I might be taking this article too much at face value, but it appears that the Russian Supreme Court is directly challenging the attempts to sweep the murder of Russian journalist Anna Politkovskaya under the rug. Politkovskaya’s 2006 murder in her apartment building immediately aroused suspicion because she had been one of the journalists most critical of Vladimir Putin and particularly of human rights abuses in Chechnya. At the time, there was a great deal of chatter that the murder was ordered by the Kremlin, and it was taken as evidence that any notion that Putin was a democrat was wrong. Adding fuel to the fire, one of the people who most convincingly pointed his finger at the Kremlin, former KGB operative Alexander Litvinenko, was killed when a highly unusual poison somehow ended up in his tea at a hotel in London. Incidentally, when he was drinking that tea he was meeting with a man with close ties to Putin.
The point being, everyone thought that this was evidence that Russian authoritarianism was back and Putin was untouchable. However, now we have the Russian Supreme Court not allowing prosecutors to fudge the investigation into Politkovskaya’s murder. Will this necessarily change things? No. But it might, and politics is always probabilistic, not determinative.
This highlights the way checks and balances, and particularly courts, can support democracy and resist authoritarian impulses.
The next question is why the Russian Supreme Court is doing this. One reason might be that we’re missing part of the story and that this actually plays into the hands of the Kremlin (thus the question mark in my heading). However, assuming they actually are upholding the rule of law in the face of what has to be an intimidating threat from the Russian political elites, I’d suggest part of the answer may lie in Anne Marie-Slaughter’s notion of an international community of jurists with their own moral code devoted to the rule of law. We’d have to interview the Russian Supreme Court jurists to find out, but this may well be an example of how sub-state transnational networks are changing the world.