In present-day Russia, the judicial system is a “tool of the authorities,” according to Leonid V. Nikitinsky, independent journalist, Novaya Gazeta, and founder, Leonid Nikitinsky Center for Legal Initiatives. At a 15 December 2011 Kennan Institute seminar, Nikitinsky introduced the discussion of the relationship between civil society and the judiciary in Russia among panelists Tatiana Andreyeva, Deputy Chief Justice, Supreme Commercial (Arbitrazh) Court of the Russian Federation; Mikhail Fedotov, Chairman, President’s Council on Human Rights; and Anna Kovaleva, Head of the Public Relations Department, Supreme Commercial (Arbitrazh) Court of the Russian Federation.

Ideally, a judiciary should exist because of a need to provide and maintain peace in a given state, Nikitinsky continued. However, while the Russian judiciary is currently a tool for authorities to enforce laws on society, the culture within the courts system is progressing toward the idea that the court’s primary purpose is to resolve conflicts and provide peace. Nikitinsky cited “overall corruption in society” as the major reason for the judiciary’s slow move toward becoming an institution that promotes peace. Additionally, the inherent politicization of courts and judges contributes to why the “courts become … entangled in politics.” Even the judges of peace are politicized, according to Nikitinsky; they make decisions based on what the police report to them. In conclusion, per the speaker, “surely we have lots to learn here…” while pointing out that judges in the United States should also be interested in how the judicial process works in Russia.

Andreevna continued the conversation, nothing that she subscribed to the ideology of “courts of peace,” rather than courts that enforce law. The speaker also explained that “it’s very hard for us [judges] to gain trust from the society,” because there is a gap between civil society and courts. In order to achieve success in establishing trust between the courts and civil society, this gap needs to close, according to Andreevna. “It is not enough to spell it out legislatively,” the speaker asserted—indeed, increased transparency in the court system is also required. Judges are afraid to say too much—they are guided by an ethics code the judicial system adopted in 2004. One detail of that code of ethics forbids judges from commenting on other judges’ decisions. Finally, Andreevna emphasized that judges not only need to develop new measures in their behavior in order to change the culture in the judicial system—they also must work closely with civil society groups and journalists for their feedback to update the code of ethics. So far, journalists and civil society groups have been responsive to the judiciary’s solicitations for their feedback.

Fedotov commended the judges present for their work on uniting the mass media and judiciary. Additionally, the speaker noted that ideally, there should be established a judicial oversight committee established in Russia, based on the committee in the United States. Fedotov recently met with President Medvedev to present information on the murder case of Mikhail Khodorkovsky; the meeting prompted a question on whether it was legal to allow representatives of the public to analyze court rulings. The head of the Russian constitutional court agreed with the President’s Council on Human Rights that members of the public should review court decisions. Eventually, Fedotov noted, analyses of court decisions will be available publicly. Presently, he concluded, there are two pictures that result from the current situation in the Russian judiciary: the picture of the court rulings, and what the public sees. “It’s like having schizophrenia,” Fedotov noted.

Kovoleva concluded the panel discussion and discussed he relationship between judges and mass media. In recent times, she explained, journalists have finally stopped reporting on judges’ private lives. “It took [the public relations department] a really long time to reorient the journalists,” toward reporting on the actual development of the Russian arbitration system [instead of popular news], she concluded.


By Amy Liedy

Blair Ruble, Director, Kennan Institute


The Kennan Institute speaker series is made possible through the generous support of the Title VIII Program of the U.S. Department of State.


  • Leonid V. Nikitinsky

    independent journalist, Novaya Gazeta (New Gazette), and founder, Leonid Nikitinsky Center for Legal Initiatives
  • Tatiana Andreyeva

    Deputy Chief Justice of the Supreme Commercial (Arbitrazh) Court of the Russian Federation
  • Mikhail Fedotov

    Fulbright-Kennan Institute Research Scholar
  • Anna Kovaleva

    Head of the Public Relations Department, Supreme Commercial (Arbitrazh) Court of the Russian Federation