Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Window on Eurasia: Moscow Violated Its Own Constitution and Laws by Intervening in Georgia

Paul Goble

Vienna, August 18 – Not only did the Russian government violate international law by invading Georgia, but the Kremlin ignored the provisions of the Russian Constitution and Russian laws, even though Moscow officials constantly argued that what they were doing was in full conformity with both.
In a commentary posted on Polit.ru today, legal specialist Ilya Karpyuk outlines the claims officials have made in support of the legality of the Russian operation in Georgia and then points to the ways in which these same officials have violated related provisions of the Russian constitution and Russian law (www.polit.ru/analytics/2008/08/18/medvedev.html).
Indeed, he suggests, the violation of the provisions of the Russian constitution in this case is so severe that it constitutes “a sufficient basis” for removing Dmitry Medvedev and any of those who argued that he should flout Russian law from office – although Karpyuk strongly implies that in today’s Moscow, nothing like that is not going to happen.
On August 8, Karpyuk notes, Medvedev said he was sending Russian forces into South Ossetia “in correspondence with the Constitution and federal law” which specifies that he is “obligated to defend the life and well-being of Russian citizens regardless of where they are located.”
Shortly thereafter, Sergei Mironov, the chairman of the Federation Council, and other commentators invoked part two of paragraph 61 of the Constitution which specifies that “the Russian Federation guarantees its citizens defense and protection beyond its borders.” And on August 13, Valery Zorkin, the head of the Constitutional Court, echoed this argument.
But Karpyuk points out, such arguments ignore other overriding Constitutional provisions which specify that the country’s Federation Council has the right to vote on “the question of the possibility of using the Armed Forces of the Russian Federation beyond the borders” of the country.
“Such a mandate” had been given to the Russian peacekeeping contingent, Karpyuk notes, but that “was given for peacekeepers and not for the entire 58th army which is now being called “the military contingent designed to strengthen the position of peacekeepers in the zone of the Georgian-South Ossetian conflict.”
Moreover, the legal analyst says, the Kremlin and the Russian government appear to have forgotten in this case a basic provision of the Constitution: “the organs of state power are not only the government and the president but also the parliament consisting of the State Duma and Federation Council and the entire system of federal courts.”
And consequently, the Constitution and Russian law requires, whatever Medvedev and Zorkin have said, “requires in any case” a vote of support by the upper house of the parliament, because as no one should ever forget “democracy is above all a procedure” and in this case the constitutionally required “procedure was violated.”
. That is important to keep in mind even though there is certainly little doubt that the Federation Council would have gone along had the prime minister or the president of the country bothered to ask. Indeed, on official of the Federation Council’s Defense and Security Committee was openly dismissive of the Constitutional and legal concerns Karpyuk raises.
Viktor Ozerov, the head of the committee’s secretariat, said that for him there was no issue: Russian peacekeepers had been attacked and therefore there was no problem with reinforcing them. Such a view, Karpyuk says, is one that he very much hopes is “not the official position of the Committee,” although it may very well be.
Given the ways in which Medvedev has acted, the Russian legal commentator says, “there is sufficient basis” for removing him from office and at the very least for trying to find out who advised him to ignore the Constitutional and legal provisions governing such situations that the Russian president has sworn to uphold.

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