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MODERNIZING RUSSIA PROJECT Part II: Rule of Law: Society's View of Legal Protection in Russia

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Abstract and Figures

Over the last decade, Russia’s position in global rule-of-law rankings has continuously declined as the Kremlin used Russian law to crack down on its political opponents. Recent amendments to the Russian Constitution in 2020 further weakened the independence of the judicial system. Have the legal setbacks in Putin’s Russia undermined the prospects for a rules-based society? CEPA and the Levada Center sought to answer this question through a survey of Russians that was designed to explore how they view the legal situation in their country and what factors they consider to be key obstacles to the development of the rule of law. This report – the second in a series – focuses on Russians’ attitudes towards the rule of law situation in Russia.
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CEPA BRIEF
MODERNIZING
RUSSIA PROJECT
Part II: Rule of Law: Society’s
View of Legal Protection in Russia
Stepan Goncharov
Maria Snegovaya
Denis Volkov
May 2020
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All opinions are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily represent the position or views of the
institutions they represent or the Center for European Policy Analysis.
About CEPA
The Center for European Policy Analysis (CEPA) is a 501(c)(3), non-prot, non-partisan, public policy
research institute. Our mission is to promote an economically vibrant, strategically secure, and
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© 2020 by the Center for European Policy Analysis, Washington, DC. All rights reserved.
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Cover image: By danielvazome via Flickr under CC BY-NC-SA 2.0.
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MODERNIZING RUSSIA PROJECT
Part II
Rule of Law: Society’s View of Legal
Protection in Russia
Denis VolkovDenis Volkov
Stepan GoncharovStepan Goncharov
Maria SnegovayaMaria Snegovaya
May 2020 May 2020
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The IssueThe Issue
Myths abound about Vladimir Putin’s Russia. The country is portrayed
all too often, by cheerleaders and critics alike, as a monolith. CEPA
is proud to present this thought-provoking analysis by our own
Maria Snegovaya and her colleagues Denis Volkov and Stepan Goncharov,
drawing on opinion research carried out by the renowned Levada-Center.
It highlights several important points. One is that the Russian Federation,
despite its dismal standing in international rule-of-law rankings, is not a
judicial black hole. A signicant and increasing number of Russians do feel
protected by the law. That will come as a surprise to those who believe that
all state activity there is characterized by limitless corruption, repression and
incompetence. Though the positive sentiments towards the legal system are
most strongly held by those who do not have direct experience of its workings,
it would be interesting to know in more detail which bits of the civil and
criminal justice structures work best, and least well, and to try to identify the
reasons for this variation.
More broadly, the survey shows that Russia is changing as the Soviet legacy
of fear, and the traumatic memories of the 1990s, recede into history. Old
paternalistic attitudes are still entrenched and dominant. But they are slowly
giving way to more demanding expectations about the duties the state owes
to the individual, and vice versa. Russians increasingly prioritize political
liberty, such as freedom of speech, over social stability.
That does not herald a dierent country tomorrow. But it does suggest a
dierent long-term future, which is of interest not only to Russia but to the
many outsiders whose fates this giant country shapes. Whether the coming
changes are nuanced or dramatic, we at CEPA will be there to identify and
interpret them.
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Cyberwarfare and Critical Infrastructure, 4
ContentsContents
Key Takeaways 1
Introduction 2
Methodology 4
Whom the Law Protects 5
Relative Importance of Social and Civil Rights 7
Protection of Rights 9
Authorities’ Accountability to Society 14
Acknowledgements 17
Endnotes 18
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Society’s View of Legal Protection in Russia, 1
KEY TAKEAWAYS
Although the Russian Federation continuously ranks low in international rule-of-law rankings,
Russians are split on whether they feel protected by the law and whether courts hand down fair
sentences. The number of Russians who feel protected by the law has grown slowly over the
past 14 years. These results may reect a declared social norm (respondents’ tendency to provide
answers that they believe are expected of them). When asked more specic questions about the
state of Russia’s judicial system, the number of positive responses dropped dramatically
Personal experience fuels negative views. Respondents whose rights had been violated were
twice as likely to not feel protected by the law, compared with those whose rights had not been
violated. Those whose rights had not been violated also had more positive opinions of law
enforcement agencies and the political system as a whole.
Despite lingering paternalistic sentiments, Russians now care more about free speech. On
average, respondents were more concerned about violations of their social rights (such as the right
to medical care, social protection, fair wages) than political rights or civil liberties. While violations
of political rights were the least frequently mentioned, the importance of these rights has increased
over the last few years.
Around 60% of respondents disagreed with the claim that “Russian authorities are accountable
to society. The majority also said Russians are too passive to hold authorities accountable. As for
the mutual obligations of the state and society, most respondents said while citizens fulll their part
of this peculiar social contract, the state does not.
