Russia

Last update: 1 month ago

The Russian Federation is a federal semi-presidential republic. It gained its independence in 1991 after the Soviet Union broke apart. The current political scene is dominated by President Vladimir Putin and his United Russia party. The parliamentary elections in September 2021 resulted in another win for United Russia, granting them 49% of the votes, enough to pass laws without support of the other parties. Besides United Russia, seven other parties and five independents attained seats, but each is also allegedly under the influence of the Kremlin. No true opposition party entered parliament, either because they did not win any seats in either the party lists or single-mandate constituencies, or because they were banned from partaking. The organizations of the jailed opposition politician Alexei Navalny were banned following the designation of the organizations as “extremist”. Independent monitors have reported thousands of instances of fraud during the elections, while also calling the preparations into question, as opposition voices were repressed. The elections have therefore been dubbed the ‘least free elections in twenty years’.

The elections were held across Russia, as well as in the contested areas Crimea and Sevastopol. In March 2014, the two areas declared their independence after a highly contested local referendum resulted overwhelmingly in favour of secession from Ukraine and joining Russia. President Putin has since then signed reunification treaties, accepting the areas as Russian. This development is highly contested, and the areas are internationally not recognized as Russian. The move to hold Russian elections in the contested areas has therefore met much protest from Ukraine, the European Union and the US.  

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Map of Russia

Short facts

Population:
144,104,080 million (2020 World Bank est.)
Governmental Type:
Federation
Ruling Coalition:
One ruling party - United Russia
Last Elections:
19 September 2021 (parliamentary elections)
Next Elections:
2024 (presidential election)
Image of Vladimir Putin

Vladimir Putin

President

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Image of Mikhail Mishustin

Mikhail Mishustin

Prime Minister

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Political Situation

Democratic backsliding

Power in Russia’s political system is concentrated in the hands of President Vladimir Putin. Since his election in 2000 Russia has experienced gradual democratic backsliding. The federation has shown an increasing level of human rights violations, repression of opposition parties and organisations and increasing control over media. Opposition parties have difficulties in manifesting political programmes, campaigns, rallies and protests. New laws and constitutional amendments in 2007 and 2008 further marginalised the opposition and concentrated more power in the hands of the president.

A vertical political structure has been consolidated by Putin and his United Russia party in the last decade. The Kremlin tries to uphold the façade of freedom and democracy, but elections are tightly controlled. The federative character of the country seems a formality, as regional autonomy is suppressed. Constitutional constraints on the vertical power structure are bypassed by amendments or loopholes, like the two terms consecutive limit on the presidency. When in 2008 Putin was ineligible to run for President, he picked his loyal friend Dimitri Medvedev as his placeholder. Putin assumed the post of prime minister before he returned to being president in 2012. In April 2021 Putin signed into law a change in the constitution that allows him to run for two more six-year terms. Prior to this law, Putin would have had to step down after his fourth and current term in 2024, but now he can stay on until 2036.

Political Rights and Civil Liberties

Civil liberties and political rights are reduced by the state, and therefore the NGO Freedom House has scored Russia as ‘not free’. Independent media outlets are suppressed by the Kremlin with all kinds of tools; formal (with repressive laws) and informal (through financial takeovers). The respected investigative journalist outlet RBC was sold in 2017 to a Putin ally. All critical journalists had to leave the company after the acquisition. Other critical media outlets, like Ekho Moskvy, are threatened and attacked. There have been cases of critical journalists dying under suspicious circumstances.

Opponents of the regime are being marginalised. Critical voices such as anti-corruption crusader Alexei Navalny are able to express their discontent with the regime through social media and rallies but are held back at critical moments, like elections. Navalny has been jailed multiple times since 2012, and in August 2020 he was poisoned with a Novichok nerve agent. Navalny fell ill while on a flight from Siberia to Moscow, and he was later flown to Germany to be treated in the hospital. Though the Kremlin denies it, experts agree that Russia was behind his poisoning. In January 2021 Navalny, by now recovered, left Germany and returned to Russia, where he was arrested upon arrival for violating the terms of his probation. He is currently serving a two-year prison sentence. Based on a suspicious fraud case the state filed against him, Navalny was unable to run for president in 2018, and his organization was prevented from running for parliament in the 2021 elections after it was designated as “extremist”. The content he publishes on social media is often taken down by Russia’s internet watchdog, and a tactical voting app developed by his organization for the 2021 elections has been banned. Other movements have also been undermined or even forbidden.

