The Legal System of Russian Federation


With the disintegration of the USSR or Soviet Union in 1991, the newly formed Russian Federation was the largest of the 15 geopolitical entities. Russia went into a deep recession despite initiating a number of reforms to help it come out of the centrally planned economy. The situation was worsened by the 1998 financial crisis. Millions were forced to live in poverty; standard of living nosedived, resulting in an outbreak of corruption and organized crime (the competitive advantage of Russia Para 1).

December 31, 1999, was the day when Vladimir Vladimirovich Putin became the President, by that time Russia was the tenth largest economy “having a foreign reserve of $8.5 billion” (the competitive advantage of Russia Para 2). Putin took a lot of corrective and strategic steps to bring out Russia from the economic slums. The result was a stronger and more influential Russia, having vast natural resources, a highly educated population, and showing improved economic growth. But still, everyone remained cautious regarding the rising economic powers of Russian, as Russia was highly dependent on its perishable natural resources and high prices of Oil and Gases. Sectors involving manufacturing, services, and advanced technologies were very weak. Also, there were concerns regarding the discordant attitude of Russia towards the United States and European Union (the competitive advantage of Russia Para 2).

When in May 2008, Dmitry Medvedev became the President and Putin took over the position of Prime Minister, the world was still uncertain about the policies the government will follow under the new leadership (the competitive advantage of Russia Para 3)

The Russian System: After the Russian Empire was defeated in the first world war, the communists formed the U.S.S.R(UNITED SOVIET SOCIALIST REPUBLIC). It proved to be a failure. The communists could not handle the policies like ‘Glasnost'(openness) and ‘Perestroika’(restructuring)resulting in the separation of the USSR into fifteen independent republics. Moreover, the monetary policy introduced by President Yeltsin in 1992 also failed to improve the economy in the republics and triggered the ‘Civil War of Moscow’ in October1993between between President Yeltsin and the Parliament (The Russian Federation’s Legal system, Para 1).

Due to all these crises, the Russian Federation had to do a complete examination of their constitutional systems, rewrite their constitution, and form the present system (The Russian Federation’s Legal system, Para 1).

Russia after Soviet Disintegration

With the disintegration of the Soviet Union in December 1991, the Russian Federation became its largest state, inheriting its nuclear weapons, foreign assets, debts, and also the permanent seat of the “UN Security Council” (The competitive advantage of Russia Para 3). By 1993, Boris Yeltsin, who was President of Russia, since 1991, faced strong resistance from the parliament. In September the same year, he suspended the Parliament and made provisions for the new election and constitution (The competitive advantage of Russia Para 3). In December, a new parliament was nominated and the new constitution was made (The competitive advantage of Russia Para 3).

Russia saw an increase in corruption and poverty during Yeltsin’s term but his economic reform policies also helped in laying the foundation for the prosperity Russia would enjoy in the coming years. Before resigning from his post on December 31, 1999, Yeltsin appointed Putin as his successor. Putin was a former KGB officer and Prime minister at that time (the competitive advantage of Russia Para 3).

Putin’s leadership brought an end to the chaos of Yeltsin’s era and stabilized the government. The Economy of Russia started growing because of Putin’s reformist policies, economic liberalization, controlling hyperinflation, bringing down corruption and crime, and also the rising prices of Oil and Gases(the competitive advantage of Russia Para 4).

The west started worrying after Putin’s re-election in 2004 and his subsequent policies thereafter. He closed down an independent TV station, restricted NGO activities, abolished regional elections, and ordered the politically motivated trial of a former oligarch resulting in the collapse of the largest oil company of Russia(the competitive advantage of Russia Para 5).

Along with these changed policies, Russia also started playing a more divisive role internationally. Its approach to its relationship with the EU became more discordant and its position towards the US more aggressive (the competitive advantage of Russia Para 6).

Political System

Russia was a democratic, federal republic as described by its constitution of 1993. The actual spread of powers between the central, regional, and local authorities was still evolving (the competitive advantage of Russia Para 8).

