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Russia: Legal Response to Covid-19

Russian Federation [ru]

Tatiana Khramova

From: Oxford Constitutions (http://oxcon.ouplaw.com). (c) Oxford University Press, 2021. All Rights Reserved.date: 22 October 2021

General editors: Prof. Jeff King; Dr. Octavio Ferraz
Area editors: Prof. Tendayi Achiume; Prof. Alan Bogg; Dr. Natalie Byrom; Prof. Cathryn Costello; Prof. Nicola Countouris; Prof. Colleen Flood; Prof. Eva Pils; Prof. Nico Steytler; Dr. Silvia Suteu; Dr. Bryan Thomas; Dr. Michael Veale; Dr. Pedro A. Villarreal

© The several contributors 2021. Some rights reserved. This is an open access publication, available online and distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International (CC BY-NC 4.0), a copy of which is available at https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc/4.0/. Enquiries concerning use outside the scope of the licence terms should be sent to the Rights Department, Oxford University Press.

Preferred Citation: T Khramova, ‘Russia: Legal Response to Covid-19’, in Jeff King and Octávio LM Ferraz et al (eds), The Oxford Compendium of National Legal Responses to Covid-19 (OUP 2021). doi: 10.1093/law-occ19/e27.013.27

Except where the text indicates the contrary, the law is as it stood on: 1 August 2021

The Russian Federation is a vast country with a population of 144 million primarily concentrated in a small number of urban agglomerations, among which Moscow and Saint Petersburg are the largest and most densely populated. The massive Covid-19 outbreak in Russia began in Moscow in March 2020 and reached all 85 constituent units by mid-April 2020. The major cities (mainly Moscow and Saint Petersburg) accounted for the largest number of cases throughout all waves of the pandemic. As of 1 August 2021, the Russian authorities have reported the total number of over 6.2 million cases of Covid-19 in Russia, including 1.5 million cases in Moscow and over 530,000 cases in Saint Petersburg, which has resulted in 160,000 deaths over the course of the pandemic.1 The spread of the coronavirus in Russia has progressed in three major waves: the first wave reaching its peak in May 2020 with around 10,000 new cases a day, the second—more aggressive—reaching the official maximum of 29,000 new cases daily in December 2020, and the third wave—caused by the Delta variant of the virus—starting in June 2021 and still at its peak at the time of writing. During the peaks, the public health system was overwhelmed, especially in federated units remote from the country’s capital. Depending on the severity of the pandemic, the federal and regional governments invoked and eased various public health restrictions under the regime of high alert. This report contains a detailed overview of the organization of public power on the national and subnational levels in Russia, and a variety of responses to the Covid-19 crisis offered at various stages of the pandemic.

I.  Constitutional Framework

1.  The post-Soviet constitutional order of the Russian Federation is established in the Constitution of 1993. In 2020, the constitutional text underwent a significant revision.2 The Constitution defines Russia as a federal democratic state that respects the rule of law and adheres to the republican form of government.3 The national Parliament (the Federal Assembly) is bicameral.4 The lower chamber (the State Duma) consists of 450 elected members, while the upper chamber (the Council of Federation) comprises two representatives from each subject of the Russian Federation (sub-federal constituent units) and up to 30 representatives of the Federation, appointed by the President.

2.  The President is the Head of State, elected directly by the people. Some Russian scholars have characterized the system as semi-presidential due to the existence of the Government presided by the Prime Minister that formally responds both to the President and the Parliament.5 However, the constitutional text, especially its revised version incorporating the 2020 amendments that have rendered the system more autocratic, does not support this conclusion. The Constitution ensures the President’s sole dominance over the executive branch, allows him to control and interfere with the legislative authority, and exert influence over the judiciary. The President is entrusted with the functions of safeguarding the Constitution and the citizens’ rights and freedoms, protecting Russian sovereignty, ensuring the coordinated functioning of public authorities, and framing the country’s internal and foreign policy.6 The President may stay in power for two six-year terms, but this limit does not constrain the current President, whose term-counting has been ‘zeroed out’ by the 2020 amendments.7 The comparative scholarship more correctly describes the system of government reflected in the constitutional design of Russia, as ‘crown-presidentialism’.8

3.  The executive power is vested in the Government (cabinet of ministers) operating under the general supervision of the President.9 The President appoints the Prime Minister, his deputies, and certain ministers after the candidates have been formally confirmed by the State Duma.10 The ministers responsible for the matters of defence, national security, internal affairs, justice, emergencies, and public safety, report directly to the President.11 The President enjoys the power to remove the Prime Minister and the ministers from office and the power to dissolve the Government.12 The day-to-day management of the activity of the federal executive branch is dispersed between the President and the Prime Minister. Notably, the President determines the functions of a fair portion of executive authorities,13 occasionally presides in the meetings of the Government and repeals its acts. Overall, the Constitution ensures the straightforward presidential dominance over the executive branch.

4.  The Constitution establishes three levels of governance that, in accordance with the constitutional amendments of 2020, form a ‘unified system of public authority’: federal, regional, and local.14 The municipal authorities are not included in the system of State authorities,15 nevertheless, all three levels ‘interact to most effectively perform their tasks in the interests of the people living in a particular territory.’16

5.  Russia is an asymmetric Federation composed of 85 constituent units: 22 republics, nine provinces (kray), 46 regions (oblast), four autonomous districts (avtonomny okrug), three cities of federal significance, and one autonomous region (avtonomnaya oblast). The federated units enjoy a certain degree of organizational autonomy, however, the principles of formation and functioning of their power institutions are defined by the Federal Law.17 The degree of centralization and the number of mechanisms (budgetary, organizational, political, etc) that allow the federal power to dictate the agenda and control the performance of the regional authorities in Russia is very high. The majority of coordination and oversight powers are vested in the President, who may nominate the candidates for the regional governor’s office, remove regional governors from office, suspend regional executive acts, and even dissolve regional parliaments.18

6.  The legislative and executive competences are divided between the Federation and its units on a substantive basis. It means that the Constitution provides exhaustive lists of matters in which (1) the Federation has exclusive powers, for example, foreign policy, national defence, and federal budget;19 (2) the Federation and the units share powers, such as agriculture, environmental protection, and education;20 and proclaims that the federated units retain the residual legislative and executive competence in matters not ascribed to federal or shared responsibility.21 Coordination of public health issues, as well as measures in response to disasters and epidemics are explicitly named as matters of shared responsibility of the central Government and the constituent entities.22

7.  The federal legislative act that defines the framework for the coordinated governmental response at all levels, including the regional and municipal, to threats of civil disaster, is the 1994 Federal Law on Protection of the Population and Territories against Natural and Man-Induced Disasters.23 The executive authorities of the federated units adhered to this Law to enact regional regimes of high alert in reaction to the Covid-19 pandemic.

8.  Notwithstanding the fact that all 85 units declared the same kind of extraordinary regime in response to the pandemic, the nuances of the legal reaction differed from region to region. This report will focus on two jurisdictions: Moscow and the Republic of Buryatia. The former is the Russian capital, the most densely populated and, thus, most affected unit of the Federation, and a pioneer in introducing restrictive public health measures. The latter is a sparsely populated republic in the Far East of Russia that, unlike the majority of regions, adopted the policy of harsh restrictions in the second wave of the pandemic.

9.  The Russian response to the pandemic did not change the basic constitutional arrangements. However, major constitutional reform that took place in 2020 and altered the distribution of powers, primarily at the federal level by strengthening the Presidential dominance, was conducted smoothly and quickly, to a large extent due to the special anti-pandemic regime. The all-Russian plebiscite on the amendments was held in the midst of the pandemic (25 June–1 July 2020). It was organised in a peculiar procedure of a week-long vote with no opportunity for a two-sided campaign and limited guarantees against electoral fraud (see Part III.D below). The Сovid-19 restrictions imposed on the regional level raised legal concerns24 and resulted in the Judgment of the Russian Constitutional Court (RCC) of 25 December 2020 justifying the contested regulation (see further Part III.C below).25

II.  Applicable Legal Framework

A.  Constitutional and international law

10.  The Constitution recognizes two forms of exceptional regimes in response to extraordinary situations: martial law (Article 87) and state of emergency (Article 88), neither of which has been utilized in Russia in response to the Covid-19 pandemic. Both regimes are invoked by the President who is obliged to promptly report the decision to the national Parliament. Both regimes shall be regulated in detail by federal constitutional laws. These two types of law regulate the areas specified by the Constitution and requires a supermajority vote in both chambers of the Parliament.26 From a comparative perspective, it is an analogue of an organic or a constitutional law typical of many constitutional systems. While the martial law regime is a reaction to the military aggression or the threat of aggression against Russia,27 the state of emergency regime shall be introduced when there is an immediate threat to the lives and security of the people or the constitutional order.28 The presidential decree on the declaration of martial law or a state of emergency shall be approved by the Council of Federation—the upper house of the Duma—within 48 (for martial law)29 and 72 hours (for the state of emergency),30 otherwise the decree is terminated. In times of emergency, certain rights may be temporarily curtailed; however, the Constitution explicitly prohibits the suspension of the right to life, respect for dignity and private life, freedom of conscience, right to housing, freedom of economic activity, and guarantees of judicial protection and a fair trial.31

11.  Fundamental rights as defined by Chapter 2 of the Constitution, shall be guaranteed in Russia in accordance with the universal principles and provisions of international law and the Russian Constitution.32 Under the Constitution, the rights are inalienable, shall not be derogated from by acts of the legislature nor be subject to constitutional amendments, but are by no means absolute.33 It is the function of the Russian Constitutional Court (RCC) to make sure that legislative and executive acts comply with these constitutional provisions and to declare those acts that violate fundamental constitutional rights void.34 The State may restrict basic rights by adopting federal laws in order to protect the fundamental constitutional commitments, national security, public order, public health or morals, or the rights and freedoms of others, but is obliged to impose only those restrictions that are necessary, proportionate, and do not infringe upon the essence of a right.35 However, the RCC allowed the State to depart from these stringent standards in the extraordinary circumstances of the Covid-19 pandemic, and declared an act of a regional governor (not federal law) introducing temporary ‘lockdown’ restrictions constitutional (see further Part III.C below).

12.  Russia is a party to many international human rights treaties, including the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) and the European Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms (ECHR). The Constitution recognizes the principles and norms of international law as an integral part of the Russian legal system, but establishes the priority of the national Constitution in the hierarchy of legal norms.36 Since 2015, the RCC has been given the power to rule on the impossibility to implement the decisions of international institutions in Russia if such decisions contradict the provisions of the Constitution.37 This power has been exercised twice,38 has been expanded by the 2020 constitutional amendments, and has become the subject of a fierce debate among scholars as regards to its compatibility with the fundamental constitutional commitment of Russia to be a part of international community.39

13.  There has been no decision to derogate from the ECHR or any other international convention to which Russia is a party. In its review of the restrictions on the right to free movement imposed by one of the federated units, the RCC specified that the freedom of movement is guaranteed not only by Article 27 of the Constitution, but also by Article 12 of the ICCPR and Article 2 of Protocol 4 to the ECHR.40 The RCC further noted that the exercise of this freedom is subject to reasonable limitations that may be justified by, inter alia, the unprecedented extraordinary circumstances of the current pandemic.