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The rule of law is the notion that state authorities
exercise their power within a framework of
established legal norms rather than in an
arbitrary or discretionary manner.* During the
Soviet era, Russia’s legal system operated on
the notion of “legality,i.e., “law abidingness,”
rather than that of the Western concept of the
“rule of law.1 When the ruling party’s directives
clashed with legal norms it was party instincts
and “telephone justice” that usually prevailed.2
It was not until the perestroika period that
then Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev started
promoting the idea of the construction of a
socialist rule-of-law state.
Following the collapse of the USSR in 1991, then
Russian President Boris Yeltsin announced a
goal of building a new rules-based state. He
took several important steps to reconnect the
country with general norms and practices of
the continental civil law tradition. The results
were contradictory.
The far-reaching legal reforms launched under
Yeltsin’s rule founding of constitutional
jurisprudence, the expansion of private law,
increased transparency through the publication
of law, and signing up for the Convention for the
Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental
Freedoms — moved the Russian Federation
closer to Western consensus positions on the
separation of powers and human rights.3
At the same time, Russia’s 1993 constitution,
which enshrined strong institutional authority
and granted the president sweeping powers
to issue decrees, was a cause for concern.
The Constitutional Court of Russia extended
and strengthened these powers in a series
of decisions. In addition, Russia’s legislation
and legal system remained cumbersome,
contradictory and unpredictable, with multiple
loopholes and a lasting imprint of the Soviet
era.
While statutory reform of Russia’s civil, political,
economic and legal institutions took place
at an extraordinary pace, society’s attitudes
and norms of behavior changed more slowly.
Despite the obvious success of judicial reform
in the 1990s, many Russian judges continue to
have a Soviet-era mindset.4
Yeltsin’s legacy of reforms continued in the
early days of Vladimir Putin’s presidency.
Several important legal advances were
introduced. Among other changes, these
reforms streamlined the appellate process,
promoted a more unied vision of Russian
federalism and reestablished the principle of
res judicata (nality of judgments).5 This lasted
until 2004, when the reformist cabinet was
dismissed.
A year earlier, in 2003, Russia’s legal system
had taken a turn for the worse with the arrest of
Mikhail Khodorkovsky, the billionaire chairman
of Yukos Oil Company and a critic of Putin’s,
on charges of fraud. The case became the rst
and most infamous example of the “telephone
law,” a practice by which legal outcomes were
allegedly dictated over the phone by those
with political power rather than through the
application of law.6 In 2013, Khodorkovsky was
freed after spending a decade in prison.
Putin’s public statements reveal a legalistic
view of the law. He has referred to the
supremacy of statutes, as opposed to the
law-based state, as his ultimate objective.
This implies that the organs of state power
INTRODUCTION
* “The Rule of Law,” Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, https://plato.stanford.edu/entries/rule-of-law/.
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and Russian citizens should uphold the letter
of the law but not necessarily its spirit. Law
enforcement practices have increasingly
returned to the Soviet tradition of relying on the
state’s coercive powers and using the courts
to punish the state’s political opponents. For
example, opposition gures — politically active
oligarchs, independent politicians, activists,
journalists and commentators critical of the
government are increasingly prosecuted
by the state. The use of the law has become
arbitrary and expedient rather than predictable
and principled, contradicting the ideals of a
rules-based society.7
Amendments to the Russian Constitution
in 2020 further weakened the judiciary by
allowing the president to initiate the removal of
judges from the Constitutional Court, Supreme
Court and appellate or cassation courts.8
The lack of judicial independence is
compounded by a criminal justice system
that favors the prosecution, contradicting the
principle of equality of arms.9 The number
of acquittals in criminal cases has steadily
declined in post-Soviet Russia; in 2018, it was
at a historic low of 0.235%.10
While Russian courts can be highly politicized,
the interference of the state in their work is
selective and arbitrary. The everyday legal
system has preserved a certain degree of
independence to deal with a spectrum of
cases that are not perceived to be a challenge
to the state or the powerful actors within. This
phenomenon is known as the duality of law in
Russia.11
Russians tend to seek help from the courts
when they get into disputes with those who
Figure 1. Russia’s Judicial Framework and Independence Score. Freedom House’s Judicial Framework
and Independence score assesses constitutional and human rights protections, judicial independence,
the status of ethnic minority rights, guarantees of equality under the law, treatment of suspects and
prisoners and compliance with judicial decisions. Countries are rated on a scale of one to seven, with
one representing the lowest and seven the highest level of progress. Source: Freedom House Nations
in Transit data 2005-20 at https://freedomhouse.org/sites/default/les/2020-04/All_Data_Nations_in_
Transit_NIT_2005-2020_for_website.xlsx.
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are similarly situated, but shy away from the
courts when they tangle with anyone more
powerful.12 In addition, where the legal system
is not politicized, it tends to be corrupt.13 The
dual legal system that has evolved in Russia is
a far cry from the rule-of-law-based state that
the original reformers had envisioned.
