Not too long ago, The Power Vertical joined Russian human rights advocates in urging Moscow to ratify the 14th Protocol of the European Convention on Human Rights. Russia is the only Council of Europe member that has not yet signed on to the protocol, which is aimed at “preventing violations at the national level and improving domestic remedies” for alleged rights violations. Ratifying and enforcing the protocol is considered by many a key step in establishing an independent and responsible judiciary in Russia.
So we were delighted to hear that President Dmitry Medvedev late last month instructed the Duma to consider the measure (which hasn’t been discussed in the lower house for three years) in the first week of its next session. That session opens on January 15, and Duma Speaker Boris Gryzlov has been all over the Russian press declaring that the Duma will jump right on the 14th Protocol question.
Good news? Don’t hold your breath. RFE/RL Russian Service correspondent Danila Galperovich put this news into context for me today. It turns out that the European Court of Human Rights is expected to rule on an appeal filed by the oil company Yukos that goes to the heart of the tax charges filed against the company for the years 2000-03 and the forced sale (to a shadow company that later passed it on to state-controlled Rosneft) of its main production asset, Yuganskneftegaz. The Yukos complaint was filed in April 2004 and has been slowly making its way through the Strasbourg system. In August 2008, for instance, Russian judge Valery Musin was elected a member of Gazprom’s board of directors, meaning that he had to recuse himself from the matter. Over the last year, the case has been hung up while Medvedev’s replacement for Musin, Andrei Bushev, familiarized himself with the case.
Getting back to the 14th Protocol, a cynical person (and sometimes The Power Vertical indulges in cynicism) might think the Kremlin is holding out the carrot of possible ratification of the protocol (or at least the promise the Duma will “consider” ratifying it) as a way of signaling to Strasbourg that a quid pro quo might be arranged.
A cynical person might further think that if the Strasbourg court issues a ruling on January 14 that is not quite what the Kremlin would like to see, Duma deputies will respond in an orchestrated huff by shelving the protocol indefinitely (that is, until the next time the Kremlin feels it gain benefit by trotting it out again).
But is such cynicism justified? Galperovich reminds us that in October the Duma announced it would consider the 14th Protocol in November. Duma Deputy Pavel Krasheninnikov then was telling journalists the Duma could sign off on the document “by the end of the year.”
The timing of that flurry of reports was interesting because on October 1 the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE) considered a measure signed by 72 PACE members that would have stripped Russia of its voting rights in the body over its recognition of the breakaway Georgian regions of Abkhazia and South Ossetia. Apparently, Russia was pleased enough that the PACE rejected the punitive measure to make favorable noises about the 14th Protocol, but not pleased enough to actually move forward with it.
It is a game the Kremlin is good at playing. As one analyst described the game to me this week (speaking of an entirely different context), Moscow creates a problem and then offers to solve it for a price.
Are we seeing this kind of game now with the protocol? Watch and see. My guess is that if Strasbourg rules harshly against Moscow and its Kremlin-controlled judicial system, the Duma will loudly and indignantly send the protocol back to committee without discussion. If, on the other hand, the court ruling satisfies Moscow, the Duma will hold a few days of discussion and then quietly let the matter drop until the next time Medvedev needs some leverage in the Council of Europe or some other European body. Or am I being too cynical?
-- Robert Coalson