14.  Russia is a member of the World Health Organization (WHO). The WHO’s 2005 International Health Regulations (IHR) are implemented in Russia under the supervision of the Federal Service for Surveillance on Consumer Rights Protection and Human Wellbeing (Rospotrebnadzor).41 During the Covid-19 crisis, public authorities have collaborated with the WHO and occasionally quoted the standards developed by the WHO to address the pandemic. In its Judgment on the constitutionality of the lockdown restrictions in Russian federated units, the RCC referred to the WHO’s assessment of the outbreak as a ‘public health emergency of international concern’42 in order to prove the severity of the challenge that the global community, and Russia in particular, was confronted with.43 Specifically, the RCC mentioned the WHO’s ‘Interim guidance for quarantine of individuals in the context of containment for coronavirus disease (COVID-19)’ that justified the restriction of movement of individuals and separation from the rest of the population of healthy persons who may have been exposed to the virus.44

B.  Statutory provisions

15.  The Russian legislator did not enact a new general law with emergency powers to respond to Covid-19. Instead, the legal reaction to the spread of the virus was primarily based on two pre-pandemic federal laws: the aforementioned 1994 Federal Law on Protection of the Population and Territories against Natural and Man-Induced Disasters (Federal Law No 68-FZ) and the 1999 Federal Law on the Sanitary and Epidemiological Wellbeing of the Population (Federal Law No 52-FZ).45 While the former sets out the organizational framework for the protection of the people against disasters of varying origin, the latter defines the sanitary rules and lists the measures that shall be implemented in different spheres in order to prevent and contain the spread of infectious diseases.

16.  Federal Law No 68-FZ establishes a Unified State System for the Prevention and Elimination of Disasters that integrates executive authorities on the federal and regional levels, as well as local authorities and organizations and functions on federal, interregional, regional, municipal, and enterprise levels. Every level creates its own coordination bodies, ie commissions for the prevention and elimination of disasters and maintaining fire safety, permanent management and day-to-day management bodies, has its own resources and reserves, and communication and alert systems.46 Creation and dissolution, as well as the powers of coordination bodies, their composition, and decision-making procedures, are determined—depending on the level—by the federal Government, federal executive authorities, state corporations, executive authorities of federated units, municipal authorities, or organizations.47 Permanent management bodies and day-to-day management bodies are also established on every level in accordance with the provisions of Federal Law No 68-FZ.48 Coordination and management bodies may operate under one of the following legal regimes: (1) ordinary situation—when the threat of an emergency does not exist; (2) high alert—when there is a threat of an emergency; and (3) emergency situation49—when a disaster has occurred and shall be eliminated.50 Despite no obvious formal coordination, in the period between 27 January and 20 March 2020 all 85 federated units reacted to the pandemic in a similar way by enacting 85 declarations of the state of high alert.51

17.  In situations of emergency or high alert, the Governmental Commission for the Prevention and Elimination of Disasters and Maintaining Fire Safety may appoint the Chief Officer who shall be responsible for taking action to eliminate the extraordinary situation and protect the citizens and territories against it. On the regional level, the functions of the Chief Officer are performed by the governor and include, inter alia, the powers to restrict the entry of people and transport to the affected area and to suspend the operation of organizations.52

18.  Federal Law No 68-FZ has been amended a number of times during the Covid-19 crisis. As the first wave of the pandemic was gaining strength in Russia, the Parliament adopted the amendments that (1) included the spread of a dangerous disease into the list of potential grounds for the declaration of an emergency situation, and (2) expanded the powers of the executive on the federal and regional levels allowing the federal Government to declare an all-Russian state of high alert or emergency situation and impose temporary restrictions on the citizens and organizations, and empowering the authorities of the federated units to declare the same regimes on the regional level and impose additional binding regulations.53

19.  Federal Law No 52-FZ requires that in order to prevent the spread of infectious diseases, public authorities should fully implement measures prescribed by sanitary regulations and other acts in a timely manner. These measures should be carried out on federal, regional, municipal, or organizational levels, depending on the severity of the threat, and include sanitary and anti-epidemic (preventive) measures and restrictive measures (quarantine).54

20.  As mentioned in Part I above, federated units enjoy the power of adopting their own laws concerning protection against situations of emergency that may not contradict the federal legislation. During the current pandemic, both Moscow and the Republic of Buryatia have relied on their pre-enacted laws that specify (or duplicate) the provisions of Federal Law No 68-FZ.55 The regional acts provide the framework for the operation of regional subsystems of the Unified State System for the Prevention and Elimination of Disasters that have been established during the Covid-19 crisis.

21.  During the pandemic, the national Parliament remained active and adopted a fair number of laws addressing the specific problems caused or exacerbated by the Covid19 crisis. Among them were the 2020 Federal Law on prices for medicines,56 2020 Federal Law on criminal liability for spreading false pandemic-related information (see further Part III.F below), and 2020 Federal Law on sustainable economic development and mitigating the effects of the Covid-19 crisis,57 etc.

C.  Executive rule-making powers

22.  On the federal level, the President and the Government enjoy rule-making powers that are inferior to the legislative power to pass laws. The President may adopt normative decrees (ukazy) and individual orders (rasporyazhenija) that should not contradict the Constitution and federal laws.58 The President also issues instructions (poruchenija)—this type of presidential act has obtained a constitutional foundation through the 2020 constitutional amendments.59 Curiously, the legal status of presidential instructions remains ambiguous: they are not mentioned among the types of acts of the President, but only listed in the chapter of the Constitution devoted to the federal Government that adopts its own acts ‘on the basis and to the fulfilment of presidential decrees, orders and instructions’ (Article 115). Presidential instructions are usually addressed to a particular authority (or a number of authorities), their execution is under the control of the President or his Administration, and they often become the basis for further actions or rule-making by federal or regional executive authorities.

23.  The federal Government may adopt two types of acts: normative decrees (postanovlenija) and individual orders (rasporyazhenija),60 which are inferior not only to the Constitution and federal laws, but also to acts of the President who is vested with the power to repeal them.61

24.  Regional governors and governments (administrations) also enjoy a limited rule-making power. The federal legislator specifies that a governor of a federated unit has the power to issue decrees (either ukazy or postanovlenija) and orders (rasporyazhenija) that should comply with the Russian Constitution, federal laws, normative acts of the President and the federal Government, as well as the Constitution and legislation of the federated unit.62

25.  During the Covid-19 crisis, executive rule-making played a dominant role, both on the federal and regional levels. Under Federal Law No 68-FZ, the President and the Government are entrusted with wide discretionary powers to adopt decrees aimed at protecting the population and territories against disasters of various origins, including the spread of communicable diseases.63 On 25 March 2020, the President issued a Decree announcing non-working days in Russia from 30 March till 3 April 2020 with employees retaining their salaries.64 The non-working days were then extended until 30 April 2020,65 and later on to the three days in-between May Day holidays.66 The President also issued several decrees announcing payment of cash-based social assistance to certain categories of citizens67 and introducing additional payments and rewards to healthcare workers.68

26.  As mentioned in Part II.B above, the amendment of 1 April 2020 to Federal Law No 68-FZ established the power of the Government to enact temporary rules of conduct that shall be binding for the citizens and organizations during the state of high alert or the emergency situation.69 This power was utilized immediately: on 2 April 2020 the Government issued a Decree containing such rules of conduct for the regime of high alert.70 To ensure the effectiveness of the governmental regulations, the federal legislator adopted amendments to the Russian Code of Administrative Offenses imposing liability for violation of sanitary rules and requirements in times of a difficult epidemiological situation.71

27.  The Government has been quite active in introducing specific regulations that involve travel restrictions, provision of social assistance and benefits, and stimulating economic activity, including tourism, allocating subsidies, and other transfers from the federal budget to cover the deficit and extra costs of the pandemic. As of 15 March 2021, the Government has adopted over 235 new regulations covering these and other Covid-19 related issues.72 Executive decrees are not subject to parliamentary scrutiny (see further Part III.A below).

28.  Article 11 of Federal Law No 68-FZ authorizes the regional authorities to introduce the state of high alert or emergency situation in their respective territory.73 At the outbreak of the pandemic, the Government of the Republic of Buryatia—and a month later, the Head of the Republic—and the Mayor of Moscow declared the state of high alert.74 The decrees contained public health and ‘lockdown’ measures, including the temporary closure of businesses, stay-at-home orders for elderly citizens, a ban on all public gatherings, to name a few examples (see further Part IV below). These executive acts were not subject to legislative oversight. As the Covid-19 crisis proceeded, the initial texts of the decrees were repeatedly modified, with restrictions tightened or relaxed to match the actual state of affairs.75 The modified versions of the decrees of the Head of the Republic of Buryatia and of the Mayor of Moscow are still in force at the time of writing. Some public health measures have been in force for several weeks, eg QR codes or venue closures; others for months, eg mandatory wearing of gloves in public places; while a number of restrictive measures have been adopted on a permanent basis, eg criminal liability for spreading false information.

29.  Both federal and regional restrictive measures—including the executive decrees of constituent units of the Russian Federation on the declaration of the state of high alert and introduction of public health restrictions—are subject to judicial scrutiny. The most noteworthy case in this regard, mentioned in Part II.A above, is the Judgment of the RCC confirming the constitutionality of the analogous Decree of the Governor of Moscow region (oblast).76 The attempts to contest the legality of the Decrees of the Mayor of Moscow and the Head of the Republic of Buryatia ended with the decisions of ordinary courts denying the administrative claims and confirming the legality of the executive decrees.77 In summary, courts of various levels and jurisdictions demonstrated a high degree of deference to the decrees of the regional authorities enacting public health and lockdown measures.

D.  Guidance

30.  At the outbreak of the pandemic, the federal Government launched a website called ‘Stop coronavirus’ where all official Covid-19-related information and guidance is published.78 The website contains regular updates on the official statistics, recommendations to the patients and volunteers, guidance regarding the existing measures of social assistance, and Q&As and useful information, including the official documents of various State agencies. Official statistics and recommendations are produced by the Operational Headquarters, a deliberative body presided by the Deputy Prime Minister, which was created on 27 January 2020 to develop measures against the spread of the pandemic.79 Operational headquarters have also been formed on the regional level, providing the population with access to official information concerning their home subject of the Federation.80 Every day, the Communications Center of the federal Government publishes a report on the current state of affairs regarding the epidemiological situation in Russia as a whole and in the federated units on the basis of the data provided by operational headquarters.81

31.  As the first wave of the Covid-19 pandemic hit Russia in March 2020, the federal Government became highly concerned about maintaining effective coordination among the executive bodies on the federal and regional levels, the local authorities, and other involved agencies. On 14 March 2020, the Government issued a Decree creating a Coordination Council under the Government to fight the spread of the virus.82 The Council is presided over by the Prime Minister, is composed mainly of members of the federal Government, federal and regional executive officials—including the Mayor of Moscow who acts as the deputy head of the Council—and representatives of both chambers of the federal Parliament, and meets as necessary and proposes the adoption of anti-Covid-19 measures that are transmitted to both chambers of the national Parliament, federal executive agencies, and highest executive authorities of the subjects of the Federation.83 As a coordination body, it may not formally issue acts that impose limitations on the general public. However, Decree 285 makes the decisions of the Council binding for the executive authorities and organizations that form the Council.84

32.  Soft-law approaches have been widely used by both federal and regional authorities to mitigate the risks of the pandemic. For example, the Ministry of Healthcare has published 11 editions of non-binding Temporary Methodological Recommendations on prevention, diagnosis, and treatment of Covid-19.85 The Federal Service for the Surveillance on Consumer Rights Protection and Human Wellbeing (Rospotrebnadzor) has issued various non-enforceable recommendations on safe operation of businesses in spheres such as construction, transport, agriculture, commerce, education, hospitality, the beauty industry, etc, during the pandemic.86 The non-binding nature of these recommendations was visible on paper, but non-evident in practice, causing confusion regarding the legal consequences of non-compliance. In the Letter of Rospotrebnadzor of 22 July 2020, the agency attempted to explain the consequences of non-compliance with its recommendations: methodological recommendations of Rospotrebnadzor contain no binding legal norms, are not meant to restrict rights or introduce additional duties, and therefore, do not entail liability for their violation.87 However, Rospotrebnadzor also issues Sanitary and Epidemiological Regulations that contain mandatory legal norms, the violation of which leads to administrative liability of citizens and organizations (see further Part IV.A.6 below). Recommendations have caused criticism primarily on behalf of businesses, the reasons being that (1) the fulfilment of recommendations is too costly for businesses; (2) some recommendations are deemed excessive;88 and (3) some rules from the recommendations and Sanitary and Epidemiological Regulations overlap, making recommendations de facto mandatory.