Despite this dynamic, the Yeltsin-era legal
reforms continue to inuence how Russians
understand and use everyday law. For example,
according to a 2017 Levada-Center survey,
47% of respondents said citizens should be
allowed to ght for their rights even if their
rights are against the interests of the state,
and 13% thought that an individual’s rights
are always more important than those of the
state. Only 10% were willing to put the state’s
interests above their own rights.14 Fundamental
changes in attitudes and behavior on the part
of both the state and society will be required
to build the rule of law in Russia. In particular,
Russians will have to shake o their traditional
passivity vis-à-vis the state.15
Have the legal setbacks in Putin’s Russia
undermined the prospects for a rules-based
society? Few in-depth empirical surveys have
attempted to answer this question. CEPA and
the Levada-Center sought to do so through
a survey of Russians that was designed to
explore how they view the legal situation in
their country and what factors they consider
to be key obstacles to the development of the
rule of law.
In 2019, CEPA and the Levada-Center
developed a joint public opinion survey to
gauge the state of civil society in Russia. Three
questions were designed together, and then
elded in Russia. Topics included attitudes of
the Russian population toward entrepreneurs,
the rule of law and civic activism among
Russian youth. This study is based on the
results of a nationwide representative survey
of the country’s adult population in November
2019. One thousand six hundred and ten
METHODOLOGY
Figure 2. Condence in the Law in Russia. Source: Levada-Center and CEPA.
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people were interviewed. The margin of error
does not exceed 3.4 percentage points. Many
questions are a continuation of regular studies
by the Levada-Center.
This analysis is complemented by results from
earlier Levada-Center and VTsIOM surveys.
Over 13 years of polling by the Levada-Center,
from 2006 to 2019, the number of Russians who
feel protected by the law has almost doubled
from 25% to 46% (Figure 2). This growth is
particularly pronounced in comparison with
the early 2000s. In recent years, however,
this positive dynamic has slowed down. In
2018, the number of Russians who did not feel
protected by law grew.
Attitudes toward law enforcement agencies
follow a similar trajectory. They had been
improving between 2010 and 2017, but declined
slightly in 2018 and 2019. This decline probably
reects the impact of the 2018 pension reform,
an unpopular increase of the retirement age
in Russia. After it was announced, approval
of authorities and the overall public mood
plummeted. A harsh crackdown by authorities
on protests across the country in the summer
and fall of 2019 may have further eroded
condence in Russia’s law enforcement
agencies. This crackdown was one of the most
noticed events in August-September 2019, and
even some Kremlin supporters condemned
the brutality of the Moscow police.
In recent years, Russia’s position in global rule-
of-law rankings has stagnated or declined. For
example, Russia fell four places from 2019 to
rank 94th out of 128 countries on the World
Justice Project Rule of Law Index 2020.16 In
Freedom House’s rankings, Russia received
between zero and one on indicators of rule
of law (on a scale from zero to four).17 Why
Figure 3. Condence in Law Enforcement Agencies in Russia (1994-2019). Source: Data for 1994-2003 is
from VTsIOM and after 2003 from the Levada-Center. The condence index is calculated as follows: We
subtracted the answers “totally untrustworthy” from the sum of the answers “not completely trustworthy”
and “completely trustworthy” and added 100. Thus, an index above 100 reects the prevalence of positive
answers and vice versa. See Public Opinion — 2019, p. 84,mhttps://www.levada.ru/sbornik-obshhestvennoe-
mnenie/obshhestvennoe-mnenie-2019/.
WHOM THE LAW
PROTECTS
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then does the number of Russians who feel
protected by the law keep rising?
One possible answer is the duality of law
in Russia. Many Russians’ legal cases are
not perceived to be a challenge to the state
or the powerful actors within and are dealt
with relatively fairly. As a result, many of our
respondents may not have come across
instances in which the system is manipulated
by those in power.18
Another possible answer is that the formulation
of the survey question “Do you personally
feel protected by law?” is too abstract.
When the wording of the question was
more specic, respondents provided more
skeptical assessments, for example, when
asked about the authorities’ accountability
to society (see below). In a dierent survey
by the Levada-Center in January-February
of 2019, respondents were asked a more
specic question: “Do you believe that you
or your close ones could suer from arbitrary
law enforcement?” An absolute majority of
respondents answered that “it could very well
happen” (51%) and “this had already happened
to me or my close ones” (15%). Only 23% said it
was “unlikely” and 8% said it was “impossible.19
The answer to the question “Do you personally
feel protected by law?” is in many ways a
declared social norm. Respondents may
provide answers that they believe are expected
of them. The more specic the question,
the closer it is to respondents’ day-to-day
experience, the weaker is the declared social
norm. While the overall response distribution
across dierent social groups is relatively even,
the youngest (under 25 years old), older age
groups (65+ years) and wealthy respondents
felt most protected by the law. On the contrary,
respondents with more negative experiences
low-income and pre-retirement age groups
(whose fears have been aggravated by the
2018 pension reform) — felt least protected.
However, the sharpest dierences are among
those Russians who personally experienced
rights violations over the past few years and
Figure 4. Comparison Between Those Who Have and Those Who Have Not Experienced Rights
Violations. Source: Levada-Center and CEPA.
