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International Law and the 2020 Amendments to the Russian Constitution

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  15 January 2021

Lauri Mälksoo*
Professor of International Law at the University of Tartu (Estonia). Research for this Essay was supported by grant PRG969 of the Estonian Research Council. The author would like to thank Dr. Gleb Bogush (Moscow) for useful comments on an earlier draft of this Essay.


This Current Development Essay discusses the international legal implications of constitutional amendments adopted in the Russian Federation by an “all-Russian vote,” a quasi-referendum from June 25 to July 1, 2020. The most important of these amendments gives the Russian Constitution priority over decisions made by international courts and treaty bodies. The amendments also address Russia's state succession to the Soviet Union. Another provision protects Russia's territorial integrity. The Essay discusses the background to these amendments, their content, and their significance for international law.

Current Developments
Copyright © 2021 by The American Society of International Law

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1 In polls, norms concerning social protection, quality of medical insurance, etc. received the highest approval. See Ksenia Vorontsova, VTSIOM: 61% rossiian sobiraiutsia podderazhat’ popravki k Konstitutsii (VTSIOM: 61% of Russians Intend to Support Amendments to the Constitution), Rossiyskaya Gazeta (May 30, 2020), at

2 See further on the political-legal techniques of the “all-Russian vote,” Socher, Johannes, Farewell to the European Constitutional Tradition: The 2020 Russian Constitutional Amendments, 80 Zaörv 2020 1Google Scholar, 11 et seq.

3 On the Constitution of 1993 and the Russian constitutional culture, see Jane Henderson, The Constitution of the Russian Federation. A Contextual Analysis (2011).

4 See Roberts, Anthea, Stephan, Paul B., Verdier, Pierre-Hugues & Versteeg, Mila, Comparative International Law: Framing the Field, 109 AJIL 467 (2015)CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

5 For detailed evidence from international and constitutional practice of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania, see, e.g., Ineta Ziemele, State Continuity and Nationality: The Baltic States and Russia: Past, Present and Future as Defined by International Law (2005); Lauri Mälksoo, Illegal Annexation and State Continuity: The Case of the Incorporation of the Baltic States in the USSR (2003).

6 See, e.g., Jeff Kahn, The Parade of Sovereignties: Establishing the Vocabulary of the New Russian Federalism, 16 Post-Soviet Affairs 58 (2000).

7 Here and in the following, reference to the amended constitutional articles is taken from the Novyi tekst Konstitutsii s popravkami 2020 (New Text of the Constitution with the Amendments of 2020), State Duma News (July 3, 2020), at

8 Chem v Rossii groziat prizyvy k otchuzhdeniu territorii (What Threatens in Russia in the Case of Calls to Secession of Territory), State Duma News (Aug. 10, 2020), at

9 See GA Res. 68/262, Territorial Integrity of Ukraine (Mar. 27, 2014).

10 Priniaty zakony ob otvetstvennosti za otchuzhdenie territorii (Laws Adopted on Responsibility for Alienating Territory), State Duma News (Nov. 18, 2020), at

11 Artem Girsh, Putin rasskazal o “mine zamedlennogo deistvia” v Konstitutsii SSSR (Putin Told About the “Slow-Impact Mine” in the Constitution of the USSR), Vedomosti (July 5, 2020), at

12 However, scholars have rightly observed that in practice, this right remained only on paper. See Petr P. Kremnev, Raspad SSSR: Mezhdunarodno-Pravovye Problemy (Disintegration of the USSR: International Legal Problems) 43 (2005).

13 See Girsh, supra note 11.

14 Id.

15 See Russian President Press Release, Dogovor mezhdu Rossiiskoi Federatsiei i Ukrainoi o rossiisko-ukrainskoi gosudarstvennoi graniitse (Jan. 28, 2003), at

16 Tatiana D. Matveeva, Printsip territorialnoi tselostnosti v mezhdunarodno-pravovom instrumentarii mirnogo razreshenia territorialnykh sporov (The Principle of Territorial Integrity in the Context of Territorial Dispute Resolution), 1 Moscow J. Int'l L. 6, 13 (2018).

