On March 13, 1992, representatives of eighteen of Russia's twenty ethnic republics initialed a treaty of federation with the Russian federal government. Two republics—Chechnya and Tatarstan—refused to sign. A separate agreement was initialed by representatives of Russia's oblasts and kraya (administrative divisions) that same week, followed several days later by a third agreement with the country's autonomous okruga (territorial divisions) and the Jewish Autonomous Oblast. On March 31, 1992, the three treaties, which would be collectively referred to as the "Federation Treaty," were formally signed into law. After the formal separation of the Chechen and Ingush Republics was ratified by the Sixth Congress of Peoples' Deputies in April 1992, the number of republics under Russian constitutional law rose to twenty-one. While Ingushetia signed the Treaty upon its establishment, Chechnya refused to do so, asserting that it had declared formal independence in November 1991.
The April 1992 Treaty provided for a complicated and vague division of powers between the federal government and Russia's eighty-nine "subjects of the federation." It also required as many as one hundred enabling laws, most of which were never adopted. Symbolically, the most important provision was the Treaty's designation of the ethnic republics, but not the Russian Federation's other constituent units (oblasts, kraya, and autonomous okruga ), as "sovereign," although it was not clear what legal rights, if any, "sovereign" status entailed. Some advocates of the republics argued that it implied a right to refuse to join the federation as well as a right of unilateral secession. Unlike the USSR constitution in effect at the time of the dissolution of the Soviet Union in December 1991, however, Russia's Federation Treaty of 1992 made no reference to a right of secession for the republics. Nor did federal authorities agree that the republics had a right to refuse to join the federation. The Treaty also stipulated that the constitutions of the republics had to conform to the federal constitution.
The intent of the drafters of the April 1992 had been to include the Treaty's provisions in a new constitution for the Russian Federation. However, the text of the Treaty was left out of the Russian Constitution of December 12, 1993, although Article 11.3 stated that the distribution of federal and regional powers is governed by "this Constitution, the Federation Treaty, and other treaties (dogovory ) that delineate objects of jurisdiction and powers." Article 1, Part 2, of the constitution added that "should the provisions of the Federation Treaty…. contravene those of the Constitution of the Federation, the provisions of the Constitution of the Russian Federation shall apply." In effect, the terms of the Federation Treaty were superseded by the federation provisions in the new constitution, which did not identify the republics as sovereign and was unequivocal in denying the subjects of the federation a unilateral right of secession.
While the Treaty had limited legal significance, its signing in early 1992 helped ameliorate some of the tension between the Russian federal government and the republics in the wake of the dissolution of the USSR. It also provided President Boris Yeltsin with an important political victory. But it left many critical issues unresolved, particularly the legal status of Chechnya and Tatarstan. In February 1994, Tatarstan agreed to become a constituent unit of the Russian Federation pursuant to the terms of a bilateral treaty. Chechnya would continue to refuse to join the federation, however, a position that led to war between the Russian federal government and supporters of Chechen independence later that year.
See also: constitution of 1993; federalism; russian soviet federated socialist republic
Ahdieh, Robert B. (1997). Russia's Constitutional Revolution: Legal Consciousness and the Transition to Democracy. University Park: Pennsylvania State University Press.
Lapidus, Gail W., and Walker, Edward W. (1995). "Nationalism, Regionalism, and Federalism: Center-Periphery Relations in Post-Communist Russia." In The New Russia: Troubled Transformation, ed. Gail W. Lapidus. Boulder, CO: Westview Press.
Edward W. Walker