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those who did not. Those who have experienced
rights violations (about 40% of respondents)
were twice as likely to not feel protected by
the law as compared with those who had
not. In the next sections of this report we will
demonstrate that attempts to defend one’s
own rights and contacting law enforcement
institutions (apparently, often unsuccessfully)
also commonly leads to frustration and the
feeling of being less protected by the law.
We asked those respondents who did not feel
protected by the law an additional question
about why they felt this way. Most answers fell
into one of the following three groups:
“Laws do not function”: Everyone is not
equal under the law; laws protect only
those in power, only the rich.
“Corruption is everywhere”: Everything is
bought by money, bribes, blat; power is in
the hands of thieves.
“I do not trust anyone”: No trust in the
rule of law, the courts, the police, law
enforcement agencies or the government.
Only a few respondents referenced personal
experiences in their answers. Many were
convinced that the state or authorities will not
or will not want to protect citizens’ rights, but
will manipulate laws in their favor or in favor
of people with money. Respondents frequently
cited the famous Russian proverb: “A law is like
a pole: as it is turned, so is the result.” Meaning
any law can be turned around to achieve the
opposite result.
More than half of the survey’s respondents said
they had not experienced violations of their
rights over the past ve years. About 40% said
they had had such an experience. People who
did not personally experience rights violation
reported much more positive assessments of
current events, the political system as a whole
and Putin’s actions. One could say that these
people look at Russia’s realities through rose-
colored glasses. Only when respondents had
personally faced injustice did they provide a
more pessimistic assessment of the rule of law.
The fact that most Russians whose rights
have been violated do not feel protected by
the law suggests that their rights have not
been properly protected and restored. On
average, they were less certain that they could
defend their rights in the courts or that people
in Russia are equal under the law. Approval
of Putin’s actions and Russian institutions is
one-third lower in this group as compared
with respondents whose rights had not
been violated. It appears then that personal
experiences of a violation of rights and the
inability to protect them ultimately undermines
respondents’ trust in the political system as a
whole.
Most of those who had experienced rights
violations primarily referred to violations of their
social rights: to medical care (17%), to social
protection and decent living standards (13%)
and to work, good conditions and fair wages
(13%). Low-income and older people were more
likely to mention violations of these rights than
other respondents. Moreover, respondents
of pre-retirement age looked particularly
vulnerable yet again; they mentioned violation
of their right to work twice as often as other
respondents.
As to their sociopolitical rights, respondents
most frequently mentioned violations of their
right to free speech (8%), right to receive
information (7%), right to freedom of peaceful
assembly as well as their rights to freedom from
RELATIVE IMPORTANCE
OF SOCIAL AND CIVIL
RIGHTS
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arbitrariness (arbitrary arrest) and violence (3%
each). Younger people (respondents under
35 years old) and those with higher education
mentioned these rights more often. Only 7% of
Russians said they had experienced violations
of their right to a fair trial.
That respondents most frequently reported
violations of their social rights reects the
paternalistic orientation of Russian society:
respondents primarily expect the state to
deliver social goods rather than protect their
civil liberties. Such beliefs are common in
societies with communist legacies, for example,
in many Eastern European countries.20 For the
same reason, these paternalistic orientations
are unevenly distributed across age groups
and are more pronounced among older
respondents (who are more inuenced by the
communist legacy). In contrast, the number of
people who are concerned about violations
of their civil (sociopolitical) rights is quite low.
(None of the civil rights mentioned received
above 8%.)
We also asked our respondents how
important, in their opinion, these rights were
for democracy. Yet again, a discrepancy
emerged between a socially declared norm
and respondents’ personal experiences,
similar to the one we found in answers to the
question “Do you personally feel protected by
law?” (Figures 2 and 4). When the wording of
the question is abstract, the answers reect
a socially approved norm. So, in an abstract
question about democracy, respondents
frequently cited civil rights, including equality
under the law (81%), as being important for
democracy (Figure 6). However, these answers
tend to reect a social expectation rather than
a true value of these rights for respondents. In
fact, as the answers to the question “Violations
of which of the following rights have you
personally experienced in the past ve years?”
Figure 5. Greater Violations of Social Rather than Civil Rights. Source: Levada-Center and CEPA.
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demonstrate (Figure 5), respondents tended
to prioritize social rights over abstract civil
liberties.
While Russians have historically valued
civil liberties less than social rights, another
Levada-Center survey conducted in October
2019 found that the importance of civil
liberties has grown sharply in Russia since
December 2017. For example, in answers to
the question, “Which rights and freedoms, in
your opinion, are the most important?” the
share of respondents who said freedom of
speech grew from 34% to 58%, the share of
those who said peaceful assembly grew from
13% to 28% and the share of those who said
access to information grew from 25% to 39%.