17 See Grigory I. Tunkin, Theory of International Law 21 (William E. Butler trans., 1974).

18 See recently, e.g., Russ. Fed. Min. For. Aff. Press Release, The Declaration of the Russian Federation and the People's Republic of China on the Promotion of International Law 4 (June 25, 2016), at

19 See, e.g., Ivo Juurvee & Mariita Mattiisen, The Bronze Soldier Crisis of 2007. Revisiting an Early Case of Hybrid Conflict, Int'l Centre Defense & Security (ICDS) (Aug. 2020), available at

20 See, e.g., James R. Crawford, The Creation of States in International Law 667 (2d ed. 2007). The classic study is Krystyna Marek, Identity and Continuity of States in Public International Law (1954).

21 See Stanislav V. Chernichenko, Teoria Mezhdunarodnogo Prava (Theory of International Law), Vol. II, at 58–87 (1999); Vladislav L. Tolstykh, Kurs Mezhdunarodnogo Prava (Course in International Law) 267 (2019); Mezhdunarodnoe Pravo (International Law) 91 (Valery I. Kuznetsov & Bakhtiyar R. Tuzmukhamedov eds., 2d ed. 2007).

22 Chernichenko, supra, note 21, at 84‒87.

23 See Kremnev, supra, note 12, at 241‒42.

24 Istoriya Rossii. XX Vek. 1894–1939 (History Of Russia. The 20th Century. 1894‒1939) 544 (Andrey Zubov ed., 2009); Istoriya Rossii. XX Vek. 1939–2007 (History Of Russia. The 20th Century. 1939–2007) 15 (Andrey Zubov ed., 2009).

25 Postanovlenie Konstitutsionnoga Suda Rossiiskoi Federatsii po delu o proverke konstitutsionnosti polozhenii stat'i 13 zakona “O reabilitatsii zhertv politicheskikh repressii,” punktov 3 i 5 stat'i 7, punkta 1 chasti 1 i chasti 2 stat'i 8 Zakona goroda Moskvy “Ob obespechenii prava zhitelei goroda Moskvy na zhilye pomeshtchenia” v sviazi s zhalobami grazhdan A.L.Meissner, E.S. Mikhailovoi i E.B. Shashevoi (Dec. 10, 2019), available at See also Aleksandr Chernykh & Natalia Glukhova, Sudia KS otdelil RF ot SSSR (Judge of the CC Separated the Russian Federation from the USSR), Kommersant (Feb. 17, 2020), at

26 See Postanovlenie, Opinion of Judge Aranovsky, supra note 25, at 30.

27 Vladimir Putin, The Real Lessons of the 75th Anniversary of World War II, Nat'l Interest (June 18, 2020), at See also Russian President Press Release, Vladimir Putin, President Russian Federation, Speech at the CIS Informal Summit (Dec. 20, 2019), at

28 See V GD prokommentirovali snos pamiatnika marshalu Konevu v Prage (In the State Duma the Removal of the Monument to Marshal Konev in Prague Was Commented Upon), State Duma News (Apr. 10, 2020), at (referring to the views of Leonid Slutsky, the chairman of the Committee on Foreign Affairs in the State Duma).

29 See Prinyat zakon Prezidenta RF ob ugolovnoi otvetstvennosti za povrezhdenie voinskikh zakhoronenii (Law of the President of the RF Was Adopted on Responsibility of Damaging Military Graves), State Duma News (Mar. 31, 2020), at See also Ugolovnyi kodeks Rossiiskoi Federatsii (Criminal Code of the Russian Federation), available at

30 See Socher, supra note 2, at 13.

31 Judgment of 14 July 2015, No 21-П/2015 (Const. Ct. Russ. Fed.) (Russ.), available at

32 Federal Constitutional Law on the Introduction of Amendments to the Federal Constitutional Law “On the Constitutional Court of the Russian Federation,” entered into force Dec. 14, 2015, N 7-ФКЗ.

33 See Dmitri Bartenev, LGBT Rights in Russia and European Human Rights Standards, in Russia and the European Court of Human Rights: The Strasbourg Effect 326–51 (Lauri Mälksoo & Wolfgang Benedek eds., 2017).

34 Fedotova and Shipitko v. Russia, App. Nos. 40792/10, 30538/14, 43439/14 (communicated May 2, 2016), at

35 Case of Konstantin Markin v. Russia, App. No. 30078/06, Judgment (Eur. Ct. Hum. Rts. Oct. 7, 2010); Grand Chamber Judgment (Mar. 22, 2012).