III.  Institutions and Oversight

A.  The role of legislatures in supervising the executive

33.  The oversight mechanisms allowing the national Parliament to supervise the regulatory activity of the Government are quite weak. These mechanisms include the annual report of the Government before the State Duma,89 the right of MPs to address their questions to the Government, individual ministers, and other officials,90 and the right of the Duma to put the motion of non-confidence in the Government to a vote.91 In reality, these instruments do not make the executive responsible to the legislature. The real powers to control and supervise the executive and scrutinize its acts belong to the President, who dismisses the Government and its members, and repeals the Government’s regulations if they do not comply with the federal legislation or presidential decrees.92

34.  On the level of federated units, the role of legislatures in supervising the executive is also insignificant. The mechanisms of oversight are similar to the ones that exist on the federal level—the annual report of the highest official (governor, mayor, or head of the federated unit) before the regional parliament, participation of executive authorities in the parliamentary sessions, and a parliamentary vote of no-confidence.93 Regional parliaments do not have the power to repeal regulations adopted by the executive, but may only suggest that the cabinet or the governor amend their acts, or appeal to the court with a request to review executive regulations.94 In general, the law motivates the regional legislature and the executive to work together ‘to ensure effective management of the processes of economic and social development of the subject of Federation and in the interests of the people’.95

35.  The ordinary scheme of interaction between the legislature and the executive has not been altered during the Covid-19 crisis. The Federal Assembly did not gain any special powers to scrutinize or confirm the executive acts addressing the pandemic. Moreover, the power of the Government to declare an all-Russian state of high alert or emergency situation, or to issue mandatory rules of conduct for the duration of the exceptional regime established by the Federal Law of 1 April 2020,96 is also exercised without parliamentary supervision and viewed by the parliamentarians as a prerogative of the executive. In a casual manner, the executive response to the pandemic has been from time to time discussed during the ‘Government Hour’ at the State Duma,97 at the parliamentary committee meetings primarily in the format when parliamentarians address their question to the ministers and demonstrate their satisfaction with the answers,98 and during the plenary lawmaking sessions on the Covid-19-related bills introduced by the Government.99

36.  Introduction, alteration, and repeal of temporary restrictive measures under the regional regimes of high alert by the decrees of the highest officials—the Mayor of Moscow and the Head of the Republic of Buryatia—were not scrutinized by the regional parliaments. Likewise, the legislatures made no attempts to question the indefinite duration of the regional state of high alert: legally speaking, the prerogative to announce and determine the duration of this exceptional regime belongs to the regional governors and does not imply approval or even consultation with the parliaments. In April 2020, opposition factions of Moscow City Duma (regional parliament) addressed the Mayor of Moscow and presented their lists of recommended urgent measures relating to the pandemic—primarily, on redirecting the city budget funds reserved for construction, infrastructure, and cultural and entertainment projects to provide additional socioeconomic support to individual residents and businesses—which gained some media attention, but had no legal effect.100

B.  The functioning of the legislature where its ordinary business is disrupted

37.  The Covid-19 pandemic has affected but not interrupted the activity of both national and regional parliaments. Even during the period of the most extensive restrictions, parliaments continued to pass legislation and carry out committee activities. According to the report of the Speaker of the State Duma, in 2020 the Federal Assembly increased its lawmaking capacity, having passed 553 federal laws as opposed to 530 in 2019.101 This boost of legislative activity may be partly attributed to the large-scale constitutional reform that was carried out amid the pandemic. The Law on constitutional amendments, which came into force on 4 July 2020,102 triggered the adoption of 21 federal laws during the autumn session of 2020 to bring the federal legislation in compliance with the new constitutional text.

38.  The State Duma and the Council of Federation continued to meet in the usual offline format during the Covid-19 pandemic, although the number of plenary sessions as well as the time devoted for open political discussion of the bills during the sessions—and therefore, the possibility for all deputies, particularly those in opposition, to publicly announce their disagreement with the bills—were limited. Some deputies of opposition parties expressed their dissatisfaction with the anti-Covid-19 rules of procedure.103 A number of other measures to limit the amount and frequency of social contacts were adopted at the outset of the Covid-19 crisis. As of March 2020, personal meetings of MPs with citizens in the State Duma were suspended. The meetings were renewed in online format only in February 2021.104 The majority of roundtables, working groups, and other events with outside experts were either cancelled or conducted online. Committees met in a mixed format and limited the physical presence of experts, journalists, and other visitors. The number of MPs’ assistants allowed to work from the office was also limited. Even the cafeteria in the Duma building was closed and reopened only in March 2021.

39.  Even though a number of parliamentarians from opposition parties expressed their concerns regarding the constraints imposed on the lawmaking procedures due to the spread of Covid-19, the majority party justified these public health measures as necessary and insignificant in terms of their influence on the level of parliamentary scrutiny of bills. Moreover, the practice of fast-tracking legislation in relation to anti-Covid-19 bills, when all three readings took place in one day with limited opportunities for the MPs to express their views, was justified by the Speaker claiming that ‘people were waiting for these laws’ (this statement was made in relation to the package of federal anti-Covid-19 laws adopted on 31 March 2020, see Part II.B above).105

40.  In the autumn of 2020, when the second wave of the pandemic hit Russia and dozens of MPs were diagnosed with Covid-19,106 the State Duma adopted changes to its Rules of procedure to allow a more extensive use of online video-conferences in the chamber’s everyday activity.107 The amended version of the Rules of Procedure explicitly allows for the meetings of the Council of the State Duma—a collective body responsible for the preliminary preparation and consideration of various issues related to the Duma activity which comprises the Speaker, Vice-Speakers, and heads of factions108—or the committees of the State Duma to be held by video conference.109 As for the plenary meetings and voting procedures, they remained intact.

41.  Although Moscow City Duma has 10 times fewer MPs than the Russian State Duma (45 versus 450), it was decided that due to the epidemiological situation, its plenary meetings should be conducted via video conference. On 1 April 2020, Moscow City Duma adopted amendments to its Rules of Procedure introducing the possibility to hold sessions in online format during the state of high alert, emergency situation, quarantine, state of emergency, or martial law (Article 6(1)).110 Online sessions allow the MPs to ask questions, participate in debates, express their opinions, and vote via the Duma’s information management system. The sessions are publicly broadcast on the official website of the City Duma. Some members of the opposition expressed concerns that during remote plenary meetings MPs are not obliged to turn on their cameras, therefore, it is impossible to be sure that the principle of personal ballot is observed. Ekaterina Engalycheva, MP of the Communist party, argued that her faction had repeatedly asked the Chairman of Moscow City Duma to display the videos of all MPs during the meeting, but he refused claiming that the Rules of Procedure do not oblige the participants to switch on their video (even during the voting).111

C.  Role of and access to courts

42.  The current version of the Constitution enshrines five types of court proceedings: constitutional, civil, arbitration (ie commercial), administrative, and criminal.112 Each type is regulated by a separate organic or federal law.113 Although the Covid-19 pandemic caused temporary disruptions and demanded some changes in the proceedings, courts of all jurisdictions continued to operate during the pandemic. According to the report of the Chairman of the Russian Supreme Court, Vyacheslav Lebedev, courts even managed to increase the volume of cases examined in 2020 as compared to 2019. In 2020, the courts examined almost 38.5 million cases, which exceeds by 11% the number of cases examined in 2019 (34.6 million). Meanwhile, the number of cases examined by commercial (arbitration) courts dropped by approximately 370,000, from almost 1.9 million in 2019 to 1.5 million in 2020, which was attributed to the slowdown of economic activity.114 All adjustments to the new epidemiological situation occurred under the pre-existing procedural legislation that allowed the filing of electronic applications and, under certain circumstances, the use of video technology during oral court hearings.

43.  At the outbreak of the pandemic, the Presidium of the Supreme Court and the Presidium of the Council of Judges issued a joint temporary regulation restricting the access of visitors to the court buildings, encouraging applicants to file documents via the internet or regular post, and inviting the judges to examine only urgent cases on selection, prolongation, cancellation, or substitution of a preventive measure, on protecting the interests of minors in life-threatening situations when a legal representative refuses medical treatment, etc, or cases that require summary proceedings, and to use video technology when possible.115 This regulation was in force from 19 March till 10 April 2020, but, as the Covid-19 crisis continued to spread and non-working days were enacted until 11 May 2020, another joint regulation was adopted and the restrictive and public health measures were renewed for this period.116 After the regulations had expired on 12 May 2020, the general restrictions on public access to courts were lifted, but the courts were entrusted with a discretion to preserve public health measures if the epidemiological situation remained problematic.

44.  In April 2020, the Supreme Court of Russia issued two guidelines addressing, inter alia, the specific matters of implementing rules of court procedure in times of the pandemic.117 The guidelines contain several important clarifications:

  • •  Inability to examine a case due to the declaration of a state of high alert or emergency situation may be regarded as a ground for postponing or granting a stay of proceedings or extending a review period;

  • •  Procedural deadlines that have not been complied with due to the pandemic, should be restored (extended);

  • •  In urgent criminal cases, the court may conduct oral hearings with the use of a video conference in order to secure the personal appearance of the accused who is kept in a pre-trial detention center.

45.  In practice, courts actively adhered to the technology of video conferencing in order to limit the risk of contamination. The Chairman of the Supreme Court reported that 400,000 court hearings were conducted via video conference in 2020.118 Primarily, courts used special software for video conferencing, but in rare cases, district court judges held trials via Skype and WhatsApp.119 A party to a civil or arbitration proceedings may join a hearing from a court in their home town—which provides the video conference equipment and checks the identity of the participants—or even from home—if the court has a technical capability to hold an online hearing. An accused who is held in a pre-trial detention center or in a correctional facility may also join a court hearing from the facility. However, the ability to hold online proceedings depends on the level of digitalization of a particular court, and not all courts in Russia are yet equipped to provide access to this option.

46.  During the Covid-19 crisis, the operation of the Russian Constitutional Court (RCC), located in Saint Petersburg and also regulated by a special (organic) law, has been marked by a rapid shift from oral to written procedure. The constitutionality of executive decrees and of primary legislation is examined by the Constitutional Court in the procedures of both abstract and concrete constitutional review.120 In 2019, 30 out of 41 final judgments were delivered without oral proceedings,121 while in 2020, fully 47 of 50 final judgments were delivered without oral hearings.122 Amendments to the law on the RCC, enacted in November 2020 as part of the aftermath of the constitutional reform, made it possible to apply the written procedure to a wider category of cases and on a wider range of grounds. Therefore, experts predict with a certain degree of scepticism that the RCC will not return to its frequent practice of oral hearings even when the epidemiological situation becomes stable.123

47.  Courts of general jurisdiction have powers to review the acts of regional governments declaring the state of high alert and introducing measures to control the virus. The procedure for such a review is established by the 2015 Code of Administrative Court Procedure and may be initiated by the persons affected by the contested provisions, organizations, or public authorities and officials.124 The court may strike down the legal provisions if they do not comply with the acts of higher legal force (except for the Constitution). As mentioned in Part II.C above, attempts have been made to contest both the legality and the constitutionality of regional declarations of the state of high alert.

