Russia’s Supreme Court has ruled that a decree by Ingushetia’s President Ruslan Aushev, calling a referendum in the republic, runs counter to federal law. Aushev has set the referendum for March 1, the same day as the presidential election in the republic, in which he is running for reelection. It is not yet known whether Aushev will back down and cancel the referendum.
Aushev wants to hold the referendum in order to seek the approval of the electorate for a republic law that would subordinate Ingushetia’s law enforcement agencies to the president of the republic rather than to the federal center in Moscow. The law itself may well be unconstitutional, though that is not the point on which the Supreme Court based its decision. Instead, the Court ruled that, as the leader of a republic, Aushev does not have the power to call a referendum on an issue (such a law-enforcement) that the constitution declares to be the joint responsibility of the federal and regional authorities. (RIA Novosti, ORT, February 17)
In reality, Aushev has already taken the law into his own hands within the republic, arguing that Moscow has proved unable to provide the legal protection residents require. Though his action in this respect is very likely unconstitutional, there may be room for compromise. Federal constitutions often allow at least some law-enforcement powers to be devolved to regional level. Scotland, for example, has always had its own legal system. Leaders in a number of Russian regions, of which Saratov Oblast is one, have recently begun to argue that it would make sense for the police forces in their regions to be subordinated to the regional administration, rather than to Moscow.
Ingushetia has always argued that it is a special case. It and neighboring Chechnya were in fact the only Russian regions that did not sign the Russian Federal Treaty of 1992. But Aushev’s spokesman has stressed that the new legislation would not remove Ingushetia from federal jurisdiction. While the conflict may continue for some time, therefore, it is probably premature to assume that Ingushetia’s demand for more control at republic level sounds the death knell of the Russian Federation.
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