As of October 2019, the three most important
rights in the eyes of the respondents were
“life, freedom, personal integrity” (an increase
from 72% to 78% since December 2017),
“medical care” (stayed at the same level,
70%) and “fair trial” (grew from 50% to 64%).21
These ndings are consistent with earlier
studies that demonstrated that throughout the
Putin era support for civil liberties has grown
steadily and consistently among the Russian
population, particularly among less-educated
and younger Russians who do not reside in
Moscow or St. Petersburg.22
About one-third of the respondents surveyed
said they had contacted state bodies and
public services in the past in an attempt to
defend their rights. Most frequently, they
reached out to the police and the courts (15%
and 12% of respondents, respectively). Almost
no one contacted human rights organizations,
the High Commissioner for Human Rights or
the media (Figure 8).
Importantly, about two-thirds of the
respondents did not contact any institutions
to protect their rights. Most of them simply
Figure 6. Growing Support for Civil Liberties. Source: Levada-Center and CEPA. Separate questions
were asked for each category.
PROTECTION OF RIGHTS
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did not need to (recall that more than half of
the respondents told us that their rights have
never been violated, Figure 5). According to
our data, at least half of those respondents
who had experienced rights violation (47%) did
not contact any institution for protection. Earlier
studies by the Levada-Center have shown
that many such people believe it is useless to
contact any institutions as “one cannot get any
help there anyway.24
Russians consider appealing to the court
(32%) and help from relatives (26%) to be
the most eective ways to defend own
rights (Figure 9). In addition, about 14-16% of
respondents considered it eective to contact
lawyers and attorneys, send complaints
to law enforcement agencies and appeal
to the president. Respondents considered
contacting media and social networks (12%
and 13%, respectively), and human rights
Figure 7. Trends in Levels of Support for Dierent Rights Among Russians 20-59 Years Old from 2001 to
2012. Source: (Gerber 2017).23 The graph depicts the percentage of those respondents who chose the
option “Important” for a specic human right.
Figure 8. Defending One’s Rights: “Have you ever contacted the following organizations or the following
individuals to defend your rights?” Source: Levada-Center and CEPA.
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organizations and paying bribes (10% each) to
be less eective ways of defending their rights.
Hardly anyone mentioned voting in elections,
contacting labor unions or attending rallies or
protests. According to earlier studies, rallies
and strikes are considered a rather extreme
way of drawing the attention of the authorities
and should only be used when other “less
extreme” means have been exhausted.25
Compared with earlier polls,26 the number of
Russians who considered contacting Russia’s
president directly an eective way to defend
their rights has nearly halved (from 25% to 14%)
even if the overall ranking of eective ways of
protecting one’s rights has remained the same.
This might reect the overall decline in support
for Putin, which is visible in other polls as well.27
This decline was particularly pronounced
in mid-2018 after the announcement of a
highly unpopular pension reform, which most
Russians considered unfair and led to angry
protests.
Prior to this announcement, Russians described
contacting the president as one of the most
eective ways to solve problems. Even public
activists used to describe reaching out to Putin
as an eective way to get problems resolved.28
The Kremlin has exploited this belief. On the
annual live television show, “Direct Lines with
Vladimir Putin,” for example, the president
listens to citizens’ problems and orders ocials
to resolve them.29 As Putin’s popularity has
declined, contacting him has become a less
popular option.
Personal experiences shape perceptions of the
eectiveness of dierent ways to protect rights.
Those Russians who have tried to reach out to
at least one institution and are more proactive,
more frequently mention all available ways
to assert their rights as eective, including
drawing attention to the problem through the
media and social networks. For example, those
who contacted the police mention it as an
eective way to protect rights twice as often as
Figure 9. Options to Protect One’s Rights. “Which of the following ways to protect your rights do
you consider to be the most eective?” Source: Levada-Center and CEPA.
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those who did not contact anyone (24% versus
13%). Those who went to the courts mention
its eectiveness almost twice as often as those
who did not go anywhere (54% versus 30%).
Yet, almost half of those who tried to solve their
problems through the courts did not consider
this method to be eective.
Importantly, experience contacting various
institutions to defend their rights did not
change respondents’ opinions about how
well they are protected by the law. The
experience of rights violations seems to create
a long-lasting trauma. Subsequent attempts to
defend their rights in courts, through the police
or in any other way, do not restore a sense
of security that our respondents had before
they faced injustice. This is, at least partly, an
indication that Russia’s justice system is not
eective in assuring respondents that they will
be protected by the law.
Overall, positive assessments of the legal
system dominate slightly (Figure 12). For
example, 56% of the respondents agreed that
Russian citizens can, if necessary, defend their
rights in court; 61% believed that all citizens are
equal under the law. However, more than one-
third of the respondents disagreed with both
statements (39% and 38%, respectively). The
answers are fairly equally distributed across
dierent sociodemographic groups. Citizens
Figure 10. Perceived Eectiveness of Ways to Protect One’s Rights. Source: Levada-Center and
CEPA.
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who are most socially active, including those
with higher education, who live in Moscow or
other large cities, who run their own business
or hold managerial positions are slightly more
skeptical.