48.  Shortly after public health measures had been introduced, attempts were made by citizens to contest their legality in court. The most widespread grounds for public dissatisfaction were connected with the stay-at-home orders and administrative fines for violation of temporary restrictive rules. On 28 April 2020, the Moscow city court ruled on the request of 50 private citizens and stated that the Mayor of Moscow acted within his powers to enact the Covid-19-related restrictions on the freedom of movement and that the contested executive acts did not violate the federal legislative provisions.125 Similar attempts were made to contest the legality of the Mayor’s decrees once the restrictions were relaxed, but they also resulted in a judgment of the Moscow city court denying the request.126

49.  Following the request of a resident of the Republic of Buryatia to declare the decree of the Head of the Republic introducing the restrictive measures invalid, the Supreme Court of Buryatia ruled that the procedural requirements for the enactment of the decree were observed, and the infection control measures, including the temporary stay-at-home orders, social distancing norms, and suspension of business operation and public events, were aimed at the prevention of the emergency situation, followed the recommendations of the regional branch of the Federal Service for Supervision of Consumers Protection and the Chief Public Health Officer for the Republic of Buryatia, and did not violate any superior provisions in the hierarchy of statutory norms.127

50.  The aforementioned RCC Judgment that confirmed the constitutionality of restrictive measures introduced by the Governor of the Moscow region, was delivered upon the request of an ordinary court that doubted whether the provisions that restricted the citizens’ freedom of movement under the threat of administrative liability complied with the constitutional principles of rights limitations.128 The reasoning of the RCC contained several innovative ideas:

  • •  Non-compliance with the constitutional requirement on the form of rights restrictions (Article 55(3) of the Constitution states that rights may be limited only by means of federal law, while restrictions were enacted by executive decrees on the regional level) does not entail the unconstitutionality of regional pandemic regulations. More specifically, the RCC stated that although the preventive measures introduced by the Governor in March 2020 were adopted in the absence of adequate federal allocation of powers to address the Covid-19 crisis, they nevertheless provided an appropriate response to an extraordinary threat to public health; the correctness of these measures was post factum confirmed by the empowerment of the regional authorities to ‘impose additional rules of conduct that citizens and organizations are obliged to observe for the duration of the state of high alert or emergency situation’;129

  • •  The contested restrictions of freedom of movement were temporary, not absolute, and therefore not excessive.

51.  To sum up, the courts played a very modest role in scrutinizing the decisions of the regional governments imposing Covid-19-related restrictions. As of yet, there have been no precedents of courts invalidating measures to control the pandemic, making the level of judicial deference almost absolute. Existing court decisions attempt to legitimize urgent measures, even when the legal grounds for their enactment are extremely weak, if not absent.

D.  Elections

52.  The popular vote on constitutional amendments, initially scheduled for 22 April 2020, was postponed due the challenging epidemiological situation (see Part I above).130 Eventually, the plebiscite was organized in the last week of June 2020 (ending 1 July 2020) in a peculiar procedure regulated ad hoc by the Central Election Commission of Russia.131 The legal framework deviated from the regular electoral procedure prescribed by federal law,132 and raised serious concerns of scholars, civil activists, and observers claiming that ‘[t]he process of formulating and ratifying Russia’s 2020 amendments is a clear example of this abusive, plebiscitary process’.133 These concerns centred on features of the voting procedure, including:

  • •  A six-day ‘early voting’ period (polling stations work in the same regime as on the polling day);

  • •  Wide opportunities for voting outside polling stations (contactless voting from home, in mobile stations in outdoor tents, voters able to vote in adjacent territories, etc);

  • •  No campaigning, only ‘informing’ the citizens about the plebiscite and the content of the amendments; and

  • •  Limited access for observers and the media to monitor the fairness of voting.

53.  After the results of the popular vote were announced, experts reported a number of noticeable irregularities that pointed towards mass falsification of the results of the popular vote.134

54.  Elections scheduled for the ‘unified voting day’ (13 September 2020) were not postponed. Elections were held in 83 federated units of the Russian Federation, and around 9,000 public officials of federal, regional, and local levels were elected.135 Notwithstanding the epidemiological situation, the turnout was not significantly affected, eg for the regional governors’ elections, the turnout varied from 22.38% in Smolensk region to 73.66% in the Republic of Tatarstan.136 The voting procedures, however, were altered by amendments to federal electoral legislation adopted in May and July 2020, which can be explained, to some extent, by high epidemiological risks.137 The most significant alterations comprised:

  • •  the possibility of multiple-day elections and referendums (no longer than three days);

  • •  the possibility to cast votes outside the polling stations (in adjacent territories, common areas, and other suitable locations);

  • •  broadening the restrictions on the right to be elected (conviction for a number of specified crimes limits the right to be elected until five years beyond the expunging of the criminal record are complete); and

  • •  tightening the requirements for the registration of candidates (the number of invalid signatures sufficient for the denial of the candidate registration has been lowered from 10 to five per cent).

55.  Observers reported that the pandemic was used as a favourable time to tailor the electoral procedures to the needs of the ruling political elites: 138 three-day elections were convenient to mobilize the loyal electorate; new restrictions on the right to be elected allowed the refusal of the registration of opposition candidates; limited campaign opportunities did not allow the candidates to hold pre-electoral public events; and the possibility to observe the elections was hampered. In the end, the legislative innovations did not significantly increase the voter turnout, but were regarded by critics as having made the elections less transparent and less trustworthy.139 Forty-one out of 83 federated units held three-day elections, twenty-nine – changed their regional election laws less than one month before the elections. In the end, the Covid-19 crisis made it easier to make the elections even less competitive.140

E.  Scientific advice

56.  Interaction between the scientific community and political authorities occurred primarily in an informal fashion, without the creation of special expert institutions or transparent expert review of proposed measures. Therefore, it is difficult to deduce the actual role that the scientific advice played in governmental decision-making in response to Covid-19.

57.  There is no legal requirement for the governmental bodies to base their regulations on scientific advice. However, recommendations issued by the Ministry of Healthcare and the Federal Service for Surveillance on Consumer Rights Protection and Human Wellbeing (Rospotrebnadzor) to protect public health during the Covid-19 pandemic often incorporated the advice of health experts: epidemiologists and specialists in infectious diseases. For example, the Temporary Methodological Recommendations on prevention, diagnosis, and treatment of Covid-19, enacted by the Ministry of Healthcare, referred to the findings of scientific studies to describe the etiology, pathogenesis, and morphology of the virus.

58.  In an attempt to publicize the results of scientific research on the new virus, Rospotrepnadzor launched the Russian portal of Covid-19 Preprints.141 The agency also initiated its own research: on 27 July 2020, Rospotrebnadzor announced the study of the incidence of Covid-19 among the people with HIV and the general population, and the impact of the pandemic on providing the treatment to HIV patients.142

F.  Freedom of the press and freedom of information

59.  In Russia, the Covid-19 coverage in the media has been quite extensive. However, legal constraints on dissemination of information and free expression of opinions related to the pandemic were imposed at an early stage of the pandemic. Russia is one of the 18 countries that, according to the International Press Institute, have passed ‘fake news’ regulations during the Covid-19 pandemic.143 The Russian Criminal Code was supplemented by two new offences: 144 ‘Article 2071. Public dissemination of deliberately false information about the circumstances threatening the life and security of citizens’ and ‘Article 2072. Public dissemination of deliberately false, publicly significant information that has caused severe consequences’. Shortly after the introduction of this law, the Supreme Court of Russia issued guidelines on their interpretation, explaining that ‘public dissemination’ may imply, inter alia, the use of mass media, social networks, including messengers (WhatsApp, Viber, and others), bulk text-messaging to subscribers of mobile operators, speaking at a public gathering, or hanging a poster.145 Dissemination of ‘fake news’ that has caused severe consequences, including the death of a person, may be punished by up to five years imprisonment.

60.  If the dissemination of ‘fake news’ about Covid-19 by individuals does not constitute a criminal offense, individuals may still be held liable under the Russian Code of Administrative Offences (Article 13(15)(9)). This provision was introduced by the federal legislature in 2019, before the pandemic crisis, but its wide enforcement began in spring 2020, after the spread of Covid-19 in Russia. Administrative liability for similar offenses was also introduced in relation to organizations.146 The Agora International Human Rights Group reported that, by 9 June 2020, Russian law enforcement agencies launched 157 administrative proceedings and invoked 38 criminal cases on the ground of spreading false information related to the pandemic.147 On 20 May 2020, the first guilty verdict was delivered under Article 2071 of the Criminal Code in Yuzhno-Sakhalinsk.148

61.  Some citizens who have been subject to liability under the ‘fake news’ regulations have chosen to protect their right to freedom of expression in the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR). In November 2020, the ECtHR communicated the first application of an individual who had been fined 30,000 Russian roubles (approximately EUR 390) for leaving an ‘untrue’ Covid-19 related comment on Instagram.149

G.  Ombuds and oversight Bodies

62.  The Russian system of ombudspersons comprises the High Commissioner for Human Rights in the Russian Federation (the federal Ombudsperson), regional ombudsmen, and special ombudsmen (ie Children’s Ombudsman, and Business Ombudsman).

63.  The federal Ombudsperson is appointed by the State Duma and acts under the 1997 organic law to ensure that the State and local authorities observe, respect, and protect the fundamental rights of the citizens.150 On 19 November 2020, the Ombudsperson issued a special report titled ‘Protection of human rights during the Covid-19 pandemic’ aimed at informing the State authorities about the problematic issues related to human rights protection during the crisis, and suggesting ways to improve the regulation and administrative procedures. The Ombudsperson reports that in the period between 1 February and 20 October 2020, its office received 2,432 requests on matters regarding human rights protection in times of the pandemic. Most applications were related to violations of freedom of movement (341), right to healthcare (288), right to social assistance (270), and right to return to Russia from abroad (274).151 The Ombudsperson has reported that upon review of these applications, she submitted 1605 requests to the prosecutor’s office, other state bodies, as well as municipal authorities to conduct inspections, adopt other legitimate measures, or provide support measures to the affected citizens. Additionally, the Ombudsperson’s office provided 769 legal consultations to the applicants. The most notable violations were reported to the President and the Prime Minister. 147 applications were satisfied, leading to the restoration of rights of over 5,000 citizens.152

64.  During the pandemic, the federal Ombudsperson closely collaborated with regional ombudsmen. They exchanged information, worked together on difficult cases, and discussed common problems. On 29 April and 24 November 2020, the Coordination Council of Ombudsmen held conferences devoted to the consolidation of suggestions and recommendations for State authorities on ways to accommodate human rights in the fight against the Covid-19 crisis and in the post-quarantine period.

65.  The Business Ombudsman devoted a fair part of his annual 2020 report before the Russian President to the challenges that business has faced in times of the pandemic.153 The report provided statistical data on the impact of the Covid-19 crisis on business activity in Russia, reviewed the perception of government support measures, and suggested ways to improve the economic climate in post-lockdown period.154

66.  No special oversight bodies—for example, a special reviewer of legislation—were created to monitor the public response to Covid-19.