The federation includes regions, independent republics, territories, the two federal cities (Moscow and St. Petersburg), and other altogether of 89 components. Reforming Russian federation policies was Putin’s top priority. He established presidential appointees in Moscow and six other provincial capitals and gathered the regions and converted them into seven federal districts in 2000 (the competitive advantage of Russia Para 9). The regional leaders were removed from their posts if they failed to follow the rules of the constitution (the competitive advantage of Russia Para 9). After a few more amendments in these policies, the center was in direct control of the regions and there was a check on the regional leader’s authority).

Executive Branch

The president and the prime minister are the main symbols of the Executive Brach. There is no vice president and the president has the final executive power. The highest state officials including the prime minister are nominated by the president, “subject to the approval by Duma (part of the legislative branch)” (the competitive advantage of Russia Para 10). The president is the head of armed forces and “National Security Council and also can pass decrees without the consent of Duma” (the competitive advantage of Russia Para 10).

Legislative Branch

Legislative Council and the State Duma are part of the legislative branch (the competitive advantage of Russia Para11). There are 450 deputies in the State Duma (the competitive advantage of Russia Para11).

Approving the federal law, adopting the federal budget, ratification of treaties, and confirming the prime minister are some of the responsibilities of the members of Duma. They are elected for four years terms but the president has powers to dismiss the Duma and call for early elections (the competitive advantage of Russia Para12).

The upper house or the Federation council is composed of senators elected by the federation. The president is authorized to select the representatives, subject to the confirmation by the State Duma (the competitive advantage of Russia Para 13).

The political parties do not exist in the upper house, unlike the State Duma which has multiple political parties. To perform its work the Council depends on the consensus. The Senators are not allowed to represent their parties view on the floor of the upper house but they are allowed to retain their party membership (the competitive advantage of Russia Para 14).

Judicial Branch

The disagreement between “the executive and the legislative branches and between central, regional or local governments are adjudicated by the Constitutional Court according to the powers given by the constitution of 1993” (the competitive advantage of Russia Para 15).

Despite many amendments in the law, Russia’s justice system is relatively weak. The role of judges is not impartial or independent rather they are used to protect the state interests (the competitive advantage of Russia Para 17).

The Russian Judiciary

The judiciary, in Russia, in general, has no functions of judicial review. It is based upon the civil law system. In 1991 the Constitutional Court of Russia was established. It has the power to review the constitution. “It is also the rule that a case involving an issue related to constitutionality is raised, during proceedings before a regular court, automatically referred to Constitutional Court” (The Russian Federation’s Legal system, Para 1). This Court works as an autonomous body (The Russian Federation’s Legal system, Para 1).

“The judiciary in Russia is split into three branches: the regular court system with the Supreme Court at the top, the arbitration court system with the High Court of Arbitration on top, and the Constitutional Court as a single body with no courts under its jurisdiction” (The Russian Federation’s Legal system, Para 2)

The Constitutional Court

“It reviews cases that concern the constitutionality of laws, interprets the Russian Constitution, and verifies the legality of presidential impeachment proceedings” (The Russian Court system Overview, Para 1).” The Court always limits its considerations to matters of law and refrains from examination of facts whenever such activity falls within the competence of another court or another authority” (The Russian Court system Overview, Para 1). The verdict is concluding and it can be called by anyone (The Russian Court system Overview, Para 1). “The provisions of laws declared to be unconstitutional are deemed to be de facto null and void since the Constitutional Court’s rulings require no further confirmation by any other bodies” (The Russian Court system Overview, Para 1).

The Arbitration Court: “For settling property and commercial disputes between companies and individual entrepreneurs, both Russian and foreign, Arbitration courts are set up (The Russian Court system Overview, Para 2). These are structured as a three-tier system” (The Russian Court system Overview, Para 2).”The activity of arbitration courts is currently regulated by the 1995 Federal Constitutional Law ‘On Arbitrazh Courts in the Russian Federation’ and the 2002 Arbitration Procedure Code of the Russian Federation” (The Russian Court system Overview, Para 2).

The first (lower) tier consists of more than 80 arbitration courts. “These courts hear cases in the first instance and also consider appeals of a first instance The second tier of arbitration courts consists of ten federal circuit arbitration courts, each of which is responsible for a broad territory. These courts hear’ causational’ appeals of the decisions of the lower courts” (The Russian Court system Overview, Para 3).

