Russian President Dmitry Medvedev has announced that he has requested the right to send troops into other countries in cases of emergency without consulting parliament. The proposed plan is causing regional concern.
Medvedev has his eye on control of foreign deployments
Under existing law, Russia can send troops abroad only to defend its citizens and allies, fight piracy or protect shipping routes. Medvedev cited this law when he sent troops into the ex-Soviet state of Georgia in August 2008 after Tbilisi launched a military assault on the pro-Moscow rebel enclave of South Ossetia. But in the aftermath of the five-day war, the Russian president urged changes in the legislation.
In November, Medvedev successfully amended the law to allow a broadened range of "emergency situations" in which Russian forces could be deployed abroad, but had to agree to a proviso which required him to consult with the upper house of parliament, the Federation Council, who would then make the final decision.
On Wednesday, Medvedev made it clear that he would pursue a complete overhaul of the law which gives the Federation Council the final say on sending troops overseas. The Russian president now wants the decision to be his and his alone.
Confusion over constitutional amendment
Medvedev consulted the Council after the Georgia war
This proposed move has caused concern amongst Kremlin opponents who claim that, as things stand, Medvedev would have to amend the Russian constitution to allow him to have control over foreign deployments.
Article 102 of the Russian Constitution states that the president has to get parliamentary approval each time - before or after - sending troops abroad.
In the case of Georgia, The Federation Council did not meet until after the war was over.
But Stanislav Secrieru, a Caucasus and Russian security expert at the Center for East European and Asian Studies in Bucharest, believes the constitution will stay unchanged but a certain amount of manipulation may be needed.
"Medvedev is asking for a blank check from the Federal Council for future operations," he told Deutsche Welle. "The formulation of the request is quite ambiguous, however. The constitutional law will stay the same but Medvedev wants a free rein to take action whenever he wants. This request will be granted as the Federal Council is full of supporters but we don’t know what form this law will take. Medvedev will try and respect the constitution and law as it is but will try and manipulate the spirit."
Russia cites defense of citizens in Georgia war
Russia says its mission in Georgia defended its citizens
The five-day war, the first use of Russian troops abroad since the invasion of Afghanistan in December 1979, caused widespread criticism in the West as many believed that Russia had overstepped its constitutional law to protect and defend its citizens and allies by pushing beyond South Ossetia and deep into Georgia territory, bombing targets in the capital Tbilisi.
"In 2008, Medvedev sent troops into South Ossetia and Georgia without consulting the Federal Council," Secrieru said. "When there were questions about this after the war, the Federal Council decided that Russia was not deploying new troops but were increasing the level of troops already in South Ossetia. So they used a judicial formula to cover up Medvedev’s actions."
Nicu Popescu, a Russia-Caucasus expert with the European Center for Foreign Relations, also believes that the new plans for military control will help avoid difficult questions of legality in future conflicts.
"This is not that much about giving Medvedev more power, it's more about speeding up the decision-making processes and giving the chief executive a legal buffer," he told Deutsche Welle. "The Georgia action was technically illegal as it went ahead without the Council's permission but this law change would give Medvedev a way out of these kind of situations where legislation could hold back decisions."
Medvedev's power play a warning to regional foes
Could Medvedev launch a new Caucasus military adventure?
A number of Russia's neighbors will be concerned that a new military doctrine where the Russian president has carte blanche on independent military decisions could lead to further interventions in the future. Stanislav Secrieru believes that this is indeed the message Medvedev wants to send out but is more likely to use his new powers as a deterrent rather than a mechanism for conflict.
"This sends signals to people like President Saakashvili of Georgia," he said. "Saakashvili will have to understand that he won't be allowed to act again in South Ossetia or Abkhazia. But the powers that Medvedev will get will not discourage Saakashvili. It's the already deployed troops in South Ossetia and Abkhazia which will discourage Saakashvili. The new law will just tell him that Russia is prepared to act again if he oversteps the mark."
Secrieru also said that the law will be watched with concern in Ukraine, which already expressed unease in November when the defense strategy was amended to allow Russia to defend not only its citizens and allies but protect its military bases. The Russian fleet at Sebastopol in the Crimea has become a flash-point between Russia and Ukraine, and a Russian president with new powers of deployment may not hesitate to protect the Black Sea port if Kiev makes any move against it.
Popescu said that Georgia will continue to be nervous in respect to Russia, South Ossetia and Abkhazia and the new law won't help to ease their concern but it could help to calm the rest of former Soviet states.
"Directly after the war in Georgia, most states blamed Russia but in the last year, most have changed their opinion, saying Georgia provoked Moscow," Popescu said. "The general feeling is that if they don't aggravate Russia, they will be safe. With this new law, Georgia will remain in line, Russia won't need to act and the region can maintain its uneasy stability."
Author: Nick Amies
Editor: Rob Mudge