Vanderbilt Journal of Transnational Law


Ian R. Brown

First Page



The 1993 Constitution of the Russian Federation has received harsh criticism as a document that confers strong powers upon the executive at the expense of a much weaker legislature. Such a disparity is understandable, as the Constitution was conceived out of the violent confrontation between President Boris Yeltsin and the rebellious communist-nationalist Duma in October 1993. Following the adoption of the Constitution in December 1993, many observers predicted a return to dictatorship in Russia.

Yet in practice, despite much heavy-handedness on the part of the president during the Yeltsin administration, the 1993 Constitution and the institutions it created have survived remarkably intact. The various governmental actors largely have followed the procedures of the Constitution, and perhaps most importantly, Yeltsin never employed the most striking provision at his disposal--dissolution of the legislature.

Nevertheless, critics and supporters alike have reason to be concerned with the current Russian Constitution. While under a generally pro-democratic and pro-Western Yeltsin, constitutional abuses were few, a different result could easily have resulted under a more vigorous executive.

This Note assesses the state of the Russian Constitution, as the country's leadership is handed over from the erratic yet familiar Boris Yeltsin to the firm yet enigmatic ex-KGB colonel Vladimir Putin. Beginning with a brief description of historical factors that affect the current Russian Constitution and Russian attitudes to the concept of the rule of law, this Note then examines the principal constitutional provisions at issue here, namely those concerning the relationship between the executive and the legislature. The Note then analyzes this relationship as it has developed in practice, particularly highlighting the two major confrontations of 1998. Lastly, this Note suggests avenues for constitutional amendment, in order to protect against executive excesses that may be more likely under a leader such as Putin, whose commitment to democracy and the rule of law remains questionable.