“The Higher Arbitration Court of the Russian Federation operates as the supreme tier in the arbitration court system. It has the right to settle commercial and other disputes considered by lower arbitration courts and to carry out judicial supervision over their activities” (The Russian Court system Overview, Para 4). “It acts as the court of the first instance in some specific cases, e.g., in cases involving invalidation of the non-normative acts of the president, government, and Russia’s Parliament that are contrary to the law and /or violate the rights of citizens The Russian Court system” Overview, Para 4). “It also has exclusive jurisdiction over commercial disputes between the Russian Federation and its regions (constituent entities)” (The Russian Court system Overview, Para 4).

Civil Courts 

“ The jurisdiction of civil courts include,1) all criminal cases; (2) appeals of administrative and other state actions that do not fall within the jurisdiction of other courts; (3) labor and employment disputes; (4) family, inheritance issues, consumer protection, and certain others” (The Russian Court system Overview, Para 5). “The jurisdiction of these courts over commercial disputes is very limited. The Supreme Court of the Russian Federation is the supreme judicial body for civil, criminal, administrative, and other cases under the jurisdiction of civil courts” (The Russian Court system Overview, Para 5). “For a certain category of cases, it acts as a court of the first instance (generally those which are considered to be of ‘special importance’ or ‘special public interest’)” (The Russian Court system Overview, Para 5). “The Supreme Court also supervises the legality, validity, and substantiality of rulings of lower courts (including military courts) and provides clarifications of law on the issues of court proceedings” (The Russian Court system Overview, Para 5).

Judicial Review (Legal system of Russia, Para 1)

The characteristics of the Russian Law lie in the following facts

  1. In Russia the judgments of courts do not set precedents means that the judgments are not based on the judgments made by the previous judges (Legal system of Russia, Para 2).
  2. Any statute cannot be held unconstitutional in the Russian court of general jurisdiction. “So, the judiciary in Russia, in general, has no functions of judicial review, with one exception–in 1991 the Constitutional Court of Russia was established (Legal system of Russia, Para 3). Only the Constitutional Court can do constitutional review” (Legal system of Russia, Para 3).
  3. “The Supreme Court of Russia can take legislative initiative and may submit its conclusions conceding the interpretation of laws but it has no right to review the constitution” (Legal system of Russia, Para 4).
  4. “The Supreme Court issues guiding instructions for lower courts which have a binding effect upon all courts as well as upon those state agencies and officials who use the law in their work. The guiding instructions of the Supreme Court for all practical purposes can thus be treated as a source of law in Russia” (Legal system of Russia, Para 5).

Flaws in the legislative System of the Russian Federation

“The Russian Federation is a large multi-ethnic, multi-religious and multicultural State” (Widra, Para 1). It comprises about 176 nationalities and ethnic groups. Political changes are putting an impact on the economic and social situation of the inhabitants of the country (Widra, Para 1).

“There has always been discrimination against individuals on ethnic grounds. In recent years inter-ethnic tensions have risen in various parts of the Russian Federation. Russian Federation has also been facing problems of coordination at the legislative and administrative levels due to transition” (SIM, Para 1).

Legal Instruments and the Mechanism, Leading to Discrimination: The realization of many basic rights (to work, education, medical treatment, etc.) depend on registration. According to the decree of the Russian President (13.3.1997, No. 232) and the resolution of the Government of the RF (8.6.1997, No. 828), a passport is the only document for the proof of the identity of a person is the which is also connected to registration (Art. 10 GovernmentresolutionNo.828)” (Widra, Para 1).

The people, who are living temporarily in the Russian Federation and are foreigners do not have the right to choose the place to live in the country (Widra, Para 1).

“The legislation on foreigners in the Russian Federation is not directed towards refugees (Widra, Para 1). In general, it is difficult to be acknowledged as a refugee, as one has to prove that there was a real danger based on racial, religious, ethnic, or political reasons. Another serious problem is also, that refugees need the authorization of the migration service to move within the borders of the Russian Federation” (Widra, Para 1).

“The rate of unemployment especially among national minorities and the small indigenous peoples is very high. The law ‘On the employment of the Russian Population’ (29.12.29001, No. 188-F3) holds that especially in these regions the employment has to be guaranteed under consideration of national and cultural traditions (Art. 5)” (Widra, Para 1). “This provision is rather general and is not reflected in other provisions of the law” (Widra, Para 1).

