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Russia’s Non-Transformative Constitutional Founding

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  26 November 2019


The founding of Russia’s 1993 Constitution undermined its transformative potential – The use of pre-existing Soviet legality during Russia’s 1993 founding period encouraged President Yeltsin to push through a constitution that would ensure presidential dominance over the legislative branch – This presidential centralism has hindered the realisation of the transformative potential of the other parts of the constitution – Any future turn to transformative constitutionalism in Russia will require weakening the power of the Russian presidency – Transformative constitutionalism depends as much on the actual process of constitutional foundation as the text of the constitution

© 2019 The Authors 

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Associate Professor, Melbourne Law School (Melbourne, Australia); email:


Professor of Constitutional Law & Head of the Constitutional Law Faculty, National Research University Higher School of Economics (Moscow, Russia); email:


1 The concept was likely first used in relation to South African constitutionalism in Klare, K.E., ‘Legal Culture and Transformative Constitutionalism’, 14(1) South African Journal on Human Rights (1998) p. 146 CrossRefGoogle Scholar; see Vilhena, O. et al. (eds.), Transformative Constitutionalism: Comparing the Apex Courts of Brazil, India and South Africa (Pretoria University Law Press 2013)Google Scholar; see also Bonilla, D. (ed.), Constitutionalism of the Global South: The Activist Tribunals of India, South Africa, and Colombia (Cambridge University Press 2013)Google Scholar (where the terms is used in numerous country chapters); see also von Bogdandy, A. et al. (eds.), Transformative Constitutionalism in Latin America: The Emergence of a New Ius Commune (Oxford University Press 2017)Google Scholar; Gargarella, R. et al. (eds.), Courts and Social Transformation in New Democracies: An Institutional Voice for the Poor?, 1st edn. (Routledge 2006) p. 1 at p. 107-152Google Scholar (describing India, South Africa, and Colombia as courts that could help provide a voice for the poor in the consolidation of democracy). It has recently been applied to German constitutionalism: see Hailbronner, M., ‘Transformative Constitutionalism: Not Only in the Global South’, 13 American Journal of Comparative Law (2017) p. 527 CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

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3 For representative examples among many: see e.g. U. Baxi, ‘Preliminary Notes on Transformative Constitutionalism’, in Vilhena et al. (eds.), supra n. 1, p. 19; Robinson, N., ‘Expanding Judiciaries: India and the Rise of the Good Governance Court’, 8 Washington University Global Studies Law Review (2009) p. 1 at p. 67Google Scholar (discussing a ‘a global shift to check representative institutions with increasingly broad principles of good governance’); Stacy, H., Human Rights for the 21st Century: Sovereignty, Civil Society, Culture, 1st edn. (Stanford University Press 2009)Google Scholar (looking at Colombia, India, and South Africa courts as powerful guardians of judicially protected human rights).

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6 Constitution of the Russian Federation (1993), available at ⟨⟩, last visited 5 November 2019.

7 Ibid., Art. 2.

8 Ibid., Art. 13.

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14 Mazo, supra n. 10; see generally Varol, supra n. 10; Mahoney, supra n. 10.

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37 Freedom House has labelled the majority of post-Soviet republics, including Russia, as ‘not free’: R.W. Orttung, ‘Nations in Transit: Russia’, Freedom House (2008) ⟨⟩, last visited 5 November 2019.

38 Mazo, supra n. 10.

39 Brown, I., ‘Clinging to Democracy: Assessing the Russian Legislative-Executive Relationship under Boris Yeltsin’s Constitution’, 33 Vanderbilt Journal of Transnational Law (2000) p. 645 at p. 663Google Scholar. The underlying approach was that the Russian President was unconstrained by the separation of powers. See e.g. Hayden, W., ‘Seeds of Unrest: The Political Genesis of the Conflict in Chechnya’, 24 Fletcher Forum of World Affairs (2000) p. 49 at p. 69Google Scholar. (‘Yeltsin’s exercise of super-presidential power threatened the precarious separation of powers contained in the 1993 Constitution’).

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59 Arato, supra n. 16.

60 Ibid.

61 Constitution of the Russian Soviet Federative Socialist Republic (1978), Art. 267 (as amended 15 December 1990) ⟨⟩, last visited 5 November 2019.

62 O. Rumiantsev, Konstitusiya Devyanosto Tret’ego. Istoriya yavleniya. [The Constitution of ’93. A History of the Movement] (Moscow 2013) p. 176-177.

63 In the final versions of the 1978 Russian Constitution we can find different formulations including ‘The Council of Ministers; The Council of ministers-Government; The Government of the Russian Federation’. This constitution is available online (including its frequent updates) at ⟨⟩ last visited 5 November 2019.

64 Gleisner, J. et al., ‘The Parliament and the Cabinet: Parties, Factions and Parliamentary Control in Russia (1900–93)’, 31 Journal of Contemporary History (1996) p. 427 CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

65 At the IX (Extraordinary) Congress of People’s Deputies, the agenda included questions about the removal of the President of the Russian Federation from office and about re-election of the Chairman of the Supreme Soviet, but did not garner the necessary majority (617 votes were cast for the dismissal of the President of the Russian Federation and 268 against).

66 Vestnik Konstitutsionnogo Suda RF [The Bulletin of the Russian Constitutional Court] No. 6 (1994).

67 Ibid.

68 In spring 1991 in Russia, 57% of the Russians voted for Yeltsin and radical reforms: see Baturin, Y., Epokha El’tsina: Ocherki politicheskoi istorii [The Yeltsin Epoch: Descriptions of Political History] (Vagrius 2001) p. 1 at p. 118Google Scholar.

69 Poslanie Prezidenta Rossiskoi Federatsii Verkhovnomu Sovetu RF ‘O Konstitutsionnost’ [Presidential Address to the Supreme Soviet “On Constitutionalism’] Izvestiya, 25 March 1993.

70 Vedomosti CPD i SS RSFSR [Report of the Congress and Supreme Soviet of Russian Federation] № 44, (1991) p. 1455.

71 Ibid., at p. 1456.

72 Baturin, supra n. 68, p. 177-178.

73 Ibid.

74 Postanovlenie Konstitusionnogo Suda RSFSR ‘Po Dely o proverke konstitutsionnosti Ykaza Prezidenta RSFSR ot 19 Dekabrya 1991 “Ob obrazovanii Ministerstva bezoposnosti i vnutrennikh del RSFSR”’ [Decision of the Russian Constitutional Court of the RSFSR ‘On the Constitutionality of the Presidential Degree from 19 December 1991 “About the Creation of a Ministry of Security and Internal Matters of the RSFSR”’, Sobranie Zakonodatel’stvo RF. № 6, (1992) p. 247.

75 Vedomosti CPD i SS RSFSR № 13 (1993) p. 466.

76 O. Rumyantsev, Ukaz. soch. [Collected works] (1996) p. 178.

77 Sobranie aktov Prezidenta RF i Pravitel’stvo RF [Collection of acts of the President and Government of the Russian Federation], № 39 (1993) p. 3597.

78 Sobranie aktov Prezidenta RF i Pravitel’stvo RF [Collection of acts of the President and Government of the Russian Federation] № 42 (1993) p. 3995.

79 Baturin, supra n. 68, p. 370.

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81 Arato, supra n. 16; Partlett, supra n. 16.