Publication: North Caucasus Weekly Volume: 4 Issue: 4


While there has been much discussion of the procedure for adopting the proposed new constitution for Chechnya, such as the timing of the constitutional referendum, the actual text of that document has received relatively little attention. But the text is worth studying closely for what it suggests about the Kremlin’s policies: Is the Putin government willing to seek a middle ground with Chechen moderates by giving the republic a large degree of self-government short of sovereign independence? President Vladimir Putin told a French television interviewer on February 9 that he favors “broad autonomy” for Chechnya. Does the proposed constitution meet that standard?

Not surprisingly, the constitutional text is plain and unyielding on the question of independence. Its preamble affirms “our historical unity with Russia and its multinational people.” Article 1 states that “the territory of the Chechen Republic shall be united and indivisible and shall be an inalienable part of the territory of the Russian Federation.” Article 8 forbids even setting up an organization that publicly advocates secession: “The establishment and activity of public associations whose objectives or actions are directed towards the forced change of the foundations of the constitutional order or the violation of the unity of the Chechen Republic and the Russian Federation, inflaming social, racist, national and religious discord… shall be prohibited.”

On the issue of local autonomy, the proposed text is more subtle. Article 6 states that in matters “under the joint jurisdiction of the Russian Federation and the Chechen Republic, federal constitutional laws and federal laws shall have direct legal effect in the entire territory of the Chechen Republic. In the event of a contradiction between a federal law and a regulatory act of the Chechen republic, the federal law shall prevail.” Thus it matters crucially what matters are under joint jurisdiction. (Even those left to exclusive jurisdiction of Chechnya would seem to fall under another provision of the article: “The laws and other regulatory acts adopted under the jurisdiction of the Chechen Republic must not contradict federal laws and the Constitution of the Chechen Republic.”) Much further in the text one sees Article 60, which places under “joint jurisdiction”–among other things–the “protection of human and citizens’ rights and liberties; protection of rights of national minorities; ensuring legal order and public safety; ensuring border zones regimes; “matters relating to the possession, use and disposal of land, subsurface, water and other natural resources; education; “general principles of taxation;” and “personnel of courts and law enforcement bodies.” These broad categories would appear to grant the federal government ample scope to override local authorities.

Article 53 gives Moscow authorities power to suspend basic rights without even consulting Chechen officials. “(1) During a state of emergency, certain limitations on rights and liberties may be imposed in accordance with federal constitutional law to ensure the security of citizens and the protection of the constitutional order with specification of the limits and term for their effect. (2) A state of emergency in the Chechen Republic and in its separate parts may be introduced in the event of circumstances and in accordance with the procedure established by the federal constitutional law.”

Article 72 allows the president of the Russian Federation to remove the president of the Chechen Republic from office unilaterally. Article 95 provides that the entire cabinet resign if such removal from office should take place–though it would continue to function until a new government were formed. Article 91 authorizes the Russian Federation parliament to enact a law dissolving the Chechen parliament, triggering a new parliamentary election to be “scheduled and held at the time established by federal law.”

Article 103 keeps the republican prosecutor’s office directly under Kremlin control, stating that it “shall be part of the unified centralized system of the Russian Federation with inferior prosecutors’ offices subordinate to superior prosecutors’ offices and the prosecutor general of the Russian Federation…. The authorities, organization and procedure for the activities of the prosecutors’ offices shall be defined by federal law.” (Note, however, that the prosecutor is appointed by the federal authorities with the consent of the republican president and the upper house of the republican parliament.) Article 104 states that “the prosecutor of the Chechen Republic, district and city prosecutors shall exercise their powers independently of any bodies of state authority of the Chechen Republic and local self-government bodies and their officials.”

Depending on how it is interpreted, Article 29 might enable to Moscow to manipulate local elections by flooding the republic with soldiers and civil servants sent from elsewhere in the Russian Federation: “Citizens of the Russian Federation who live in the Chechen Republic (citizens of the Chechen Republic) have the right to participate in the management of affairs of the Chechen republic both directly and through their representatives.”

As some have already pointed out, the constitutional text also includes provisions that are simply unenforceable under current conditions. Russian Duma member Sergei Kovalev noted in a February 7 article for Novye Izvestia that “some provisions of the document make it clear that its authors got carried away. Take, for example, the provision on free political debate in the free and independent media. What political parties, what media do they mean? There is a guerrilla war underway in Chechnya, a war with no rules.” Other examples which he might have pointed out include Article 22: “The home is inviolable. No one may enter housing against the will of those residing therein, except in the cases established by federal law, or on the basis of a court decision.” Article 24 states that “everyone who is lawfully located in the territory of the Chechen Republic has the right to freely move, and select his (her) place of stay and residence.”