NGOs and other organisations are being repressed and controlled by the ‘foreign agent law’. Signed into force in 2006, the foreign agent law requires organizations engaging in political activity and receiving foreign funding to register as foreign agents. As a foreign agent, an organization is monitored more closely: ‘political activities’, including participation in protests, must be registered with authorities before they are allowed, material and finances need to be registered etc. Critics have harshly condemned the law, as ‘political activities’ can be too loosely interpreted causing the law to be used arbitrarily, against all opposition.

Human Rights and Gender Equality

Russia has many marginalised groups. The Kremlin tolerates discrimination and violence against the LGBT+ community; the authorities have even passed an ‘anti-gay propaganda law’ which prohibits any (positive) discussion of LGBT+ matters with minors. As a result, several brutal incidents were reported in 2017. None of the accusations were properly handled by the authorities.

Ethnic minorities are also tightly monitored by the Kremlin. Minority religious groups can be designated as “extremist” under Russia’s broad counter-extremism laws, a treatment that Jehovah’s Witnesses and Islamic groups have undergone. Furthermore, under federal pressure in 2017, schools in the Tatarstan region were forced to reduce Tatar language classes.

Women are underrepresented in public life and politics. Only 1/5th of the Duma consists of women, and there are only 2 female ministers in the current cabinet. Meanwhile, domestic violence is widespread in Russia. In February 2017, a law was signed that decriminalises violent acts in the home that only cause pain and do not result in permanent physical harm.

Relations with the West

Following the Euromaidan events in Ukraine, the annexation of Crimea in February 2014, and the support for the separatist movements in Eastern Ukraine, Russia has increasingly been put under pressure by Western countries, notably the US and the European Union, who have issued multiplied sanctions against the country. Subsequently, Russia has increased tensions with almost every Western country over the last few years.

In 2014 a Malaysia Airlines flight was shot down over Ukrainian territory by a Russian Buk-rocket, killing 298, including 193 Dutch citizens, straining relations between Russia and the Netherlands. Support for anti-European groups in Western Europe and the Balkans are making relations with the EU as a whole difficult. Russia’s suspected efforts to undermine the 2016 United States presidential elections further deteriorated relations with Washington. The assassination attempt on a former Russian spy in England in 2018 – widely attributed to Russia’s security agencies - additionally resulted in British sanctions against the federation. Meanwhile, Moscow has supported authoritarian regimes like the ones in Syria and Iran, and increasingly the de facto one in Belarus. During the Syrian Civil War, Russia intervened on behalf of the regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.

Putin prepares for 2024

On 15 January 2020, after his annual state-of-the-nation address, Putin shocked the country by announcing some radical constitutional changes along with the resignation of Prime Minister Medvedev. Shortly after this announcement former tax Chief Mikhail Mishustin was appointed as Prime Minister by Putin and tasked with forming a new government. Medvedev remained head of the United Russia party and was appointed as deputy head of the Security Council. This council is expected to be granted more power over the years as analysts expect it will allow Putin to remain in power without violating the constitution.

On 21 January, the new government was presented by Mishustin. Several ministers remained on their post, like Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu and Finance Minister Anton Siluanova. Overall, the most important ministers retained their position, while less important ministries were subject to change, like the ministry of sports, health and culture. The same day proposed amendments by Putin were approved by a committee from the lower house of parliament. Analysts suspected that this sequence of events all served the purpose of keeping Putin in power, and in April 2021 they seemed proven right: a change in the constitution was enforced that allows Putin to remain in office for two more terms, enabling him to remain President until 2036.

 

Elections

Electoral system

After the break-up of the Soviet Union, the Russian Federation gained independence on 24 August 1991. The country is a federal democratic republic with a strong presidential system. Previously, the people elected the president for a four-year term, but an amendment to the constitution prolonged the term to six years as of 2012. Vladimir Putin, who served as president from 2000 to 2008, was succeeded by Dmitry Medvedev, his appointed successor. However, Putin was re-elected in 2012 for a third term in office, and again in 2018.

The Federal Assembly has two chambers. The State Duma (Lower House) has 450 members, elected for a five-year term through a mixed electoral system (half of the parliamentarians elected in majoritarian single-mandate districts and half – through party lists). The Federation Council (Upper House) has 170 members, two delegates for each of the 85 regions.


