The rule of law has dominated the political conversation for much of the first 20 years of the Russian Federation’s existence.   President Boris Yeltsin stands out as a law creator, as his administration wrote the 1993 Constitution and much of Russia’s legislation to meet the demands of a democracy and market economy.  President Vladimir Putin assumed the role as the enforcer of law as he re-centralized the Russian political system and famously called for a “dictatorship of law.”  Finally, President Dmitry Medvedev has tried to present himself as the great promoter of the rule of law, attacking corruption and seeking to overcome Russia’s deep-rooted “legal nihilism.”

Throughout its history, the Kennan Institute has followed both past and present legal developments in the region.  In 2008, the Kennan Institute formally established its rule of law program, which, while focusing on the Russian Federation, has also looked at legal developments in Ukraine and other surrounding states.  Several major conferences have been held over the past few years, including on the 15th anniversary of the Russian Constitution, the Jackson-Vanik Amendment’s impact on U.S.-Russia relations, human rights, separation of powers in Russia and Ukraine, judicial independence, and the role of the European Court of Human Rights in the Russian Federation.   These conferences have been generously supported by the Henry M. Jackson Foundation, the International Institute for the Comparative Study of Political Cultures, the Foundation for Constitutional Reforms, and the Woodrow Wilson Center’s federal conference funds.   In addition, published transcripts and webcasts of these events are available on the Kennan Institute website. 

These major conferences have been supplemented by public presentations and individual research on rule of law issues.   In particular, the State Department’s Title VIII program has supported numerous scholars at the Kennan Institute looking at the development of Imperial, Soviet, and post-Soviet legal institutions.   Kennan Institute scholarship also has addressed the emergence of civil society during each of the above periods, focusing on the crucial role that legal reform has played in promoting broader political change throughout the region.    

Since 1999, the Kennan Institute has hosted the Galina Starovoitova fellowship on human rights and conflict resolution.  Past recipients have covered such topics as freedom of information, environmental law, independent media, and freedom of speech.  Finally, the Kennan Institute’s Moscow office holds the annual Starovoitova Readings that address current human rights and legal developments in the Russian Federation. 

William Pomeranz heads up the Kennan Institute’s rule of law program.  His research interests include Russian legal history as well as current Russian commercial and constitutional law.  His articles have been published in the Russian Review, Slavonic and East European Review, Review of Central and East European Law, Demokratizatsiya, and Problems of Post-Communism.