Publication: Monitor Volume: 3 Issue: 30

Russian justice minister Valentin Kovalev said yesterday that there are "no insuperable problems" in realizing the idea of sovereignty for Chechnya. (Interfax, February 12) Moreover, Kovalev said, Chechnya has already achieved political independence. He said the most effective solution would be for the Russian parliament to adopt a constitutional law changing the constitutional and legal status of subjects of the Russian Federation (i.e., Russia’s constituent republics and regions). Within the framework of such a law, Kovalev said, the problem of the sovereignty of the Chechen Republic could be resolved. (While simpler to adopt than amendments to the constitution itself, constitutional laws are harder to adopt and change than ordinary laws. Unlike ordinary laws, which are approved by a simple parliamentary majority, a constitutional law requires a two-thirds majority before it can be adopted or amended.)

Kovalev went on to say that he saw nothing wrong with Chechnya’s demand to be recognized as a subject of international law. This is an extraordinary statement, coming as it does from a member of the Russian government who has rarely if ever deviated from the course set by the Kremlin. "Subject of international law" is legalese for a sovereign state that makes its own laws free of outside intervention other than the obligations imposed upon it by international law. Kovalev appears to be suggesting not only that Moscow should recognize Chechnya’s independence de jure (as well as de facto, as Moscow has already been unwillingly forced to do) but also that a mechanism should be worked out for the components of the Russian Federation to withdraw from it in a civilized manner. Whether or not Kovalev really intended to go as far as this, the Russian leadership is, it appears, seriously rethinking its policy toward Chechnya.

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