Vienna, August19 – In yet another move away from the Russian Federation as a common legal space but in a very different direction, President Dmitry Medvedev has proposed modifying laws to allow the Russian authorities to impose more severe punishments for those guilty of some crimes in the North Caucasus than for those guilty of the same crimes elsewhere.
Yesterday, at a meeting with his top security officials in Sochi, Medvedev said that Moscow “must prepare an entire packet of proposals which take into consideration the specifics of the struggle with crime in the south of the Russian Federation and in particular in the Caucasus” (www.gzt.ru/topnews/politics/255304.html).
Such proposals, he continued, would not be “limited to changes in the code of criminal procedure.” And Pavel Krasheninnikov, the United Russia head of the Duma committee that would oversee such changes, said that “certain crimes committed in some republics of the Caucasus will be punished more severely than in other Russian regions. For example, terrorism.”
Such an arrangement, he suggested, would make dealing with such crimes there “more operational,” although Duma committee chairman added that officials are going to have to develop the specifics since “the president came up with this proposal only now.” Consequently, it is not clear just how much variance Medvedev wants to introduce in the country’s legal space.
Krasheninnikov said that such regional variations in the law had existed in tsarist Russia, and although he did not call attention to it, regional variations in some laws arose during the 1990s, something the elimination of which former president Vladimir Putin made a centerpiece of his campaign for ensuring that Russia had “a common legal space.”
Also supporting the idea of regional variations was Gennady Gudkov, the Just Russia Duma member who serves as the deputy chairman of the committee Krasheninnikov heads. He suggested that the changes in the law were more likely to involve regulations governing the detention of suspects.
For example, he suggested, the laws might be modified in such a way that someone arrested in the North Caucasus on whom was found “an explosive substance or traces of it” could be kept in confinement “until the end of the investigation [of the case] rather than for [only] two days as is the case throughout Russia.”
While Russian siloviki beyond question would welcome such changes and while Medvedev’s invocation of the need to counter terrorism there ensures that he will not be criticized for this by most Western governments, the Russian president’s proposal is likely to create three serious problems for Moscow.
First, many people in the North Caucasus will see this step not only as openly discriminatory on ethnic and religious grounds, thus providing yet another recruiting tool for the militants Moscow says it hopes to defeat, but also as an indication that the central government will back authoritarian rulers there like Chechnya’s Ramzan Kadyrov regardless of what they do.
Second, while this move away from a common legal space harms the non-Russians, it almost certainly will re-energize those officials in many of the republics of the Russian Federation to demand that they be allowed to revive the special local laws that Putin insisted they eliminate to bring them into line with all-Russian legislation.
And third – and this may be either the most serious or the least problem – this latest proposal from the Russian president represents a clear violation of the Russian Constitution with its guarantee of the equal protection of the law regardless of ethnicity or religion and thus calls into question Medvedev’s oft-expressed commitment to making Russia into a law-based state.