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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Court Says Yeltsin War Decrees Legal

The Constitutional Court on Monday ruled that President Boris Yeltsin's decrees sending troops to Chechnya were fully constitutional, ending two weeks of deliberation and handing the Kremlin a complete and important victory.


The verdict, which came just one day after Russian negotiators signed a cease-fire agreement in Chechnya, brought a delighted response from the president's representatives in court and disappointment for the parliamentary deputies who had brought the action.


In the first serious case that the 19-member Constitutional Court has considered since its formation, the court in essence found that Yeltsin had acted legally in sending army troops into Chechnya without declaring a state of emergency.


While a ruling against the president would not have forced any action upon him, it would have made his policy in Chechnya virtually untenable, opened the gate for him to be held responsible for the carnage in the North Caucasus region, and provided fodder to opposition candidates in the run up to elections.


"It is a very well-considered decision and a very clear verdict," said Valery Savitsky, Yeltsin's permanent representative to the court.


The court's ruling was on an appeal by a group of deputies of both houses of parliament, and they, predictably, were less enamored of the result.


"It is not the force of law that has triumphed here but brute force," said Issa Kostoyev, head of the Federation Council's Constitutional Legislation Committee.


"The court has erected a legal smoke screen around the war," said State Duma deputy Lev Ponomaryov. "This is not the best page in the history of the court."


Read by court chairman Vladimir Tumanov, the verdict dent's constitutional powers and is consistent with the constitution," the verdict said.


It went on to state that, while normally Yeltsin needs to declare a state of emergency before deploying troops on Russian territory, on this occasion the rule did not apply.


"The law on the state of emergency is not designed for extraordinary situations where an organized force armed with state-of-the-art weapons opposes the government," the verdict said.


The verdict went on to say the use of force by Yeltsin to ensure Russia's territorial integrity was fully in keeping with the constitution and the existing laws on defense and police activities.


In this the judges appeared to have accepted arguments made in court by Yeltsin's representatives, which focused more on whether the use Yeltsin made of force was justified by circumstances or whether it was based in law.


While the verdict spelled a clear victory for the president and his representatives, Deputy Prime Minister Sergei Shakhrai and National Security Adviser Yury Baturin, the debate in court had been anything but clear-cut or calm.


According to Judge Tamara Morshchakova, seven of the 19 judges will publish "special opinions," which differ from the verdict. Most of these special opinions will argue that the decrees were at least partly unconstitutional.


"My opinion is that decree No. 2137 was unconstitutional: It introduced a state of emergency without naming it," Morshchakova told an impromptu press conference after Tumanov's announcement. "Besides, that decree was secret, and that was also illegal because of its contents."


Some parliament deputies dismissed the majority ruling as politically motivated, pointing out that it was made public -- after several delays -- right after a military agreement was signed by the federal government and the Chechen fighters in Grozny, formally putting an end to the war.


"It is clear that both these processes had the same director and they were going according to the same script," Ponomaryov said.


That allegation was denied by Judge Ernest Ametistov.


"We deliberated for so long simply because it was a very tough case, and thank God we managed to consider it as quickly as we did," the judge said. "As for the peace talks, I did not even follow them."


The only nod the court made toward Yeltsin's opponents was to rule that two provisions in government resolution No. 1360, which actually sent troops into the region, were contrary to the constitution.


One of these minor provisions concerned the forceful eviction from Chechnya of persons who "threaten public order and do not permanently reside in Chechnya."


The other dealt with the government's right to strip journalists of accreditation for distorted coverage of the war.


The court said the first clause violated the freedom of movement and the other the freedom of speech.


Otherwise, the court's verdict contained only one paragraph criticizing the government, and it referred to its policy before the war, when Chechnya was allowed to thumb its nose at Moscow and maintain that it was an independent country.


"In 1991 to 1994, the federal authorities weakened their control of human rights observance in Chechnya, failed to ensure the safety of munitions dumps and showed passivity in relations with Chechnya as part of the Russian Federation," according to the ruling.