IV.  Public Health Measures, Enforcement and Compliance

67.  The Russian response to the Covid-19 pandemic, which officially ‘arrived’ in Russia on 31 January 2020 when the first two patients were diagnosed with Covid-19, may be divided into several stages depending on the fluctuation of infection rates. During the first stage (March–May 2020), all federated units enacted decrees establishing the state of high alert and lists of strict public health regulations (closure of venues, restrictions on free movement, remote schooling and work, etc). Several federated units (Amur region, the Republic of Buryatia, Yaroslavl region, and the Jewish Autonomous Region) invoked the state of high alert as early as January–February 2020, but major rights restrictions were, nevertheless, adopted later, as the infection numbers began to rise considerably in March–May 2020. The tightest restrictions were adopted in Moscow, where the state of high alert was invoked on 5 March 2020.155 On the federal level, this stage was framed as a 41-day period of non-working days beginning from 30 March 2020, enforced by a series of presidential decrees mentioned in Part II.C above.156 The highest infection rates during the first stage were recorded on 11 May 2020, with 11,656 new cases in Russia, among them 6169 new cases in Moscow. During the second stage (May–September 2020), the ‘lockdown’ measures were gradually eased as the statistics showed the decline of infection rates, the lowest infection rates being reported on 25 August 2020 with 4639 new cases in Russia. On 24 June 2020, the Russian authorities held military Victory Day parades in Moscow and other cities, and afterwards (25 June–1 July) the nationwide plebiscite on the constitutional amendments.157 During the third stage that began with the Decree of the Mayor of Moscow of 25 September 2020,158 as the number of cases rapidly increased and built up into the second wave of the pandemic—in Moscow, the number of new infections on 25 September 2020 exceeded 1500, while the daily number of hospitalizations was rising by 30%—most regions invoked new public health restrictions. From 16 November 2020, the Republic of Buryatia enacted a two-week ‘lockdown’, when most public venues were closed, while other subjects, including Moscow, preferred milder restrictions to keep the economy running—public health measures in Moscow comprised remote schooling, an obligation for employers to transfer 30% of employees to a home working regime, limitations on opening hours of bars and other entertainment venues, etc. At the peak of the third stage (24 December 2020), the all-Russian daily number of new infections was 29,935 cases, including 8203 new cases in Moscow. The fourth stage began in January 2021—in Moscow, the restrictive measures were partly relaxed on 27 January 2021—and has been marked by the declining infection numbers, the start of mass vaccination against Covid-19, and the gradual relaxation of public health restrictions in all regions. A new fifth stage began in June 2021, when the Delta variant of Covid-19 hit Russia hard, causing the third wave of the pandemic. Moscow invoked restrictions on 12 June 2021. The peak of new cases in Russia was recorded on 15 July 2021, when the daily number was 25,766. This stage demonstrates particularly high death rates: from 13 July 2021 until time of writing, the number of daily deaths from Covid-19 exceeds 750 people. The most notable restriction during the fifth stage was the introduction of partially compulsory vaccination in various regions and for various social groups.

A.  Public health measures

68.  The majority of public health measures were introduced and enforced on the regional level. This part provides an outline of the measures adopted in two federated units: Moscow and the Republic of Buryatia.

1.  Individual mobility restrictions on citizens (stay-at-home, curfews, etc)

69.  In March 2020, Moscow—the political center, largest city, and busiest travel hub in Russia—was hit hard by the new virus. On 5 March 2020, the Mayor of Moscow activated the state of high alert,159 but during the first weeks the stay-at home orders were not implemented. The first social group to be affected by the individual mobility restrictions comprised senior citizens (aged 65 years and older) and people with chronic diseases: they were required to isolate at home as of 26 March 2020.160 The Decree of the Mayor of 29 March 2020 imposed the stay-at-home obligation on all residents of Moscow.161 The general stay-at-home order lasted from 30 March until 8 June 2020. Exceptions allowing individuals to leave their place of residence were granted for instances of medical or other life-threatening emergency, commuting to one’s workplace and back, if the operation of the business was not suspended; attending the nearest supermarket or pharmacy; walking their dog within 100 metres of their home, and taking out their trash. Mobility restrictions in Moscow were not applicable to people with special passes issued under the procedure established by the Government of Moscow—mainly public officials who remained in office, eg parliamentarians, or employees of enterprises that were allowed to function during the ‘lockdown’, or those performing certain functions such as law enforcement, prevention of emergencies, medical assistance, etc.162 The new restrictions did not entail any curfews.

70.  The Decree of 11 April 2020 allowed residents to commute by personal or public transport only upon obtaining a digital pass through the official website of the city Mayor, or the call-center of the Government of Moscow, or SMS.163 People who continued moving around Moscow for work-related purposes received long-term digital passes, others had to obtain a 1-day pass. A limitation of two 1-day passes per week was established for all purposes, except for doctor’s appointments. The absence of a digital pass constituted an administrative offence punishable with a fine.

71.  The system of stay-at home orders and digital passes continued to operate until 8 June 2020. As of 1 June 2020, restrictions were slightly relaxed: short walks and outdoor sports were allowed during specified hours.164 As of 9 June 2020, individual mobility restrictions for the residents of Moscow, including senior citizens and people with chronic diseases, were lifted.

72.  During the third stage in Russia, which corresponded to the second wave of the pandemic, Moscow authorities introduced stay-at-home orders only for elderly citizens and people with chronic diseases. This order was in effect from 28 September 2020 until 7 March 2021.165 As of 8 March 2021, for this social group staying at home is still recommended.166

73.  Individual mobility restrictions for the general public in the Republic of Buryatia were in force from 29 March till 31 May 2020.167 Legitimate exceptions to the stay-at-home order matched the ones in Moscow. Additionally, between 5 April and 11 May 2020, the residents of Buryatia were allowed to leave home to care for close relatives, in cases of the death of a person with a significant personal relationship with an individual, and other emergencies. As of mid-April 2020, residents were also permitted to travel to their country houses and gardens if they filled in a special form on the website ‘Working Buryatia’.168 The Decree of 12 May 2020 relaxed the stay-at-home regime by allowing residents to go for walks and do outdoor sports in groups of no more than two persons and under the requirement of social distancing.

74.  In Buryatia, the senior citizens and people with chronic diseases have been subject to isolation orders throughout the whole pandemic (from 29 March 2020 till 31 March 2021). From May 2020, the vulnerable groups were allowed to commute to their country homes by personal transport,169 and, several weeks later, to go for walks and do physical exercise outside of their homes.170

75.  As explained in Part III.C above, the individual mobility restrictions were subject to litigation in ordinary courts, as well as the Constitutional Court of Russia. However, the courts found no legal grounds to invalidate or loosen these measures.

2.  Restrictions on international and internal travel

76.  In January–March 2020, before the pandemic gained strength and spread across Russia, the federal authorities behaved proactively and tried to prevent the uncontrolled import of the new infection to the Russian territory. Under the Order of 30 January 2020, the State border between Russia and the People’s Republic of China was temporarily closed.171 On 16 March 2020, the Government issued another Order that temporarily banned foreigners from entering the Russian Federation, unless they had a legitimate reason from the list contained in the Order.172

77.  Additionally, the Federal Service for the Surveillance on Consumer Rights Protection and Human Wellbeing (Rospotrebnadzor), presided by the Chief Public Health Officer, has been monitoring the situation and the spread of Covid-19 across the world and advising the regional authorities to control the arrival of Russian citizens from countries with high epidemiological risk—which included countries with high or fast-growing infection rates. The list of such countries was regularly published and updated on the Rospotrebnadzor website, and the regional authorities were expected to demand a 14-day home isolation of the people returning from these countries.173 The federated units, including Moscow and the Republic of Buryatia, took these regulations seriously and obliged citizens who returned from countries with a high risk of Covid-19 to report their arrival and contact information to the special hotline, isolate themselves at home or in another convenient location, and call a doctor in case of any symptoms of infection.174

78.  The strict 14-day ‘quarantine’ rule for citizens returning from abroad was in force until 15 July 2020. Afterwards, Russian citizens have been obliged to take a Covid-19 test within three days upon arrival from abroad.175 Until the arrival of the test results, citizens were required to obey the self-isolation order.

79.  During the first months of the pandemic, some constituent units introduced restrictions on internal travel. In accordance with Presidential Decree 239, a number of federated units required residents and non-residents to obtain a QR-code or permission in a different form to enter and travel across the region.176 Most of these restrictions were lifted in June 2020.

80.  Internal tourism was limited in accordance with the instruction of the Russian Prime Minister of 27 March 2020 to suspend the operation of camps, holiday hotels, and resorts until 1 June 2020.177 Nevertheless, by 1 July 2020 the tourist season was reopened and the amount of travel increased. To stimulate internal tourism, the Government adopted a scheme of reimbursing a certain percentage of travel expenses incurred by Russian tourists in 2020 through the federal budget (5,000 rubles cashback for every 25,000 rubles expense, but no more than 15,000 rubles per tourist, considering that the holiday lasted no less than 4 nights).178

3.  Limitations on public and private gatherings and events

81.  Drastic limitations on public and private gatherings and events have been introduced since March 2020—the specific date differed from one federated unit to another. In Moscow, the first round of restrictions was enacted on 10 March 2020 and concerned events of 5,000 or more people.179 This ‘light’ limitation lasted less than a week. The next step was to ban all outdoor public gatherings and all indoor events of 50 or more participants.180 By 25 March 2020, all indoor public events, including cultural, entertainment, educational, and sports events, were also temporarily prohibited.181

82.  The restrictions for indoor gatherings were gradually loosened in Moscow starting from 9 June 2020. The theatres, concert halls, and circuses were reopened for in-person rehearsals, and museum and exhibition halls began to operate with requirements to limit the number of visitors and ensure social distancing.182 Private outdoor gatherings were also permitted in playgrounds, sports grounds, and courtyards. In July–August 2020, cultural events and performances were allowed with a maximum occupancy of 50 per cent.

83.  Meanwhile, all public assemblies, including one-man picketing, remained explicitly banned. This absolute prohibition had the effect of mass detentions of protesters in Moscow. According to an analytical report of OVD-Info, in January–June 2020, 269 people were arrested during a single protest in Moscow, which exceeded the number of arrests in the two previous years altogether.183 In June 2020 alone, 76 people were detained for solitary picketing in Moscow. By contrast, public authorities met no obstacles in organizing the Victory Day parade in the Red Square on 24 June 2020, attended by 13,000 people.184

84.  In October 2020, due to growing infection numbers, the Moscow authorities introduced new restrictions on indoor gatherings. From 13 November 2020 till 21 January 2021, cultural, recreational, and educational indoor activities were again suspended.185 As of 22 January 2021, the restriction of 50 per cent occupancy for indoor gatherings was restored.186 In late January–early February 2021, Moscow and other Russian cities were swept by unauthorized street protests, political in nature and unrelated to the pandemic, resulting in more than 9,000 administrative proceedings against the protesters—5,500 administrative cases were heard by courts in Moscow—and 90 criminal prosecutions in 30 Russian regions.187 As of 1 August 2021, the ban on public assemblies in Moscow remains in force without any reservations.

85.  Outside of Moscow, public events and gatherings have also been seriously restricted during the pandemic. OVD-Info reports that 71 out of 85 federated units imposed an absolute or partial ban on public gatherings.188 In the Republic of Buryatia, all public offline gatherings, as well as cultural, sports, entertainment, and other events were temporarily suspended by the Decree of the Head of the Republic of 27 March 2020.189 Exceptions to this ban—eg in relation to certain sports events under the condition of 50 per cent occupancy—were introduced as the epidemiological situation improved, but major restrictions remain in force at the time of writing.