“Art. 19 (1) of the law ‘On national-cultural autonomy’ states that positions of the federal budget for the support of national minorities will be allotted by the legislative and executive orders of federal levels. But these terms are vague and do not oblige the authorities to spend this money in a certain period” (Widra, Para 2).

“The law prohibits political organizations established on the basis of ethnic characteristics Widra, Para 3). Therefore, limits the political rights of national minorities, guaranteed in Article 15 of the Framework Convention for the protection of national minorities (Widra, Para 3). Some suggestions have been given for Nondiscrimination and Minority Legislation” (Widra, Para 10):

In this area the training to the specialists should be provided (Widra, Para 10):

“Well defined terminology and academic definitions which should be according to the international terminology
Assisting in the development of Russian Legislation’s structure of well-known principles and customs of international law. Russia needs to apply all these principles under a multi-ethnic environment (Widra, Para 10).

All federal systems consist of some special provisions which behave according to the principle of equality and support nondiscrimination (Widra, Para 10).

“Russian law includes a special norm and provides with a legal guarantee for the protection of the people who face discrimination.
Russian legal system also protects the national minorities under the following conditions (Widra, Para 11):
It protects the special qualities of the minorities
It also gives a legal guarantee against forced incorporation”

The Russian legislation is still lacking provisions that encourage the use of the mother tongue within their cultural traditions and the right of national minorities to set up their own educational institutions” (Widra, Para 4).

“The law ‘On the rehabilitation of the victims of political repression’ (18. 10. 1991, No. 1761- mainly includes people living on the territory of the Russian Federation. This excludes a large number of people” (Widra, Para 5).

“Article 3(6) of the law on languages that was introduced in 2002 stipulates that the alphabet of the Russian state language and the language of the subjects of the Russian Federation is the Cyrillic alphabet (Widra, Para 6). This provision seriously limits the possibility of preserving and developing certain languages” (Widra, Para 6).

Political Environment

As per the Russian Constitution, Putin was banned to run for re-election as he had already served for two consecutive four years terms. Dimitry Medvedev was announced as his successor in December 2007 and Putin was made as prime minister. Putin will be again eligible to run for the presidency in 2012 as per the constitution (the competitive advantage of Russia Para 19).

Medvedev belonged neither to the Security Services nor to the old Communist Party hence people are divided that he could be a puppet in the hands of Putin or could he be more liberal (the competitive advantage of Russia Para 18).

During Putin’s reign, the relationship between the president and the Duma was tense as Putin increased his might during this period. While still working as President, he started the preparation for his move to the prime ministerial role, sanctioned more power to his future post. He also took up the position of the leader of the United Russia party, holding 70 percent seats in Duma (the competitive advantage of Russia Para 19).

Political Outlook

Russian leadership always faced the challenge of a cooling relationship with the West. These were witnessed during issues of national security and nuclear armaments. Russia’s relationship with the EU was not good but with the US it was controversial (the competitive advantage of Russia Para 21).

Despite international pressure, Russians still cannot enjoy the freedom of expression, independence of media, etc. For the western world, Russia is still a corrupt, lawless, and inefficient nation (the competitive advantage of Russia Para 23).


Russia induced policies with the aim of changing the centrally planned economy into a free market system. It implemented policies, applied taxes to diversify the economy from its dependence on high prices in the energy and raw material sectors. To boost its manufacturing and IT sector it gave them tax breaks, created SEZ’s and technology parks (the competitive advantage of Russia Para 25-28).

The Autonomy of the Provinces

The most recent round of financial and political crises in Russia is the growing power shift between the federal government in Moscow and the 89 units that comprise the Russian Federation. The weakness of the federal government presents a new opportunity for regional governments to reassert themselves politically and economically (Weiss, Para 1).

Growing Terrorism

“Militants in and around Chechnya continue to agitate for independence, though the death of separatist leader Shamil Basayev in July 2006 weakened the separatist movement. However, violence in the North Caucasus has escalated since 2008, and Moscow experienced its most serious attack in six years with the bombing of a metro station in March 2010” (Bhattacharji, Para 1).


