Russia’s Attorney General’s Office has opened an investigation into the constitutionality of the State Council of the Soviet Union’s 1991 recognition of the Baltic states’ independence. A source told the news agency Interfax that the inquiry is being conducted in response to an official request by a member of the Duma, the lower house of the Russian parliament.
“Legally, the decision to recognize the independence of the Baltic states is problematic, insofar as it was made by an unconstitutional state body,” the source told Interfax. The source also argued that the Attorney General’s Office should suspend its investigation, saying the political fallout of such a probe negates any legal benefits.
“Labeling illegal this or that landmark decision can be taken too far—right up to the legitimacy problems with the founding of the Soviet Union, not to mention other countries,” said the source.
The State Council of the USSR recognized the independence of Latvia, Lithuania, and Estonia on September 6, 1991, at its first-ever session, a day after it was formed. The State Council’s members included the president of the Soviet Union and the heads of all union republics.
In November 1991, a high-ranking official in the Soviet Attorney General’s Office launched a criminal case against Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev, arguing that the recognition of the Baltic states’ independence was unconstitutional. Nikolay Trubin, the USSR’s last attorney general, closed the case.
In June 2015, the Russian Attorney General’s Office completed an investigation into the constitutionality of Crimea’s transfer to the Ukrainian Soviet Republic in 1954, finding that the deal violated Soviet laws at the time. The inquiry was purely symbolic and carries no formal legal consequences today, though Russia did reclaim the peninsula following a controversial secessionist referendum in March 2014.