4.  Closure of premises and facilities (eg schools, shops, services, parks, churches, sport facilities)

86.  During the first and partly second stages of the Covid-19 pandemic in Russia, schools in Moscow and the Republic of Buryatia were closed, and students were obliged to study online until the end of the 2019–2020 academic year.190 Extra-curricular activities were also transferred to an online format. Universities received and followed recommendations to conduct classes remotely. In Moscow, limitations on school attendance were lifted in July 2020,191 while in Buryatia school premises remained closed until 1 September 2020.192 High school students were allowed to sit for their graduation exams offline, following the recommendations of the Chief Public Health Officer.193

87.  In October 2020, during the third stage in Russia that corresponded to the second wave of the pandemic, schools partially switched back to distance learning. In Moscow, the online format was mandatory for grades 6–11 (middle and high school) from 19 October until 30 December 2020, while primary schools—as well as the first year of secondary schools—were allowed to operate in the usual offline format.194 Universities also had to conduct classes online, most of them returning to their premises in February 2021. In several cities and districts of Buryatia, schools were closed in October–November 2020 due to the high risk of infection.195 Exceptions were made for grades 9–11 (high school), which continued to attend school premises. On 1 December 2020, most students in Buryatia returned to school premises, while large schools (1,000 and more students) were required to maintain a mixed format of offline and distance learning until March 2021.196

88.  From 28 March 2020 onwards, restaurants, bars, cafeterias, barber shops, beauty salons, saunas, and other premises were closed in Moscow.197 Similar restrictions came into force in the Republic of Buryatia on 29 March 2020.198 All stores, except for pharmacies, food stores, and stores selling basic necessities, were also closed. It remained possible to receive goods and services via courier delivery or, if applicable, remotely (via internet, telephone, etc). Most restrictions were loosened in June 2020: in Moscow, hair and beauty salons reopened from 9 June 2020; real estate, leasing, accounting, advertising agencies, summer terraces of cafes and restaurants reopened from 16 June 2020; and spa and massage rooms, saunas, tourist agencies, and indoor cafes and restaurants reopened from 23 June 2020.199 In Buryatia, the first relaxation concerned hair salons—they continued to operate from 17 April 2020,200 cafes and restaurants reopened from 10 June 2020 under several conditions including a closing time no later than 10pm, seating arrangements of no more than two adults per table, etc.201 Shops were reopened from June 2020 under strict limitations,202 but activities in shopping centers, such as recreation zones, children’s play zones, etc, remained closed until 30 April 2021.203 Spa salons, massage rooms, and solariums were not reopened until 30 November 2020.204

89.  During the second wave of the Covid-19 pandemic in autumn 2020, Moscow authorities imposed a light version of restrictions that did not amount to the closure of premises. From 19 October till 12 November 2020, night-time visitors of cafes and bars were required to check-in using the option on the website of the Mayor of Moscow or by sending a text message (SMS) to a special phone number.205 From 13 November 2020 till 26 January 2021, the closure of bars, restaurants, karaoke places, bowling and disco clubs, and karting centers from 11pm till 6am was required.206 Cinemas, theatres, and concert halls remained open, but their occupancy was limited to 25 per cent from 13 November 2020 till 21 January 2021.207 Sports events were allowed during this period only upon joint approval of the Moscow Department for Sports and the Moscow branch of Rospotrebnadzor.

90.  The response of the Republic of Buryatia to the second wave of the Covid-19 pandemic was more vigorous than most Russian regions. The Head of the Republic announced a two-week closure of most premises from 16–30 November 2020 in order to slow down the spread of the pandemic. All cafes, bars, restaurants, cinemas, beauty salons, saunas, shopping, and entertainment centers in Buryatia were temporarily closed.208 The strict measures were not prolonged—although lighter limitations remained in force—and the authorities considered them to have achieved the desired effect—the situation in overcrowded hospitals improved and the shortage of Covid-19 tests was compensated.209

91.  During the first months of the Covid-19 crisis, the authorities of Moscow closed all popular parks, estates, and recreation areas.210 Parks were reopened for visitors wearing masks and following social distancing requirements from 1 June 2020. Similar requirements were introduced for all park visitors in the Republic of Buryatia after the individual mobility restrictions were loosened in June 2020.211

5.  Physical distancing

92.  On the federal level, the obligation of keeping a physical distance of at least one metre from other individuals, especially in public places, including public transport but excluding taxis, was laid down in the Regulation of the Chief Public Health Officer of 30 March 2020.212 Provisions regarding social distancing enshrined in the decrees of the Mayor of Moscow and the Head of the Republic of Buryatia are more demanding than the instructions on the federal level: citizens are obliged to maintain at least a 1.5 metre physical distance, while public authorities, organizations, and entrepreneurs should create the conditions suitable for citizens to fulfil this obligation (eg special access to premises, markings indicating physical distances, and signs etc).213 The Moscow authorities strictly monitored the compliance of businesses (shops, banks, pharmacies, etc) with these requirements, which led to numerous administrative proceedings resulting in heavy fines for some enterprises (see further Part IV.B below).214

6.  Use of face coverings and personal protective equipment (PPE)

93.  In the Republic of Buryatia, the use of face coverings became mandatory from 29 April 2020.215 People were obliged to cover their faces on public transport, at train or bus stations and stops, airports, inside the premises of governmental agencies and private organizations, and in other public places. This obligation is still in force.

94.  Moscow authorities authorized the use of face coverings and hand gloves on public transport, in taxis, and in shops from 12 May 2020.216 When the individual mobility restrictions were loosened and parks were reopened for visitors, there was a period when Moscow authorities considered making the wearing of face coverings during walks and doing physical exercise mandatory.217 This requirement was relaxed and turned into a recommendation from 13 July 2020.218

95.  At the federal level, the requirement to use face coverings in public places has been included in the Sanitary and Epidemiological Regulations of 22 May 2020,219 and reinstated in the Regulation of the Chief Public Health Officer of 16 October 2020.220

96.  The requirement to wear masks became a matter for a class action to the Supreme Court of Russia where 1,500 people demanded in court that the obligation be lifted because they alleged that facial coverings are dangerous, especially for people with chronic illnesses, and useless as they created a fake illusion of safety. On 1 April 2021, the Supreme Court of Russia dismissed the claim.221

97.  The requirement to wear hand gloves in public places in Moscow has been subject to vibrant discussions. The Mayor of Moscow explained it as an extra-safety measure, while the Chief Infectologist of the Ministry of Healthcare stated that gloves are ineffective against Covid-19.222 Nevertheless, the obligation stayed in place in Moscow during the first half of 2021 until it was abolished on 30 July 2021,223 but was not in place in other regions, and its violation could lead to the imposition of an administrative fine.224

7.  Isolation of infected individuals and quarantine of individuals suspected of infection

98.  At the outbreak of the pandemic, authorities were mainly focused on measures to isolate infected individuals, as well as those suspected of infection, in order to slow down the spread of the new virus. People who have returned from countries with a high risk of Covid-19 transmission, or had contact with infected persons, were required to isolate themselves for 14 days and call the doctor in case of any symptoms of infection.225 Even a negative PCR test was not sufficient to end the quarantine before the expiration of 14 days. The Rospotrebnadzor published detailed instructions on the ‘basic principles of home quarantine’ on its website: citizens were even prohibited from going outside for garbage disposal during the two weeks of isolation.226

99.  As the virus was rapidly spreading during the first stage, the requirement of 14-day isolation was extended to housemates of people who had returned from countries with a high transmission rate,227 and then to people with the symptoms of a respiratory infection.228 Until presently, infected individuals undergoing treatment at home in Moscow have to install a special application called ‘Social Monitoring’ on their smartphones. At random times, the application sends requests to the registered users to take a selfie and prove that the geo-location of the user has not changed. If the user does not react to the push-request, or if the geo-location has changed, the system automatically charges the citizen with a violation of epidemic rules—every violation receives an administrative fine of 4,000–5,000 rubles (USD $52.50–65.50). The application has to be used until the complete recovery of the patient. Patients who refuse to install the application shall be hospitalized.229 There have been numerous complaints from the users about the disruption and failures in the functioning of the app, as well as the wrongful fines generated by the system, especially in the first months of the pandemic.230 The situation even caught the attention of the Presidential Council for Civil Society and Human Rights, whose chairman invited the Moscow authorities to carefully monitor the situation and even consider repealing all of the fines generated by the app.231 The advice was ignored, thousands of fines were contested in court, resulting in well-founded claims being satisfied and fines repealed. In November 2020, the Moscow authorities reported that the Social Monitoring app had been completely fixed and no longer provokes dissatisfaction on behalf of the users.232

8.  Testing, treatment, and vaccination

100.  By 31 January 2020, when the first infected person had been recorded in Russia, there was only one laboratory equipped to perform the test—the Research Center of Virology and Biotechnology ‘Vector’ in Novosibirsk. Tests often got lost or results arrived days and weeks later.233 On 30 March 2020, President Putin demanded the speeding up and scaling up of testing. The number of laboratories able to perform the testing, as well as the number of available tests, grew exponentially. By the end of April 2020, around 100,000–115,000 tests were performed on a daily basis.234 The Ministry of Healthcare regularly issued and updated recommendations regarding the groups of people to be tested for Covid-19.235

101.  On 15 May 2020, the Moscow authorities announced the beginning of mass random free testing for antibodies to Covid-19.236 The program was launched with the purpose of revealing the actual number of residents who have been infected by the new virus. By the end of June 2020, when over 90,000 tests were performed, the Moscow authorities reported that 20% of participants in the program had antibodies to Covid19.237 In August 2020, mass testing of teachers and staff members of Moscow public schools took place in anticipation of the new school year. Testing is easily accessible in most public and private medical laboratories in Moscow.

102.  In January 2021, the Republic of Buryatia introduced mandatory PCR testing for all individuals arriving by airplane from four Russian cities: Moscow, Novosibirsk, Krasnoyarsk, and Khabarovsk.238 This measure was effective from 5–20 January 2021 and was not prolonged.

103.  The Rospotrebnadzor reports that, as of 2 April 2021, Russian laboratories have conducted over 121 million tests for Covid-19 infection.239 All laboratories are obliged to report a positive Covid-19 test to the closest branch of Rospotrebnadzor to enable the monitoring of infected individuals, contact tracing, and accumulation of correct statistics.

104.  Recommendations for the treatment of patients with Covid-19 infection are regularly updated by the Russian Ministry of Healthcare.240 Patients have a right to free Covid-19 medication regardless of where they receive treatment, at home or in a hospital.

105.  Moscow and the Moscow region were the first federated units to begin large-scale free vaccination against Covid-19 in December 2020. The Republic of Buryatia began vaccination of its residents in January 2021. Firstly, vaccination was offered to medical staff and teachers, but very quickly vaccination was open to the general public. Citizens were offered the Russian two-dose vaccine ‘Sputnik V’, which at the start of the vaccination campaign was still in the third phase of clinical trials.241 The results of phase 3 trials of Sputnik V, proving its safety and 91.6% efficacy, were published in the Lancet on 2 February 2021.242 By the end of March 2021, a second Russian two-dose vaccine ‘EpiVakCorona’ became available to some Russian clinics,243 and on 25 March 2021, the Chumakov scientific center began the mass manufacturing of the third vaccine ‘CoviVak’ (also requiring two doses). On 6 May 2021, a fourth single-dose vaccine ‘Sputnik Light’ was registered in Russia.244 During the first six months of vaccination, its pace was slow, mostly due to people’s fear of side effects, a distrust of the speedy approval procedure, and vaccination in general.245 In mid-June 2021, in the face of skyrocketing numbers of cases due to the spread of the new Delta variant, over 20 Russian regions imposed mandatory vaccination on various groups of residents. Moscow became the first federated unit to introduce the new vaccination regime for employees in the spheres of trade, education, transport, housing utilities, beauty, sports, entertainment and culture, as well as civil servants.246

9.  Contact tracing procedures

106.  The contact tracing procedures in Russia are not as advanced as in some other countries, such as South Korea, New Zealand, etc. The isolation requirements concern the people who share an apartment or house with an infected person, which does not require sophisticated tracing approaches. However, the Rospotrebnadzor also recommends that employers trace the contacts of infected employees and report them immediately upon the request of the regional branch of Rospotrebnadzor.247

107.  The system of check-ins that was implemented in Moscow for the night-time visitors of bars, discos, and restaurants from 19 October till 12 November 2020 was also introduced to allow contact tracing.248 The obligation to ensure the check-in process was imposed on venue providers. At the end of November 2020, the Mayor of Moscow reported that almost 33,000 residents have received messages indicating their possible contact with an infected person and recommending they take a PCR test.249

108.  In November 2020, the Russian Ministry of Digital Development, Communications and Mass Media issued an application called ‘Gosuslugi.COVID tracker’.250 It is available on the Apple App Store and Google Play and allows the tracing of contacts of infected citizens via Bluetooth using the Exposure Notification technology. The tracing of other app users begins after an infected person anonymously notifies the app about a confirmed Covid-19 diagnosis. The use of the app is not obligatory.

