In recent years, leading members of Russia’s Constitutional Court have adapted the concept of constitutional identity to the Russian legal context, to explain and legitimize the country’s authoritarian turn under President Vladimir Putin. This development reflects a broader trend in international politics, where populist and anti-democratic leaders seek to identify “national characteristics” that can be translated into law and legal practices on the domestic as well as international level, in order to deny or restrict certain basic principles such as the rule of law and/or human rights. In Russia, several officials and policy makers, among them Chief Justice of the Constitutional Court Valery Zorkin (2018), have contributed to this discussion. We argue that a constitutional identity discourse has been used by Russian courts to explain the specific relationship between the Russian state and international law on the one hand, and on the other the relationship between the Russian state and its subjects. We place this debate in its wider legal and political context and highlight how it conforms with the amendments to the Russian constitution introduced in spring 2020.

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