Parliamentary elections

From the 17th of September till the 19th of September 2021, parliamentary elections were held in Russia. The official turnout was low, approximately 51.7 percent (compared to 47,81% in 2016, and 60,1% in 2011).

Final election results

Parties Seats in parliament % of votes
 United Russia  324  49.82 %
 Communist Party (CPRF)  57  18.93 %
 Liberal Democratic Party  21  7.55 %
 Just Russia  27  7.46 %
 New People 13  5.32 %
 Party of Pensioners  0  2.45 %
 Yabloko  0  1.34 %
 Communists of Russia  0  1.27 %
 Russian Ecological Party "The Greens"      0  0,91 %
 Rodina  1  0.8 %
 Russian Party of Freedom and Justice   0  0.77 %
 Green Alternative  0  0.64 %
 Party of Growth   1  0.52 %
 Civic Platform  1  0.15 %
 Self-nominated  5  -
 Total  450  

The ruling United Russia party gained 49.82 percent of the votes, making them the big winner of the elections. This percentage of votes translates into 324 seats. This is fewer than after the last election, but still enough for a constitutional majority, enabling them to make changes to the Russian constitution. The Communist Party of the Russian Federation (CPRF) received 18.93% of the votes, leading to 57 seats, a gain of 15 since the last election. The Liberal Democratic Party won 7.55% of the votes, translating in 21 seats, a loss of 18. Just Russia won 7.46% of the votes, and 27 seats (23 in 2016). This year a new party crossed the 5% threshold to enter parliament: New People. They gained 5.32% of the vote, leading to 13 seats. All other parties did not cross the 5% barrier, and therefore gain no seats from party lists. Nevertheless, Rodina, the Party of Growth and the Civic Platform gain one seat through single-mandate constituencies.  


Election Monitoring

Election monitoring was limited this year as fewer parties were permitted to monitor, and the process of monitoring itself was made more difficult. The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) did not send observers due to the restrictions imposed by the Russian authorities. Officially, the observers were welcome to monitor the elections, but restricted to a limited number of personnel, officially due to the pandemic. Due to these restrictions the OSCE did not monitor the elections.

Not only were there fewer election monitors, the Kremlin has also set up processes that make election monitoring more difficult, for example by encouraging online voting and spreading the elections over three days. The official reason for these steps was the coronavirus, but critics say the extended poll lacked transparency and created paths for abuse.


Repression and violations

In the preparation of the elections efforts to suppress the opposition were reported. In St. Petersburg the authorities contrived to register a pair of “clone candidates”, with the same name and a striking facial resemblance to one of the opposition figures on the ballot. Critics claim that this was done in order to confuse the voters and make it more difficult to determine who the opposition candidate was. The organization of Navalny, the jailed opposition politician, started up a tactical voting campaign to deal a blow to United Russia. By use of an app, the campaign urged followers to sign up to be allocated a candidate judged to have the best chance of defeating United Russia in their election district. In order to repress this opposition activity, the Kremlin has deployed tools to disrupt the app, forcing Alphabet’s Google and Apple to remove it from their stores.

There have not only been reports of repression in the preparation of the elections, but there have also been numerous reports of election fraud. Golos, an independent election watchdog, recorded thousands of violations, including ballot stuffing, threats against observers, efforts to get rid of opposition votes, and ‘carousel voting’, where the same voters are taken around several polling stations to vote several times with an absentee authorization.

The combination of voter fraud and the repression of the opposition have given these elections the reputation of the ‘least free elections’ in twenty years.

On the 25th of September, protests broke out against the results of the elections. Hundreds of people gathered in Moscow calling out to “bring back the elections”. The protest was organized by several politicians, most of them Communists, saying they were cheated of victory by the online voting system. During the elections the Communists were in the lead in Moscow, but when the electronic votes were counted United Russia suddenly gained the majority. This development has been viewed by many as fraudulent. 


International and domestic reactions

International reactions to the elections have been negative. The U.S. State Department said the election conditions had not been conducive to free and fair elections, both during the elections themselves and during the preparation to the elections, where opposition parties were excluded. Britain’s foreign ministry called the vote a setback for democratic freedom, and EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell said that the bloc noted several reports of serious violations.

Within Russia critics and members of the opposition have also protested the election results. In Moscow, Communist protesters demonstrated after they felt cheated during the elections. Communist candidates opposed to United Russia had been ahead in more than half of the electoral districts in Moscow, but all of them lost their position after electronic votes were added to the total. Navalny’s allies have also protested the results, but the Russian authorities nevertheless claim that the elections were free and fair, even “exceptionally clean and transparent”. 