10.  Measures in long-term care facilities or homes for the elderly, restrictions on visitors, etc

109.  On 23 April 2020, the Ministry of Labour and Social Protection of the Russian Federation addressed the regional authorities with a recommendation to quarantine all residential care facilities for elderly citizens and nursing homes for people with psycho-neurological problems. This measure was activated after 16 care facilities across the country confronted internal outbreaks of Covid-19 among their residents and staff. The new regime entailed not only a ban on visitors, but also 14-day shifts for staff members, during which time they were not allowed to leave the facility.251

110.  Researchers from the Institute of Social Politics, Higher School of Economics, identified several problematic issues regarding the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic on long-term care institutions. 252 Firstly, the statistics account only for public facilities and do not reflect the situation in private homes for the elderly, which leaves some 500–1,000 private facilities completely outside of public oversight and State assistance. Secondly, experts have identified the problem of inadequate healthcare hospitals provide for infected elderly patients who require special assistance. The third problem concerned the frequent attempts of staff to hide incidents of Covid-19 in homes for the elderly because of the fear of criminal prosecution.253

111.  The most acute problem, however, stemmed from the requirement of the new quarantine regime for social and medical workers to reside on the premises of the care facilities for the duration of 14-day shifts. This inconvenience, coupled with a high risk of contamination, motivated many staff members to leave their jobs and caused a scarcity of human resources in long-term care facilities. The federal Government recognized the problem and introduced additional payments for doctors and social workers who had been forced to work in shifts during the pandemic.254 These payments were extended until the end of 2021.255

B.  Enforcement and Compliance

1.  Enforcement

112.  Violation of numerous anti-Covid-19 measures adopted during the state of high alert may lead to the imposition of administrative or criminal liability. On 1 April 2020, the federal legislature amended the Russian Code of Administrative Offences introducing a new offence of ‘[n]on-compliance with the rules of conduct during the emergency situation or under the threat of it’ (Article 20(6.1)) and expanding the grounds for liability under Article 6(3): ‘[v]iolations of legislation in the sphere of public health and wellbeing of the population’.256 The federal Code of Administrative Offences covers violations of both federal and regional rules of conduct effective in times of the Covid-19 crisis, but citizens may also be fined under regional codes of administrative offences.257

113.  The enforcement of anti-Covid-19 measures was collaboratively secured by the police, the Rospotrebnadzor, the Federal National Guard Service, the State Fire Service, and other executive authorities. On 12 April 2020, the representatives of these agencies were empowered to draw up protocols for violations of public health measures,258 while the decisions to impose administrative fines, on the basis of these protocols, have been issued by courts.

114.  When the federated units introduced the requirement of mandatory face coverings in public places, the de facto burden of enforcement was shifted to commercial organizations (including shops, banks, cafes, etc) who were obliged to control the implementation of health measures on their premises.259 Specifically, shops were supposed to ensure that their employees and clients wear face masks and use hand gloves, equip the premises with antiseptics and signs informing the visitors about the effective health measures, and refuse to provide goods and services to those customers who do not follow the mandatory rules.260 The new regulation created a conflict between the legal requirement of the shops to serve customers without any discrimination,261 and the recommendation to deny service to clients without face coverings. The ambiguity was resolved by the explanation of the Rospotrebnadzor prioritizing the requirements imposed by the regional authorities during the state of high alert.262 On 22 October 2020, this interpretation was confirmed by the Supreme Court of Russia stating that when health measures are in place, shops are exempt from the obligation to provide goods and services to customers violating the mandatory rules of conduct during the pandemic.263 Moreover, shops that allow their employees or customers to disobey the temporary requirements are subject to administrative liability in the form of a fine or temporary closure under Article 20(6.1) of the Code of Administrative Offences.

115.  The violation of health measures may also lead to criminal liability established by the Federal Law of 1 April 2020.264 Criminal penalties, in the form of significant fines, forced labour, limitation of freedom, or even imprisonment, may be imposed if non-compliance with anti-Covid-19 measures has led to or created a threat of large-scale infection or human death(s). The unclear wording of the new provision of the Criminal Code was partially clarified by the Russian Supreme Court: when deciding whether the infection can be qualified as ‘large-scale’, the court should evaluate not only the number of infected individuals, but also the severity of their symptoms; the ‘threat’ of large-scale infection must be real and imminent; the court may invite specialists (representatives of Rospotrebnadzor, etc) to determine the actual harm caused by non-compliance with the public health measures.265

116.  Authorities created and empowered by municipalities to protect the population and territories against emergencies were allowed to participate in the enforcement of anti-Covid-19 measures.266 However, the role of local self-government may be characterized as modest.

117.  The army has not been involved in controlling or monitoring the compliance with public health measures.

2.  Compliance

118.  In November 2020, the Russian Ministry of Internal Affairs reported that over the previous months of Covid-19 crisis, 1.1 million people had been subject to administrative liability due to non-compliance with mandatory public health rules. The majority of cases (976,900) concerned the violation of Article 20(6.1) of the Russian Code of Administrative Offences and were initiated in response to non-compliance with quarantine and self-isolation requirements and the absence of face masks in public places. The total amount of government revenue from administrative fines at the time of the interview was at least 1.7 billion rubles (almost USD $22 million).267

119.  Overall, people have gotten used to the new health measures and adapted their behaviour to comply with the new regime (face masks, sanitizers, social distancing, etc). For example, in November 2020, the Head of the Chief Control Department (Glavkontrol) of Moscow reported that residents have become more conscious when attending public places, they use masks and hand gloves and keep a physical distance, although some people still do not follow these rules.268 However, the press has reported that public officials often demonstrate neglect of the mandatory anti-Covid-19 rules.269 For example, the Russian President and at times the Mayor of Moscow have appeared at public events without face coverings, and disregarding the requirement of social distancing. Even though public assemblies have been officially banned during the state of high alert, authorities have initiated, encouraged, and participated in several large-scale events, including the Victory Day Parade in June 2020 or the ‘Crimean Spring’ concert in March 2021.

Associate Prof. Tatiana Khramova, HSE University, Moscow, Russia


1  For official statistics provided daily see Stop Coronavirus, ‘Real-time data’ (accessed 13 May 2021).

2  See, for example, W Partlett, ‘Russia's 2020 Constitutional Amendments: A Comparative Perspective’ (2020) University of Melbourne Legal Studies Research Paper 887.

3  Constitution, art 1.

4  Constitution, art 95.

5  MV Baglai, Konstitutsionnoe pravo Rossiiskoi Federatsii: uchebnik (Constitutional Law of the Russian Federation: Textbook) (10th edn, Norma: INFRA-M 2013) 192.

6  Constitution, art 80.

7  Constitution, art 81.

8  W Partlett, ‘Crown-Presidentialism’ in G Frankenberg, W Partlett, J Priban, B Reinke, PC Zumbansen, The End of Globalization? - Resurging Nationalism, Authoritarian Constitutionalism and Uncertain Futures of Democracy (2020) TLI Think! Paper 22/2020, King's College London Law School Research Paper, Forthcoming, 67.

9  Constitution, art 110.

10  Constitution, arts 83, 111, 112.

11  Constitution, arts 83, 112.

12  Constitution, arts 83, 117.

14  Constitution, arts 12, 80(2), 132(3).

15  Constitution, arts 132(3).

16  Constitution, arts 12.

19  Constitution, art 71.

20  Constitution, art 72.

21  Constitution, art 73.

22  Constitution, art 72(1)(g), (h).

25  Judgment N 49-P (25 December 2020) (Constitutional Court of the Russian Federation [hereinafter RCC]).

26  Constitution, art 108(1)–(2).

27  Constitution, art 87.

31  Constitution, art 56(1), (3).

32  Constitution, art 17(1).

33  Constitution, arts 17(2), 55(2)–(3), 135(1).

34  Constitution, art 125(4), (6).

35  Constitution, art 55(3); Judgment N 15-P (30 November 2003) (RCC) and others.

36  Constitution, art 15(1), (4).

37  See Judgment N 21-P (14 July 2015) (RCC).

38  Judgment N 12-P (19 April 2016) (RCC); Judgment N 1-P (19 January 2017) (RCC).

39  See, for example, S Marochkin, ‘ECtHR and the Russian Constitutional Court: Duet or Duel?’ in L Mälksoo and W Benedek (eds), Russia and the European Court of Human Rights: The Strasbourg Effect (CUP 2017), 93–124; W Partlett and T Khramova, ‘Interpretation and the Impossibility of Implementation in Russian Prisoner Voting’, The International Association of Constitutional Law Blog (18 August 2016); A Blankenagel, ‘“Proshchay, Sovet Evropy!” or “Sovet Evropy, davay pogovorim!”? Kommentariy k Postanovleniyu Konstitutsionnogo Suda Rossii ot 4 iyulya 2013 goda ob ispolnimosti Postanovleniya ESPCh po delu Anchugova i Gladkova’ (‘“Good-bye, Council of Europe!” or “Council of Europe, we got to talk!”? A commentary to the Russian Constitutional Court Judgment of 4 July 2013 on the implementation of the Anchugov and Gladkov Judgment of the European Court of Human Rights’) (2016) Sravnitel’noe konstitutsionnoe obozrenie 6, 135–150 (in Russian); T Khramova, ‘To Pay or Not to Pay — Russia’s Next Step Away from the European Convention’, The International Association of Constitutional Law Blog (18 May 2017).

40  Judgment N 49-P (25 December 2020) (RCC), [2].

43  Judgment N 49-P (25 December 2020) (RCC), [3.2].

49  The emergency situation (‘chrezvychaynaya situatsiya’) is not to be confused with the constitutional state of emergency (‘chrezvychaynoye polozheniye’). The latter is regulated by the Federal Constitutional Law on the State of Emergency 2001.

58  Constitution, art 90.

59  Constitution, arts 113, 115(1).

60  Constitution, art 115(1).

61  Constitution, art 115(3).

64  Presidential Decree 206 (25 March 2020).

65  Presidential Decree 239 (2 April 2020).

66  Presidential Decree 294 (28 April 2020).

67  Presidential Decree 249 (7 April 2020); Presidential Decree 412 (23 June 2020); Presidential Decree 797 (17 December 2020).

68  Presidential Decree 313 (6 May 2020); Presidential Decree 60 (1 February 2021); Presidential Decree 136 (5 March 2021).

70  Government Decree 417 (2 April 2020).

72  A list of Covid-19 related decrees of the federal Government can be found at Stop Coronavirus, ‘Decisions of the Government of the Russian Federation’ (accessed 13 May 2021) (in Russian).

75  Decree of the Mayor of Moscow 12 (5 March 2020) was amended no less than 20 times; Decree of the Head of the Republic of Buryatia 37 (13 March 2020) was amended over 70 times.

76  Judgment N 49-P (25 December 2020) (RCC).

77  See Decision No 3a-3877/2020 (28 April 2020) (Moscow City Court); Decision No 3a-4457/2020 (8 October 2020) (Moscow City Court); Decision No 3a-50/2020 (9 October 2020) (Supreme Court of the Republic of Buryatia).

78  Stop Coronavirus, ‘Operational Data’ (accessed 1 August 2021).

79  Stop Coronavirus, ‘Operational Headquarters’ (accessed 1 August 2021).

80  The official information and guidelines for Moscow are published on the Mayor of Moscow, ‘Coronavirus: official information’ (accessed 1 August 2021); and for the Republic of Buryatia on Official portal of the Republic of Buryatia, ‘STOP CORONOAVIRUS!’ (accessed 1 August 2021).