36 July 14, 2015 Judgment, supra note 31.

37 See Judgment of Apr. 19, 2016, No. 12-П/2016 (Const. Ct. Russ. Fed.) (Russ.), available at; see also Case of Anchugov and Gladkov v. Russia, App. Nos. 11157/04, 15162/05, Judgment (Eur. Ct. Hum. Rts. July 7, 2013); A.Kh.Abashidze, M.V. Ilyashevich & A.M.Solntsev, Anchugov & Gladkov v. Russia, 111 AJIL 461 (2017).

38 See Medellin v. Texas, 552 U.S. 491 (2008). See generally Curtis A. Bradley, International Law in the U.S. Legal System (2d ed. 2015).

39 BVerfG, Judgment of the Second Senate of 05 May 2020 – 2 BvR 859/15 (Ger.), at; Judgment No. 238 (It. Const. Ct. 2014) (It.), available at

40 See Case of OAO Neftyanaya Kompaniya Yukos v. Russia, App. No. 14902/04, Judgment (Just Satisfaction) (Eur. Ct. Hum. Rts. July 31, 2014). Judgment of Jan. 19, 2017 (Const. Ct. Russ. Fed.) (Russ.), available at

41 Stanislav V. Chernichenko, Evropeiskii Sud po pravam cheloveka: problema neispolnimosti postanovlenii (The European Court of Human Rights: The Problem of Unenforceable Judgments), 3 Moscow J. Int'l L. 7 (2018).

42 European Commission for Democracy Through Law (Venice Commission), Russian Federation, Opinion on the Draft Amendments to the Constitution (as Signed by the President of the Russian Federation on 14 March 2020) Related to the Execution by the Russian Federation of Decisions by the European Court of Human Rights, Opinion No. 981/2020, paras. 55, 62 (June 18, 2020), at

43 Id., para. 64.

44 Id., para. 59.

45 Id.

46 Rossia otvergaet obvinenia Niderlandov v prichastnosti k krusheniu reisa MN17 (Russia Rejects Accusations by The Netherlands Regarding Participation in the Downing of Flight MN17), Kommersant (July 10, 2020), at

47 See, e.g., Vtoroe chtenie popravok v Konstitutsiu zaplanirovano na 11 fevralia (Second Reading of Amendments to the Constitution is Planned for the 11th of February), State Duma News (Jan. 23, 2020), at (referring to the statements of State Duma Chairman Viatcheslav Volodin); Anna Poltavtseva, Politolog: Otmena primata mezhdunarodnogo prava v Konstitutsii snizit vneshnee vozdeistvie na Rossiu (Political Scientist: The Change in the Primacy of International Law in the Constitution Diminishes Foreign Interference in Russian Affairs), Rossiyskaya Gazeta (June 5, 2020), at (interview with political scientist Dmitry Abzalov); Andrei Klishas, Suverenitet bez ogranichenii: Zashchita gosudarstvennogo suvereniteta v usloviakh globalizatsii: Rossia v mirovom trende (Sovereignty Without Limits: The Protection of State Sovereignty in Conditions of Globalization: Russia in the Global Trend), Rossiyskaya Gazeta (June 9, 2020), at

48 Yukos Universal Limited (Isle of Man) and the Russian Federation, PCA Case No. AA227, Final Award (July 18, 2014), at

49 In the context of the ECtHR, such cases have so far concerned the three Baltic states, not the Russian Federation directly.

50 Poltavtseva, supra note 47.

51 See, e.g., Sergey Yu. Marochkin, The Operation of International Law in the Russian Legal System (2019); S.V. Chernichenko, Tezis o verkhovenstve mezhdunarodnogo prava i Konstitutsia Rossiiskoi Federatsii (Thesis of the Supremacy of International Law and the Constitution of the Russian Federation), 2016 Russian Y.B. Int'l L. 20 (2017); Implementatsia Reshenii Evropeiskogo Suda Po Pravam Cheloveka V Rossiiskoi Pravovoi Sisteme: Kontseptsii, Pravovye Podkhody I Praktika Obespechenia (Implementation of Judgments of the European Court of Human Rights in the Russian Legal System: Concepts, Legal Approaches and Practice) (V.V. Lazarev ed., 2020); M.A. Likhachev, Konstitutsionnyi Sud Rossii i Evropeiskii Sud po Pravam cheloveka: poisk kompromissa prodolzhaetsia (Russia's Constitutional Court and the ECHR: The Search for Compromise Continues), in Mezhdunarodnoe I Natsionalnoe Pravo: Konfrontatsia Ili Simbioz? (L.A. Lazutin & I.V. Fedorov eds., 2016); V.V. Bogatyrev & R.A. Kalamkarian, Pravoprimenitelnyi rezhim implementatsii mezhdunarodnogo prava v pravovoi sisteme Rossiiskoi Federatsii (The Legal Enforcement Regime of International Law in the Legal System of the Russian Federation), 11 Gosudarstvo I Pravo 79 (2018); Bogdan L. Zimnenko, Mezhdunarodnoe Pravo I Pravovaia Sistema Rossiiskoi Federatsii (International Law and the Legal System of the RF) (2010).

