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Ingushetia’s Constitutional Court says the controversial border deal with Chechnya is unconstitutional. Does that mean the protesters have won?

Meduza
A protest in Magas against the border agreement between Chechnya and Ingushetia, October 5, 2018
A protest in Magas against the border agreement between Chechnya and Ingushetia, October 5, 2018
Maxim Shemetov / Reuters / Scanpix / LETA

On October 4, Ingushetia’s Parliament approved an agreement with the neighboring Chechen Republic redrawing parts of their shared boundary. The controversial deal sparked mass protests in Ingushetia, where demonstrators argue that the agreement unfairly divides the borderlands. The deal’s opponents say Ingushetia shouldn’t cede any territory to Chechnya. On October 30, the Ingush Constitutional Court ruled that the border agreement violates Ingushetia’s Constitution. Meduza looks at whether this decision could be enough to force the Ingush authorities to abandon their deal with Chechnya.

Update: On October 31, the organizing committee responsible for managing the protests in Magas against Ingushetia's border agreement announced an end to its demonstrations. The group oversaw protests between October 4 to 17, and planned to resume its demonstrations on October 31. Organizers had the city's permission to gather for another three days.

Ingushetia has its own constitution?

Yes, like all republics within the Russian Federation, the Republic of Ingushetia has its own constitution and its own Constitutional Court that monitors local laws and regulations for compliance with the fundamental laws of the republic.

Why did the Ingush Constitutional Court object to the law about the boundary with Chechnya?

The court determined that the Ingush Parliament’s law was adopted in violation of standard procedures and simultaneously contradicts three articles of the republic’s constitution. Specifically, 12 plaintiffs argued the following in a lawsuit, and the Constitutional Court agreed:

1. The Ingush government is required to preserve Ingushetia’s territorial integrity. The Ingush Constitution says the state’s paramount duty is using political means to regain lands illegally seized from the Ingushetia and safeguard the republic’s existing territorial integrity. In the opinion of the Constitutional Court, the law on the agreement with Chechnya violates these norms.

2. Changing Ingushetia’s borders without considering public opinion is forbidden. “Changing the boundaries of territories where there is self-government is permitted with consideration for the opinion of the populations in those territories,” states the Ingush Constitution. According to the Constitutional Court, federal law would have allowed moving the existing boundary between Ingushetia and Chechnya, but the Chechen-Ingush deal establishes an entirely new boundary line, making it necessary to consider the wishes of residents in the localities affected by the deal, the Ingush Court ruled.

3. The views of local residents must be established in a referendum. In its ruling, Ingushetia’s Constitutional Court says popular opinion about changing the republic’s boundaries must be determined legally in a referendum. The Ingush authorities, however, never held a referendum.

The Constitutional Court also acknowledged that the Ingush Parliament committed multiple procedural violations when adopting the law on the border deal, voting by secret ballot and approving all three draft readings at the same time.

Does this mean the agreement with Chechnya is null and void?

Based on the text of the Constitutional Court’s ruling, yes this should invalidate the border agreement. The court’s decision says the agreement “produces no legal effects for state officials, local government, organizations, and citizens in the Ingush Republic” — at least not until the deal is approved in a republic-wide referendum.

Sources close to the Ingush regional government told the newspaper Kommersant that officials are confident, however, that the Constitutional Court’s ruling will have no legal consequences, arguing that the issue is outside the court’s jurisdiction.

Can the Ingush authorities appeal the Constitutional Court’s ruling somehow?

According to Ingushetia’s Constitutional Court, the ruling cannot be appealed and took effect the moment it was read out. Ingush head Yunus-bek Yevkurov has said, however, that the Russian Constitutional Court should review the Ingush high court’s decision. The rub here is that the federal Constitutional Court cannot act as an appellate court relative to rulings by republic-level constitutional courts, which complicates Yevkurov’s proposal. That said, Article 85 of the Russian Constitution does stipulate “conciliatory procedures” that would allow President Putin to create a special commission between the Ingush Constitutional Court, the Ingush Parliament, and Yevkurov’s administration.

Speaking to Meduza, lawyer Kaloi Akhilgov suggested that Chechen leaders could also get their own Constitutional Court to uphold the legitimacy of the border deal with Ingushetia. It’s unclear, however, how Russia’s legal system might accommodate contradictory rulings by two republic-level constitutional courts.

On October 29, two Ingush People’s Assembly deputies withdrew their signatures from the appeal to the Constitutional Court challenging the border-agreement law, in an apparent effort to stop the high court from reaching a verdict. (By law, appeals to the Constitutional Court require signatures from a minimum of 11 deputies.) Regulations state, however, that appeals to the court can only be withdrawn before the Constitutional Court starts reviewing the case. According to Akhilgov, the court reached its verdict on October 30, but the hearing itself started five days earlier, on October 24, before the two deputies tried to cut and run.

Report by Alexander Borzenko and Denis Dmitriev, translation by Kevin Rothrock