The Russian Constitutional Court ruled on Tuesday that it can avoid applying the verdicts of the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR).
The decision came as the long term sanctions placed on Russia continue due to its annexation of Crimea and its aggression in Ukraine in 2014.
According to the Russian court, if an ECHR verdict contradicts the Russian constitution, Russia can avoid applying it.
Following the decision, Constitutional Court Chairman Valery Zorkin said that "Russia's participation in the international agreement does not signify rejection of state sovereignty."
Mentioning the importance of the Constitution, Zorkin added that "the Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms and the ECHR's legal positions based on it cannot annul the precedence of the Constitution."
Zorkin claimed that the courts in EU member countries have also made similar rulings, so Russia’s decision is not out of keeping with those made by the German, Italian and British courts.
Member of parliament Alexander Tarnavsky said that the Constitutional Court decided to take the decision due to the ECHR’s unfavourable ruling in the Yukos oil company case.
Yukos was a Russian oil and gas company acquired from the Russian government by Russian oligarch Mikhail Khodorkovsky in the 1990s. Following the success of the company in the international arena, Khodorkovsky was arrested in 2003 for alleged tax fraud and the company declared bankruptcy in 2006.
International courts, including the ECHR, have ruled that the Russian government’s actions were unlawful and claimed that the Russian government deliberately tried to destroy Yukos and obtain its assets. The Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe condemned Russia’s actions against Yukos, claiming that Russia is violating human rights, and awarded Yukos’ shareholders 1.9 billion euros in compensation.
Tarnavsky said that "when we began examining all the legal practices in this case, it turned out that a number of decisions by the European Court of Human Rights were not being implemented on the European continent."
Russia’s Ministry of Justice also announced that the Yukos case will be considered according to the latest Constitutional Court ruling.
Russian President Vladimir Putin’s spokesman Dmitry Peskov announced that the new ruling will not be changed, saying "this is a decision that cannot be appealed, as far as I understand."
Opposition Yabloko party leader Sergei Mitrokhin slammed the new court ruling and said on Twitter that "the Constitutional Court paved the way for the selective application of international law in Russia. It will now be as elastic as our laws."
Since Russia joined the Council of Europe in 1996, Russia has been legally bound by the ECHR. The European Court has handled cases between Russia and various activists over human rights violations.