Presidential elections

On 18 March 2018 presidential elections took place in Russia, in which 67,96 percent of the Russians cast their ballot.

Final election results

Candidates

% of the votes

 Vladimir Putin (Independent)

 76.69%

 Pavel Grudinin (Communist Party of the Russian Federation)

 11,77 %

Vladimir Zhirinovsky (Liberal Democrat of Party of the Russian Federation)

 5.65%

 Ksenia Sobchak (Independent)

 1.68%

 Grigory Yavlinsky (Yabloko)

 1.05%

 Boris Titov  (Party of Growth)

 0.76%

 Maxim Suraykin (Communists of Russia)

 0.68%

 Sergey Baburin (Russian All-People's Union)

 0.65%

   


Incumbent President Vladimir Putin was re-elected with 76.69 per cent of the votes. Consequently, he secured his fourth mandate. Putin has been president between 1999 and 2008. He was prime minister under Medvedev between 2008 and 2012 when he was ineligible to seek another consecutive term, but was widely believed to be in charge in the background. In 2012 he was re-elected president.

The other seven candidates all received less than 1/8th of the votes. Pavel Grudinin, the candidate of the Communist Party, gained 11,77 per cent, which is a 6 per cent loss compared to the communist party’s bid in 2012. Vladimir Zhirinovsky, leader of the Liberal Democratic Party of Russia, acquired 5,65 % of the votes, a similar result to the last elections in which he was running for president as well. The remaining candidates all received under 2 per cent of the votes.

State-controlled elections
Opposition leaders and independent monitors stated that the election was characterised by the suppression of the opposition. The OCSE concluded that the elections took place in a state-controlled environment in which citizens were pressured to vote and candidates were unable to develop a competitive campaign. All candidates expressed their certainty that the incumbent president would prevail. High-potential candidate Alexey Navalny excluded from the electoral process.  The media gave the incumbent president an advantage over the opposition candidates. While no large disturbances occurred, over two thousand incidents at polls were reported. Including carousel voting, ballot-box stuffing and violence.


International reactions
The reactions from Europe were mixed. Serbia was one of the first countries to congratulate Putin, citing that Russia is a genuine friend of Serbia. Hungary, Bulgaria, Moldova and the Czech Republic followed the Serbian example. Other European countries didn’t officially send congratulatory messages to Putin. German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas said it was not a "fair political competition," according to European values and that Russia would "remain a difficult partner."

 

Political parties

Other Parties

Logo of United Russia

United Russia (ER)

Party Leader: Vladimir Putin

Number of seats: 324

http://er.ru/

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Logo of Communist Party of the Russian Federation

Communist Party of the Russian Federation (KPRF)

Party Leader: Gennady Zyuganov

Number of seats: 57

http://kprf.ru/

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Liberal Democratic Party of Russia (LDPR)

Party Leader: Vladimir Zhirinovsky

Number of seats: 21

http://www.ldpr.ru/#

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Logo of A Just Russia Party (Fair Russia)

A Just Russia Party (Fair Russia) (SR)

Party Leader: Sergey Mironov

Number of seats: 27

http://www.spravedlivo.ru

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Logo of New People

New People

Party Leader: Alexey Nechayev

Number of seats: 13

https://newpeople.ru/

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Logo of Yabloko

Yabloko

Party Leader: Emilia Slabunova

http://www.yabloko.ru/

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Logo of People’s Freedom Part

People’s Freedom Part (PARNAS)

Party Leader: Mikhail Kasyanov

https://parnasparty.ru/

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Logo of Progress Party

Progress Party

Party Leader: Alexei Navalny

https://partyprogress.org/

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Logo of The Other Russia

The Other Russia

Party Leader: Eduard Limonov

http://drugoros.ru/

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Biographies

Image of Vladimir Putin

Vladimir Putin

President

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Image of Mikhail Mishustin

Mikhail Mishustin

Prime Minister

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Image of Dmitry Medvedev

Dmitry Medvedev

Former prime-minister

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Image of Sergey Mironov

Sergey Mironov

Leader of ‘A Just Russia’ party

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Image of Alexei Navalny

Alexei Navalny

Leader of the Progress Party

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Image of Grigoriy Yavlinskiy

Grigoriy Yavlinskiy

Founder and former leader of the Yabloko party

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