Russian History


The Parliament

During the first two years of Russia's independence, the Russian parliament's foreign policy powers were a matter of contention with the executive branch. This discord was part of a broader legislative-executive branch standoff that culminated in Yeltsin's forced takeover of the legislative building--the so-called White House--in early October 1993 and his rule by decree until December. In 1992-93 the parliament still derived its power from the 1978 constitution of the Russian Republic and numerous amendments to that document. Its foreign policy prerogatives included the right to ratify or abrogate international treaties, to confirm or recall diplomats serving abroad, to approve or reject the deployment of armed forces to areas of conflict abroad, and to approve the general direction of foreign policy.

In this period, the parliament increasingly attempted to widen its foreign policy prerogatives in opposition to official policies. These efforts included attempts to influence Russia's votes in the UN Security Council on economic and military sanctions against the former Yugoslavia, an open letter decrying Yeltsin's planned September 1992 visit to Japan, a July 1993 resolution declaring the Crimean city of Sevastopol' a Russian port although it is located in Ukrainian territory, and denunciation of United States aerial bombing of Iraq in 1993. Kozyrev tried to work with the International Affairs Committee of the Supreme Soviet and its successor, the State Duma, on several of those issues, but legislative criticism became increasingly strident in the period before Yeltsin forcibly dissolved the parliament in September 1993.

The 1993 constitution substantially reduced the parliament's foreign policy powers. The State Duma retained broad responsibility for adopting laws on foreign policy, but the constitution stipulated no specific foreign policy duties for the legislative branch. The constitution gave the Federation Council, the upper house of parliament, the responsibility for deciding on the use of troops abroad and reviewing State Duma ratification and denunciation of international treaties and Duma decisions on war and peace. In January 1994, the newly elected parliament established committees dealing with foreign policy issues, including a Committee on Geopolitics with a member of hard-liner Vladimir Zhirinovskiy's Liberal-Democratic Party of Russia as chairman. Vladimir Lukin returned from his post as ambassador to the United States to head the Duma's International Affairs Committee, which worked in 1994 with Kozyrev and Yeltsin to forge a more conservative consensus on foreign policy issues.

After remaining relatively quiescent on foreign policy matters in 1994, the parliament stepped up its criticism of Government policy in 1995. Four State Duma committees investigated Ministry of Foreign Affairs policies toward the near abroad, Asia, and the West, timing their queries to enhance electoral prospects for anti-Yeltsin deputies in the December legislative elections. In September 1995, the State Duma called for Russia to unilaterally lift UN-approved economic sanctions against Serbia; then it demanded that Yeltsin condemn NATO air strikes against Bosnian Serb targets and convened a special session to debate Russian policy toward the former Yugoslavia. In that session, ultranationalist and communist deputies called for Kozyrev's resignation and for a wholesale redirection of foreign policy.

After the legislative elections of 1995, more deputies called for the parliament to take a more active role in foreign policy oversight. The reformist Yabloko coalition managed to gain the chairmanship of the International Affairs Committee in the State Duma, somewhat mitigating the anti-Government and anti-Western tone of legislative proceedings. However, many of the State Duma's nonbinding resolutions complicated foreign policy by arousing protests from foreign governments. In March 1996, the State Duma passed nonbinding resolutions abrogating the dissolution of the Soviet Union, which brought condemnation from most CIS member states as a threat to their sovereignty and independence. In 1996 the Duma also passed a resolution calling for elimination of international economic sanctions against Libya.