82  Government Decree 285 (14 March 2020).

83  Government Decree 285, ss 7, 8, 11.

84  Government Decree 285, s 13.

89  Constitution, art 114(1)(a).

92  Constitution, arts 115(3), 117.

97  See, for example, State Duma, ‘The State Duma has held a “Government hour” with the Russian Minister of Healthcare’ (13 May 2020).

98  See, for example, State Duma, ‘The Minister of Healthcare told the State Duma about the situation with Covid-19’ (14 October 2020).

99  See, for example, State Duma, ‘Amendments on urgent measures to address the spread of Covid-19 have been enacted’ (31 March 2020).

100  K Dyuryagina, V Heyfets, H Aminov, ‘Stop everything and divide’ Kommersant (Online, 11 April 2020); E Rozhkova, ‘Communists warned Sergey Sobyanin about famine and unauthorized assemblies’ Kommersant (Online, 13 April 2020).

101  State Duma, ‘The State Duma adopted 553 laws in 2020’ (24 December 2020).

104  State Duma, ‘The State Duma resumes the reception of the citizens’ (10 February 2021).

106  Five State Duma deputies re-infected with coronavirus’ Kommersant (Online, 15 December 2020); Duma terminated the powers of the deceased deputy Nikolai Antoshkin’ Tass (Online, 19 January 2021).

107  Regulation of the State Duma 9078–7 GD (11 November 2020).

109  Rules of procedure of the State Duma, arts 15(1(1)), 23(1(d1)), 24(5(1)), 40(5).

110  Regulation of Moscow City Duma 26 (1 April 2020).

111  D Nikitin, R Varum, ‘Assistant’s Law. Discovery in Moscow City Duma: Staff Members Can Vote for MPs at the Meetings’ Open Media (Online, 24 November 2020).

112  Constitution, art 118.

114  Supreme Court of the Russian Federation, ‘The Supreme Court sums up the results of the courts for 2020’ (9 February 2021).

118  Supreme Court of the Russian Federation, ‘The Supreme Court has summarized the results of the work of the courts in 2020’ (9 February 2021).

119  A Baeva, N Smirnova, D Shedov, ‘Russian Courts of General Jurisdiction. Experience During the Pandemic’ OVD-Info (Online, 28 October 2020).

122  Constitutional Court of the Russian Federation, ‘Judgments of 2020’ (accessed 1 August 2021).

123  G Vajpan, ‘Where have the Constitutional Court’s oral hearings disappeared?’ Zakon.ru (Online, 19 April 2021).

125  Decision N 3A-3877/2020 (28 April 2020) (Moscow City Court).

126  See Decision N 3A-4457/2020 (8 October 2020) (Moscow City Court).

127  Decision N 3a-50/2020 (9 October 2020) (Supreme Court of the Republic of Buryatia).

128  Judgment N 49-P (25 December 2020) (RCC).

130  Presidential Decree 205 (25 March 2020).

131  Regulation of Central Election Committee No 244/1804-7 (20 March 2020, with further amendments).

132  The Federal Law on basic guarantees of electoral rights and the right of citizens of the Russian Federation to participate in a referendum 2002 was applicable to the procedure of nationwide popular vote only in parts explicitly referred to by the Central Election Commission.

133  W Partlett, ‘Russia's 2020 Constitutional Amendments: A Comparative Perspective’ (2020) University of Melbourne Legal Studies Research Paper 887, 6; see also the opposition media reflections in R Varum, ‘The Constitution will be approved in a “Churov” manner. 10 main differences of the July plebisc ite from transparent elections’ Open Media (Online, 5 June 2020); E Barysheva ‘Popular vote on the constitutional amendments: what is wrong with the new procedure?’ DW (Online, 9 June 2020).

135  Elections 13 September 2020. Key facts’ Kommersant (Online, 13 September 2020).

136  E Kuznetsova, ‘The election day is over. Important things to know’ RBK (Online, 13 September 2020).

138  See, for example, E Rozhkova, A Vinokurov, ‘All in all 19 times. ‘Golos’ has counted the amendments to electoral laws’ Kommersant (Online, 1 July 2021).

141  COVID-19 Preprints, ‘Covid-19’ (accessed 13 May 2021).

143  International Press Institute (IPI), ‘Media Freedom Violations Linked to COVID-19’ (accessed 15 August 2021).

147  Agora International Human Rights Group, ‘The fake news ‘infodemic’: the fight against coronavirus as a threat to freedom of speech’ (15 June 2020).

149  Avagyan v Russia Application No 36911/20 (4 November 2020) (European Court of Human Rights).

151  Ombudsman of the Russian Federation, ‘Protection of human rights during the Covid-19 pandemic’ (19 November 2020) 33, 35.

152  Ombudsman of the Russian Federation, ‘Protection of human rights during the Covid-19 pandemic’ (19 November 2020) 37.

155  Decree of the Mayor of Moscow 12 (5 March 2020).

156  Presidential Decree 206 (25 March 2020); Presidential Decree 239 (2 April 2020); Presidential Decree 294 (28 April 2020).

158  Decree of the Mayor of Moscow 92 (25 September 2020)

159  Decree of the Mayor of Moscow 12 (5 March 2020).

160  Decree of the Mayor of Moscow 26 (23 March 2020).

161  Decree of the Mayor of Moscow 34 (29 March 2020).

162  Decree of the Mayor of Moscow 34 (29 March 2020), s 9.3.

163  Decree of the Mayor of Moscow 43 (11 April 2020).

164  Decree of the Mayor of Moscow 61 (27 May 2020).

166  Decree of the Mayor of Moscow 13 (5 March 2021), s 9.1.

171  Government Order 140 (30 January 2020).

172  Government Order 635 (16 March 2020).

176  O Chizh and M Kataeva, ‘Colorful passes, QR-codes and SMS: controlling the self-isolation in Russia’ BBC News (Online, 7 April 2020).

177  Instruction of the Prime Minister (27 March 2020).

178  Government Regulation 1200 (10 August 2020).

179  Decree of the Mayor of Moscow 17 (10 March 2020).

180  Decree of the Mayor of Moscow 21 (16 March 2020).

181  Decree of the Mayor of Moscow 28 (25 March 2020)

182  Decree of the Mayor of Moscow 68 (8 June 2020).

184  P Aksyonov, ‘No masks. Moscow hosted the Victory day parade’ BBC News (Online, 24 June 2020).

185  Decree of the Mayor of Moscow 107 (10 November 2020); Decree of the Mayor of Moscow 1 (14 January 2021).

186  Decree of the Mayor of Moscow 3 (21 January 2021).

187  Crackdown on peaceful protests in January – February 2021 in Russia’ OVD-Info (Online, 19 February 2021).

188  N Smirnova and D Shedov, ‘Freedom of assembly in Russia during the pandemic’ OVD-Info (Online,17 September 2020) (English summary available).

191  Decree of the Mayor of Moscow 77 (9 July 2020).

193  Recommendations on the operation of educational facilities under the risk of the spread of Covid-19 (approved by the Chief Public Health Officer) (8 May 2020).

194  Decree of the Mayor of Moscow 100 (14 October 2020).

197  Decree of the Mayor of Moscow 31 (26 March 2020).

199  Decree of the Mayor of Moscow 68 (8 June 2020).

205  Decree of the Mayor of Moscow 101 (15 October 2020).

206  Decree of the Mayor of Moscow 107 (10 November 2020).

207  Decree of the Mayor of Moscow 107 (10 November 2020).

209  Lockdown in Buryatia will end November 30’ Regnum (Online, 26 November 2020).

210  Decree of the Mayor of Moscow 31 (26 March 2020).

213  Decree of the Mayor of Moscow 34 (29 March 2020), s 9.1–9.2; Decree of the Head of the Republic of Buryatia 53 (31 March 2020), s 1.1.

214  Stay away. Almost 600 cases of violation of social distancing revealed in Moscow’ Rossiyskaya gazeta No 92 (8146) (Online, 27 April 2020).

216  Decree of the Mayor of Moscow 55 (7 May 2020).

217  Decree of the Mayor of Moscow 61 (27 May 2020).

218  Decree of the Mayor of Moscow 77 (9 July 2020).

220  Regulation of the Chief Public Health Officer 31 (16 October 2020), s 1.

221  N Kostarnova, ‘“You don’t let me breath”. The Supreme Court denied the class action of opponents of masks’ Kommersant No 57 (Online, 2 April 2021), 4.

223  Decree of the Mayor of Moscow 45 (30 July 2021).

226  Rospotrebnadzor, ‘On the basic principles of home quarantine’ (19 March 2020).

227  Decree of the Mayor of Moscow 33 (27 March 2020).

228  Decree of the Mayor of Moscow 47 (21 April 2020).

229  Mayor of Moscow, ‘How the application “Social monitoring” works: Q&A.’ (24 April 2020).

230  A Dellanna, ‘Coronavirus: Russia’s tracking app sparks fury after mistakenly fining users’ Euronews (Online, 2 June 2020).

231  Council of the President of the Russian Federation for the Development of Civil Society and Human Rights, ‘Chairman of the Council for Human Rights Valery Fadeev suggested the cancellation of all fines generated by “Social Monitoring”’ (26 May 2020).

233  N Ishenko, A Krechetova, ‘How Russia came second in the world in coronavirus testing’ Vedomosti (Online, 26 April 2020).

234  N Ishenko, A Krechetova, ‘How Russia came second in the world in coronavirus testing’ Vedomosti (Online, 26 April 2020).

235  Ministry of Healthcare of the Russian Federation, ‘Prevention, Diagnostics and Treatment of the Covid-19 Infection. Temporary methodological recommendations’ (updated 7 May 2021), as of 1 August 2021, 11 versions of recommendations have been issued.

236  Blog of the Mayor of Moscow Sergey Sobyanin, ‘Coronavirus: New program of studying the population immunity of the residents of Moscow’ (14 May 2020).

241  O Dyakonova and N Voronin, ‘The trials of the “Sputnik V” vaccine have stopped attracting volunteers. Why is it important?’ BBC news (Online, 25 December 2020).

243  “EpiVakKorona” vaccine has become available to Russian clinics’ Kommersant (Online, 1 April 2021).

244  One-dose Covid-19 vaccine Sputnik Light registered in Russia’ Tass (Online, 6 May 2021).

248  Decree of the Mayor of Moscow 101 (15 October 2020);

249  Sobyanin reported that there are no plans to close the city’ Tass (Online, 26 November 2020) (in Russian).

250  The application is available on the official website of Open Data of Russia, ‘Gosuslugi.COVID tracker’ (accessed 13 May 2021).

252  E Yakushev, O Sinyavskaya, and O Voron, ‘Covid-19 and the death rate in homes for the elderly in the world and in Russia’ Higher School of Economics (14 May 2020).

253  M Kovaleva, ‘The virus has penetrated the nursing homes’ Kommersant – Middle-Volga-Online (Online, 6 May 2020).

254  Government Regulation 681 (15 May 2020).

255  Government Regulation 1859 (18 November 2020).

257  For example, Code of Administrative Offences of Moscow, art 3.18.1: ‘[v]iolation of the requirements of Moscow regulations securing the state of high alert in Moscow’; Code of Administrative Offence of the Republic of Buryatia, art 15.1: ‘[v]iolation of the requirements of the regulations of the Republic of Buryatia securing the state of alert in the Republic of Buryatia’.

258  Government Order 975 (12 April 2020).

259  See, for example, Decree of the Mayor of Moscow 55 (7 May 2020), s 9.4.

263  Ruling N AKPI20-536 (22 October 2020) (Supreme Court of Russia).

266  Government Order 975 (12 April 2020).

269  T Felgengauer, ‘Commentary: Pandemic not for everyone or the Russian elites are above the rules’ DW (Online, 2 December 2020).