Publication: Monitor Volume: 8 Issue: 70

Russia’s Constitutional Court last week dealt two blows to the country’s regional leaders. On April 1, it ruled that governors or other regional heads do not have the right to fire mayors or municipal assembly deputies without a legitimate reason for doing so. Meanwhile, on April 4, the court confirmed the Russian president’s right to remove governors, though it did stipulate serious limitations on his use of that power (Russian agencies, April 2-4).

The April 1 ruling in fact only annulled Krasnoyarsk Krai and the Korayksk Autonomous District laws that permit the removal of local self-government heads. The court’s decision, however, means that it will now also be more difficult for other regional leaders to fire local heads who have been elected to their posts (, April 2). Observers noted that the court’s decision put an end to the common practice of regional administrations to remove municipal leaders on such abstract grounds as “failure to fulfill official duties” or “loss of the voters’ trust,” without bothering to go to court. The court ruled that this practice distorts “the expression of the population’s will” and violates the right of citizens to participate in initiating recall procedures for local heads (Vremya Novostei, April 3). Naturally, the decision weakens the position of the regional authorities in their constant conflicts with local-self government bodies, but only in those regions where municipal heads are chosen in direct elections, and not in those regions where they are picked by municipal assemblies or appointed by governors.

The decision allowing the Russian president to remove regional governors, which the Constitutional Court rendered in answer to interrogatories from the State Council of the Republic of Adygeya and the State Assembly of the Republic of Sakha (Yakutia), is less of a blow to the regional leaders. The reason is that the court also ruled that removing a governor requires the approval of courts at three levels of judicial authority, including the Constitutional Court itself. The president, however, retains the right to remove a governor from power temporarily, but only if he has been charged with a serious crime (, April 4).

Sergei Popov, chairman of the State Duma’s committee on state building and a member of the Yabloko faction, noted that the Constitutional Court’s decision on removing governors maintains a check on their behavior, ensuring that they do not “waiver” between federal law and local laws that contradict it (, April 4). On the other hand, the fact that removing a governor now requires the approval of three different courts does not simply insure the governors against arbitrary presidential behavior, but makes their removal almost impossible. At the same time, however, the fact that a governor can be removed temporarily muddies the waters, given that prosecutor’s offices in the regions have long been used as political instruments and that a criminal case can be “ordered up” for political reasons. Thus the Constitutional Court’s decision essentially left unchanged the status quo, under which the deciding factor in conflicts between the Kremlin and the regions is not the law, but the ability of each side to use the law to its own advantage.