Separation of Powers in Russia and Ukraine: A Comparative Perspective

Dec. 30, 2011, 7:31 p.m.

The Wilson Center published an occasional paper from an event on the separation of powers in Russia and Ukraine from a comparative perspective. The event began with experts discussing the separation of powers in Brazil, the US, and Germany. The discussion then described how during the past two decades Russia has largely turned away from its Western influenced ideas of checks on power. In Ukraine, the focus has been as much on putting checks on rival parties as checks on different branches of the government. The document is available here.

This conference addressed how different countries understand the separation of powers, and how this concept has been implemented in Russia and Ukraine since 1991. The first panel looked at the principle of separation powers in comparative perspective, focusing on the U.S., German, and Brazilian examples. Louis Fisher discussed how the principle of separation of powers contrasts with the notion of checks and balances within the American political system. As a result of these competing ideas, Fisher argued, the U.S. notion of separation of powers is extremely difficult to export. Fernando Limongi described the historical evolution of  increased legislative powers assigned to the executive branch in Brazil, and the consequent trade-offs between government efficiency and representation. Finally, Jeffrey Anderson  looked at the institutions of German federalism, and how center-regional institutions in Germany impact the broader understanding of separation of powers.

The second panel focused on Russia’s and Ukraine’s attempt to introduce this concept over the past 16 years. Oleg Rumyantsev commented that during the 1990s, Russia turned to Western notions of separation of powers in drafting its 1993 Constitution, whereas today, the country arguably looks more to the Kazakhstan experience as a model to emulate. Rumyantsev further outlined how the Russian parliament has steadily surrendered its power to the executive branch over the last 15 years. Oleksandr Zadorazhnii noted that for present day Ukraine, the question of separation of powers can be reduced to the challenge of containing the executive, especially since the executive and legislative branches are currently controlled by the same political party. Finally, Maria Popova addressed whether a formal separation of powers on paper translates into real decisional independence for Russian and Ukrainian judges. On paper, both countries have adopted extensive judicial reforms, including life tenure for judges and judicial control over the drafting and administration of its budget, but as Popova described, informal practices and administrative realities have reduced the meaningfulness of these institutional reforms.

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