Dierences in opinions are most pronounced
among those who had experienced rights
violations in comparison with those who had
not. The former are much more pessimistic in
their assessments of Russia’s justice system
than the latter. Of those whose rights had been
violated, 53% thought they could defend their
rights in the courts, as compared with 68%
for those whose rights had not been violated.
Similarly, only 46% of those whose rights had
been violated believed that all Russian citizens
are equal under the law, as compared with 56%
of those whose rights had not been violated.
Figure 11. Perceived Security Depending on the Institution Contacted. We excluded respondents who
contacted the prosecutor’s oce because of the small number of observations (90 respondents total).
However, the dynamics of their answers are consistent with the analysis. Source: Levada-Center and CEPA.
Figure 12. Perceptions of Equality. Source: Levada-Center and CEPA.
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Society’s View of Legal Protection in Russia, 14
Respondents disagreed about the fairness of
sentences handed down by Russian courts
(Figure 13). A quarter of the respondents
could not answer the question “In your
opinion, do courts in Russia usually give fair
or unfair sentences?” The rest were divided
approximately in half: 38% said that the courts
usually hand down fair sentences, while
39% said they do not. However, yet again,
those who experienced rights violations had
a more negative opinion: only 32% of such
respondents thought that courts’ sentences
are usually fair as opposed to 49% who
thought they are unfair; and only 34% of such
respondents thought that all citizens are equal
under the law as opposed to 49% who did not.
In line with our earlier ndings, these numbers
also indicate that the majority of Russians who
went to the courts were not satised with the
outcome.
In contrast, positive assessments prevailed
among those whose rights had not been
violated. These respondents were more likely
to believe that the courts in Russia usually
hand down fair sentences than those who
experienced rights violations and the Russian
population on average (44% as opposed to
30%).
Thus, a trend was consistent throughout the
survey. Respondents who had not experienced
a violation of their rights or interacted with
Russia’s law enforcement agencies held more
positive views of Russian law and the courts.
In contrast, respondents who had experienced
a violation of their rights had radically more
negative opinions of how Russia’s laws and
justice system operate.
Russians are mistrustful of the authorities
and do not feel protected by the law from
bureaucratic arbitrariness. While 60% of
respondents said Russia’s authorities are not
accountable to society, only 32% said they are
(Figure 14). Dierent sociodemographic groups
gave identical responses to this question.
Figure 13. Split Verdict on Fairness of Court Sentences. Source: Levada-Center and CEPA.
AUTHORITIES’
ACCOUNTABILITY TO
SOCIETY
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Society’s View of Legal Protection in Russia, 15
Only younger (below 25 years old), well-o,
supporters of Putin and those who had not
experienced rights violation had a slightly
more positive assessment. Even among
these groups, however, pessimists (those
who think authorities are not accountable to
society) prevail and constitute about 50% of all
responses, as opposed to optimists about
one-third of all responses. Yet again, people
who experienced rights violations were most
pessimistic. Around 69% of them did not deem
Russian authorities accountable to society.
Such views are remarkably stable and have
remained almost unchanged since 2015
when the Levada-Center rst asked this
question. At the time, Russian society was
experiencing a surge of nationalism that
followed Russia’s annexation of the Crimean
Peninsula from Ukraine in March of 2014. The
public’s assessments of Putin and of all state
institutions, in particular the army and security
services, peaked. And yet, despite this euphoric
vision of state institutions, respondents
were skeptical about the accountability of
Russian authorities to society.30 This feeling
of personal vulnerability to the arbitrariness of
the authorities persists.
Similarly, respondents gave almost identical
responses as to why Russian authorities are
unaccountable to society (Figure 15). Most
Figure 14. Accountability of Russian Authorities to Society. Source: Levada-Center and CEPA.
Figure 15. Reasons for a Lack of Accountability. Source: Levada-Center and CEPA.
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Society’s View of Legal Protection in Russia, 16
respondents chose the response that ocials
do not allow citizens to make important
decisions (about 40% of those who consider
authorities unaccountable). The second-
most popular answer was that people are
too passive to hold authorities accountable
(about 20% of those who consider authorities
unaccountable). The only dierence since
2015 was that the number of people who
answered “the authorities pursue a policy to
limit the rights and freedoms of citizens” has
grown from 10% to 15% (29% of Muscovites
chose this option).
Similarly, a majority of Russians believe that the
Russian state does not fulll its responsibilities
to its citizens: 42% of respondents shared this
view, as opposed to 24% who held an opposite
Figure 16. State’s Responsibilities to its Citizens. Source: Levada-Center and CEPA.
Figure 17. Citizens’ Responsibilities to the State. Source: Levada-Center and CEPA.
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Society’s View of Legal Protection in Russia, 17
opinion (Figure 16). Given our earlier ndings,
respondents primarily referred to the state’s
ability to fulll its social obligations (as most
Russian citizens understand them). Such views
are also stable. In the early 2000s, a majority
of people believed that the state did not fulll
its responsibilities to its citizens (57% in 2001).
