The Russian Constitutional Court has declared that Moscow has no obligation to comply with a European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) ruling that it pay nearly 1.9 billion euros ($2 billion) to shareholders of the defunct oil company Yukos.
Court Chairman Valery Zorkin pronounced the decision on January 19, saying that the Strasbourg court's judgments "cannot overrule the [Russian] constitution’s priority in the Russian judicial system" and that the ECHR ruling violated the human rights of Russian citizens.
The court said the ECHR ruling violated Russia's constitution by seeking to force the Russian government to pay a large amount money that should instead be spent on domestic Russian needs.
Once Russia’s largest oil company, Yukos was broken up and sold at auction after CEO Mikhail Khodorkovsky was arrested on financial crimes charges in 2003.
Khodorkovsky, who spent 10 years in prison, says his arrest and the breakup of Yukos were aimed at punishing him for challenging President Vladimir Putin and handing the company's assets to the state.
The former shareholders say the dismantling of Yukos was illegal and politically motivated and sued Russia in 2004, seeking $98 billion in compensation.
In 2015, Russia adopted a law saying that its constitution supersedes ECHR rulings.
Daniel Holtgen, spokesman for the secretary-general of the Council of Europe, called the Russian court's decision a "matter of concern" and said that the council's member states, which include Russia, "are bound by the European Convention on Human Rights to implement decisions of the Strasbourg Court."