The State Duma of the Russian Federation adopted in first reading a bill allowing judges of the Russian Constitutional Court to recognize it impossible to execute in Russia the rulings of international courts in case they violate the rule of the Russian Constitution. They say that such amendments will confront biased decisions requiring large-scale compensation from the state budget and provide for Russia’s "legal sovereignty."
The move of the State Duma was the outcome of a whole chain of events associated with the need to comply with the ECHR ruling obligating Russia to pay more than $1.5 billion to the former shareholders of Yukos. In the spring of this year the Ministry of Justice said it was premature to execute this ruling. In summer, the State Duma appealed to the Constitutional Court for an interpretation of how the ECHR rulings are to be applied in Russia (as if there are some special procedures for the Russian Federation, different from other states).
The move of the State Duma was the outcome of a whole chain of events
Judges of the Constitutional Court ruled, without much consideration, that Russia has the right to not execute an ECHR ruling if it thereby violates fundamental constitutional provisions.
The Investigative Committee of the Russian Federation endorsed this interpretation, moreover suggesting to abolish constitutional provisions on the international law being an integral part of the Russian legal system. But the Russian legislators have solved this problem in their own, creative, way: they passed in the first reading the draft law thus giving the Constitutional Court the right to not recognize international jurisdiction. In other words, they let the constitutional judges defy international law if it is beneficial to Russia.
However, the Russian constitutional judges have never been praised for impartiality and non-bias, so they might have not needed any legislative amendments by the State Duma whatsoever. Following (and the knowledge of] international law has neither been their forte.
The real background of the current legislative initiative is that the Kremlin simply does not want to pay its bills
The Russian Constitutional Court turned a blind eye to the unlawful annexation of Crimea, recognizing the peninsula part of the Russian Federation based only on a pseudo-agreement on accession sealed by Vladimir Putin. So, the 19 judges of the Constitutional Court simply forgot about the international agreement between Russia and Ukraine on the state border, which clearly states Crimea as Ukrainian territory. So, it’s really a rhetorical question, whether they’ll declare “biased” any ruling of the European Court of Human Rights on any claim of Ukraine to Russia regarding compensation for the annexation of Crimea.
However, the truth behind the current legislative initiative is that the Kremlin simply doesn’t want to pay its bills (last year alone, the ECHR issued over a hundred of verdicts against Russia). Besides, Vladimir Putin has well-founded fears of possible criminal proceedings in the renewed case into the poisoning by polonium of Alexander Litvinenko in Britain. The MH17 investigation is also looming over the Red Square amid Russia’s desperate attempts to fiercely interfere in the process of establishment of an international criminal tribunal.
Gaining total control over the Russian judicial system was a piece of cake for Vladimir Putin.
Putin has well-founded fears of possible criminal proceedings
But international lawsuits are the real thing. The Kremlin may forever wiggle like an eel, not recognizing international law with the hands of its pocket constitutional court. But they should remember that the property which may be arrested in execution of international verdicts remains beyond the iron curtain Russia is pulling back down hastily.