-Daily" reported on 11 June, bringing the faction's tally to 51 deputies. Joining the group are Sergei Pekpeev, who was elected to the Duma in May, and Nikolai Olshanskii, who had been a member of the Russian Regions group. This means that OVR is now the fourth-largest faction in the Duma, after the Communists, Unity, and People's Deputy.

IN: Penza Governor Vasilii Bochkarev named Aleksandr Bespalov, chairman of the General Council of Unified Russia, as his representative in the Federation Council, "Vremya novostei" reported on 10 June. According to the daily, Bespalov said that occupying a seat in the upper chamber was not his personal choice, but the decision was "made at the top."

17 June: Trial of former Aeroflot executives on charges of embezzlement to resume, according to ITAR-TASS on 25 April

17 June: Informal session of the working group on Russian entry to the World Trade Organization will be held in Geneva

17-21 June: The Chamber for Industry and Trade will hold the second stage of its fourth congress

20 June: Deadline by which the Russian government will decide how by much oil exports will increase, according to Deputy Prime Minister Viktor Khristenko on 27 May

20 June: Duma will consider law on alternative military service in its second reading, according to Interfax

20-22 June: A conference on the problems of globalization in Russia's regions will be held at St. Petersburg State University, according to RosBalt

23 June: Presidential and parliamentary elections scheduled for Buryatia

26-28 June: Group of Seven summit to be held in Canada

30 June: State Duma will hold its last plenary meeting of its spring session

1 July: Russia will complete its withdrawal from the military base at Cam Ranh Bay, Vietnam

1 July: New Criminal Procedure Code comes into effect

5 July: A State Council working group on the problems of the coal sector, led by Kemerovo Governor Aman Tuleev, will meet in Moscow

13 July: The presidium of the political council of Gennadii Seleznev's Rossiya movement will meet to consider its future strategy

1 August: Russia's first full-scale facility for the destruction of chemical weapons will be launched in Gornyi in Saratov Oblast, according to presidential envoy Sergei Kirienko

12 August: Second anniversary of the sinking of the Kursk submarine.

26 August: Government will submit a draft 2003 budget to the State Duma, according to Deputy Prime Minister Aleksei Kudrin on 6 June

September: Dalai Lama will visit the republics of Buryatia, Tuva, and Kalmykia, according to Kalmykia President Kirsan Ilyumzhinov on 11 June

September: Symposium and investment fair for atomic-power plants to take place in Vladivostok

10-11 September: The fourth annual conference of the regional administrations of countries in Northeast Asia will take place in Khabarovsk

14-23 September: The World Association of Female Entrepreneurs will hold its 50th international congress in St. Petersburg

15 September: Mayoral elections will be held in Nizhnii Novgorod

18 September: First plenary meeting of State Duma's fall session

29 September: By-election in single-mandate district in Omsk Oblast for State Duma seat occupied by Aleksandr Vereteno, who died in April

7 October: CIS summit to be held in Chisinau, Moldova, according to Interfax on 13 May

20 October: By-election in single-mandate district in Khanty-Mansii Autonomous Okrug for State Duma seat once occupied by Aleksandr Lotorev, who now directs the Duma's apparatus.