52 See, e.g., Oleg I. Tiunov, Anna A. Kashirkina & Andrei N. Morozov, Vypolnenie Mezhdunarodnykh Dogovorov Rossiiskoi Federatsii (Implementation of International Treaties in the Russian Federation) (2012).

53 See, e.g., I.I. Karandashov, Printsip pacta sunt servanda i chast 4 stati 15 konstitutsii Rossiiskoi Federatsii: predely ikh tolkovania i primenenia v Rossiiskoi Federatsii (The Pacta Sunt Servanda Principle and Art. 15 para. 4 of the Constitution of the RF: Limits of Interpretation and Application in the RF), 2012 Russ. Y.B. Int'l L. 174 (2013); Pavel A. Laptev, Konstitutsia i mezhdunarodnye dogovory (The Constitution and International Treaties), 2011 Russ. Y.B. Int'l L. 219 (2012); Viacheslav V. Gavrilov, Poniatie I Vzaimodeistvie Mezhdunarodnoi I Natsional'nykh Pravovykh Sistem (The Concept of Interaction Between International and National Legal Systems) 200 (2d ed. 2019); Bogdan L. Zimnenko, O meste i znachenii praktiki mezhgosudarstvennykh organov po zashchite prav i svobod cheloveka v pravovoi sisteme Rossiiskoi Federatsii (na primere rassmotrenia sudami Rossiiskoi Federatsii konkretnykh del (The Role and Significance of the Practice of Interstate Organs for the Protection of Human Rights and Freedoms in the Legal System of the Russian Federation (Cases Considered by the Courts of the Russian Federation), 3 Moscow J. Int'l L. 92 (2017).

54 Vitali S. Ivanenko, Mezhdunarodnye dogovory, Konstitutsia i pravovaia sistema Rossiiskoi Federatsii: evoliutsia sootnoshenia i tendentsii vzaimodeistvia (International Treaties, Constitution and the Legal System of the RF: Evolution of the Coexistence and Tendencies of Mutual Impact), 2009 Russ. Y.B. Int'l L. 9, 25 (2010).

55 See, e.g., A.A. Dorskaya, Mezhdunarodno-pravovye normy v sisteme Rossiiskogo prava: istoriko-pravovoi analiz (International Legal Norms in the Russian Legal System: Historical-Legal Analysis), 2011 Russ. Y.B. Int'l L. 81, 90 (2012).

56 Viatcheslav Volodin predlozhil proanalizirovat’ mezhdunarodnye dogovory RF na sootvetstvie verkhovenstvu Konstitutsii (Viatcheslav Volodin Proposed to Analyze International Treaties of Russia with Respect to the Supremacy of the Constitution), State Duma News (July 9, 2020), at

57 Boris I. Osminin, Zakliuchenie I Implementatsia Mezhdunarodnykh Dogovorov I Vnutrigosudarstvennoe Pravo (The Conclusion and Implementation of International Treaties and Domestic Law) 367 (2010).

58 See Johannes Fahner, A New Hope for the Yukos Shareholders – PCA Awards Revived by the Hague Court of Appeal, EJIL:Talk! (Mar. 4, 2020), at

59 See Russ. Fed. Min. For. Aff. Press Release, Foreign Policy Concept of the Russian Federation (approved by President of the Russian Federation Vladimir Putin on November 30, 2016), paras. 26 et seq., at

60 See Skouteris, Thomas, The Idea of Progress, in The Oxford Handbook of the Theory of International Law (Anne Orford & Florian Hoffmann eds., 2016)Google Scholar.

61 See, e.g., Manja Hussner, Die Übernahme Internationalen Rechts in die Russische and Deutsche Rechtsordnung. Eine Vergleichende Analyse Zur Völkerrechtsfreundlichkeit der Verfassungen der Russländischen Föderation und der Bundesrepublik Deutschland (2005).

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