This number has subsequently declined. Only
once — at the peak of the post-Crimea euphoria
did the number of positive answers to this
question temporarily exceed the number of
negative ones. However, opinions quickly
returned to previous levels. In 2018, after the
retirement age increase was announced, the
share of negative answers rose to 44%.
Finally, when it comes to their own obligations to
the state, the majority of respondents believed
that Russians primarily fulll their obligations
to the state, comply with laws and pay taxes.
About half (49%) of the respondents thought
so, only 17% held the opposite opinion and the
rest could not give a denite answer. As with
answers to the previous question, in the early
2000s, the fewest number of people thought
so, while the share of positive responses to this
question peaked (60%) during the post-Crimea
euphoria in 2014. There has since been a slow
increase in negative responses.
In other words, regarding the mutual obligations
of the state and society, the prevailing opinion
is that while Russian citizens fulll their part of
this peculiar social contract, the Russian state
does not.
This publication has beneted greatly from
comments by Ksenia Agapeeva, Noah Buyon,
Lev Gudkov, Pavel Ivlev, Donald Jensen,
Ekaterina Mishina, William E. Pomeranz, Maria
Popova, Kirill Rogov and Brian Whitmore.
ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS
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Society’s View of Legal Protection in Russia, 18
Endnotes
1 William E. Pomeranz, Law and the Russian State: Russia’s Legal Evolution from Peter
the Great to Vladimir Putin, (Bloomsbury Academic, 2018).
2 Donald D. Barry, Toward the Rule of Law in Russia: Political and Legal Reform in the
Transition Period, (Routledge, 2019).
3 Pomeranz, Law and the Russian State.
4 Eкатерина Мишина, “Советский суд – любимое дитя советской власти,” in
Длинные тени советского прошлого, (Москва: Фонд. Либеральная Миссия, 2014).
[Ekaterina Mishina, “The Soviet Court — The Soviet Authorities’ Favorite Child,” in Long
Shadows of the Soviet Past, (Moscow: Liberal Mission Foundation, 2014).]
5 Pomeranz, Law and the Russian State.
6 Kathryn Hendley, “‘Telephone Law’ and the ‘Rule of Law:’ The Russian Case,Hague
Journal on the Rule of Law, 2019, Vol. 1, Issue 2: 241-264, https://www.cambridge.org/
core/journals/hague-journal-on-the-rule-of-law/article/telephone-law-and-the-rule-of-law-
the-russian-case/FDEA0431A632C4135FFF678B339071D5.
7 Maria Popova, “Putin-Style ‘Rule of Law’ & the Prospects for Change,Daedalus,
(Spring 2017): 146(2), 64-75, https://www.amacad.org/publication/putin-style-rule-law-pros-
pects-change.
8 William E. Pomeranz, “The Putin Constitution,The Russia File, Kennan Institute, March
30, 2020, https://www.wilsoncenter.org/blog-post/putin-constitution.
9 Kommersant, “As Long As the Judicial System of the Russian Federation Does Not
Become More Independent, Doubts About Its Eectiveness Remain,” Commissioner for
Human Rights, Council of Europe, February 25, 2016, https://Iww.coe.int/en/web/commis-
sioner/-/as-long-as-the-judicial-system-of-the-russian-federation-does-not-become-more-
independent-doubts-about-its-eectiveness-remain.
10 Александр Соколов, Госкорпорация, Правосудие, “Часть первая. Исследование
о том, можно ли доказать невиновность в российском суде,” Проект, мая 15, 2019,
https://www.proekt.media/research/opravdatelny-prigovor/. [Aleksandr Sokolov, Gosko-
poratsiya, Justice, “Part One. Research into the Possibility of Proving Innocence in a Rus-
sian Court,” Projekt, May 15, 2019.]
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Society’s View of Legal Protection in Russia, 19
11 Kathryn Hendley, Everyday Law in Russia, (Ithaca and London: Cornell University
Press, 2017), 5-15.
12 Kathryn Hendley, “Rule of Law, Russian-Style,Current History, October 2009, pp.
339-340, https://media.law.wisc.edu/m/zgyzz/russian_style_rol.pdf.
13 William Pomeranz and Matthew Rojansky, “Putin’s Judicial Vertical: Russian Rule of
Law Takes a Step Backward,” World Politics Review, January 14, 2014, https://www.world-
politicsreview.com/articles/13489/putins-judicial-vertical-russian-rule-of-law-takes-a-step-
backward.
14 Ведомости, “Почти половина россиян ставят свои права выше интересов
государства — Левада,” апреля 3, 2017, https://www.vedomosti.ru/politics/
news/2017/04/03/683803-prava-vishe-interesov-gosudarstva-esli-protivorechit-gosu-
darstva. [Vedomosti, “Almost Half of Russians Put Their Rights Above State Interests —
Levada,” April 3, 2017.]