“In the first three Chechen cases, were in, the European Court found Russian government responsible for the killing of the Chechen people, the Russian response was not swift or sufficient for the action it has taken or intends to take” (Leach, Para15). In the light of this, submissions were lodged in the CoM to adopt a very rigorous and comprehensive approach towards Russia (Leach, Para15)

“The submission requested for the following measures (Leach, Para 16-20)

  • Extensive broadcasting of the judgment
  • Re-opening of the domestic proceedings
  • Changes in legislation and practices
  • Respecting ECHR standards to train armed forces, security services, law enforcement agencies, prosecutors and judges”(Leach, Para16 – 20)

The Non enforcement of Domestic Judicial Decision Against the State:

The complicated budgetary relations between the federal authorities and the authorities of the subjects of the Russian Federation are responsible for the non-enforcement of the law.

The most important problem Russia faces today is the execution of domestic courts decisions, wherein, the court has ordered the state to pay particular sums. These decisions are either not at all executed or they are not executed within a reasonable period. “This was highlighted by the ‘Burdov case’, wherein the state failed to pay him the compensation for damage to his health during Chernobyl disaster” (Leach, Para10)

“These problems have a number of different sources like inefficient bailiff system; failure by courts in identifying the debtor clearly; co-ordination between the enforcement agencies; lack of funds with debtors; insufficient budget funds and the bureaucracy” (Leach, Para11).

“To curb this problem a new execution policy was established by the legislature in 2005, involving the Ministry of Finance and Federal Treasury and similar system at regional and state-level” (Leach, Para12)

“ In 2005 the European Commission for the Efficiency of Justice (CEPEJ) identified ‘an immense and multi-dimensional problem’ resulting from a large range of dysfunctions’ occurring ‘at various levels, often beyond the judicial or legal sphere” (Leach, Para 4). “The CEPEJ pointed to numerous flaws, legislative, judicial, budgetary and administrative, and concluded that the core problem was the lack of appropriate procedures to ensure the timely and co-ordinated distribution of the requisite funds and the execution of judicial decisions ordering the state to pay the sums due (Leach, Para 4). It stated that there are still significant inadequacies in the domestic law: a failure to match budget planning with the state’s payment obligations and a failure to transmit federal budget funds to state and other public bodies within the requisite time” (Leach, Para 4).

Judicial review of detention and poor prison conditions

The Russian court became conscious of the problem of poor sanitary conditions and excess numbers of people in the prison (Leach, Para13-14). It issued a resolution directing the authorities in all the 57 problem regions to take prompt action on this matter (Leach, Para13-14).

The razor procedure: “Another issue, relates to the judicial procedure of supervisory review (nadzor) which allows final judicial decisions to be rejected thereby violating the principle of legal certainty” (Leach, Para 5).


“Based on the experience of the European council, it is advised to follow the five key steps in implementing the Strasbourg decisions” (Leach, Para 21):

  1. “Political will to comply
  2. A co-ordinated governmental system, responding to European Court judgment
  3. Measures of parliamentary oversight;
  4. Meaningful engagement with the civil society and other human rights experts;
  5. Ensuring open and accountable implementation process” (Leach, Para 21)

The above-mentioned flaws are to be dealt with carefully for the successful running of the Russian federation (Leach, Para 21). Though measures have been taken to fight these issues, yet significant results are still to come.


Bhattacharji, Preeti. “Chechen Terrorism (Russia, Chechnya, Separatist)”. 2010. Council on Foreign Relations. Web.

Leach, Philip. “Strasbourg’s oversight of Russia – an increasingly strained relationship”. 2007. Win, 640-654. Web.

“Legal System of Russia”. University of Oregon. Web.

“The Russian Federation’s Legal System”. Faculty of Catholic University of America. Web.

“The Russian Court System Overview”. Russian European Chamber of Commerce. 2010. Web.

“SIM”. Netherlands Institute of Human Rights. Web.

Weiss, Kathryn Stoner. “Central Weakness and Provincial autonomy: The Process of Devolution in Russia”. 1998. PONARS Policy Memo 39. Web.

Widra, Doris. “Legislation of the Russian Federation Concerning ethic minorities and its shortcomings”. Web.

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