15 Hendley, “Rule of Law, Russian Style.
16 World Justice Project, The World Justice Project Rule of Law Index 2020. 2020,
https://worldjusticeproject.org/sites/default/les/documents/WJP-ROLI-2020-Online_0.
pdf.
17 Freedom House, Freedom in the World 2020: Russia, 2020, https://freedomhouse.
org/country/russia/freedom-world/2020.
18 Hendley, Everyday Law in Russia.
19 When 66% (51% + 15%) of respondents say that they could or already have suered
from arbitrary law enforcement while 46% of respondents say they feel protected by
the law, this could indicate that double-mindedness is a social norm, a basic scheme of
social behavior when you declare one thing (as a socially approved response), but allow
for something completely opposite. Л.Д. Гудков, Н.А. Зоркая, а также Е.В. Кочергина,
Пытки в России: распространенность явления и отношение общества к проблеме,
Аналитический отчет по результатам исследования, Левада-Центр, Москва, июнь
2019, https://www.pytkam.net/sites/default/les/analiticheskiy_otchet_nal.pdf#page=15.
[L.D. Gudkov, N.A. Zorkaya and E.V. Kochergina, Torture in Russia: Prevalence of the Phe-
nomenon and Public Attitudes to the Problem, Levada-Center, Moscow, June 2019.]
20 Grigoire Pop-Eleches and Joshua A. Tucker, “Communist Socialization and Post-Com-
munist Economic and Political Attitudes,Electoral Studies (2014): 33, pp. 77-89.
21 Левада-Центр, “Права человека,” Опрос, октября 24-30, 2019, https://www.levada.
ru/2019/11/20/prava-cheloveka/. [Levada-Center, “Human Rights,” poll, October 24-30,
2019.]
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Society’s View of Legal Protection in Russia, 20
22 Theodore P. Gerber, “Public Opinion on Human Rights in Putin-Era Russia: Continu-
ities, Changes, and Sources of Variation.” Journal of Human Rights, 16(3) (2017): 314-331,
doi:10.1080/14754835.2016.1258550.
23 Gerber, “Public Opinion on Human Rights in Putin-Era Russia.”
24 Денис Волков а также Степан Гончаров, Потенциал гражданского участия в
решении социальных проблем, Сводный аналитический отчет, Левада-Центр, с. 13,
2014, https://www.levada.ru/old/sites/default/les/potencial_grazhdanskogo_uchasti-
ya_0.pdf. [Denis Volkov and Stepan Goncharov, Potential of Civic Participation in Solving
Social Problems, consolidated analytical report, Levada-Center, p. 13, 2014.]
25 See, for example, “30-летие забастовки шахтеров,” Опрос, Левада-Центр, июня
27-июля 4, 2019, https://www.levada.ru/2019/07/16/30-letie-zabastovki-shahterov/.
[“30th Anniversary of the Miners’ Strike,” poll, Levada-Center, June 27-July 4, 2019.]
26 See, for example, Andrei Kolesnikov and Denis Volkov, “Pragmatic Paternalism: The
Russian Public and the Private Sector.” Carnegie Moscow Center, January 1, 2019, https://
carnegie.ru/commentary/78155.
27 See, for example, “Одобрение институтов власти,” Опрос, Левада-Центр, марта
19-25, 2020, https://www.levada.ru/2020/03/25/odobrenie-institutov-vlasti-23/. [“Approv-
al of Government Institutions,” poll, Levada-Center, March 19-25, 2020.]
28 Andrei Kolesnikov and Denis Volkov, “Defending One’s Backyard: Local Civic Activ-
ism in Moscow,Carnegie Moscow Center, May 2, 2017, https://carnegie.ru/2017/05/02/
defending-one-s-backyard-local-civic-activism-in-moscow-pub-69822.
29 Петров Николай, “Эволюция популизма в российской политике,” Вестник
общественного мнения, Данные. Анализ. Дискуссии, 2017, No. 3-4 (125), https://cy-
berleninka.ru/article/n/evolyutsiya-populizma-v-rossiyskoy-politike. [Nikolay Petrov, “The
Evolution of Populism in Russian Politics,Bulletin of Public Opinion, Data. Analysis. Dis-
cussions, 2017, No. 3-4 (125).]
30 In July 2015, a similar question was asked with a slightly dierent wording: “In your
opinion, is the Russian government accountable to society?” Respondents gave the
following responses: accountable (22%), unaccountable (60%), while 18% found it di-
cult to answer. See Денис Волков а также Степан Гончаров, Демократия в России:
установки населения, Сводный аналитический отчет, Левада-Центр, 2015, с.10.
https://www.levada.ru/old/sites/default/les/report_n.pdf. [Denis Volkov and Stepan
Goncharov, Democracy in Russia: Public Attitudes, consolidated analytical report, Leva-
da-Center, 2015, p. 10.]
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  • Ekaterina Mishina
Ekaterina Mishina, "The Soviet Court -The Soviet Authorities' Favorite Child," in Long Shadows of the Soviet Past, (Moscow: Liberal Mission Foundation, 2014).]