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. During the parliamentary elections on 18 September 2016, the ruling United Russia party was granted a constitutional supermajority in the legislation. Turnout to the new Duma elections was the lowest in the post-Soviet history of Russia, 47.81 per cent as compared to 60.1 per cent in the 2011 elections. No opposition party managed to pass the 5 per cent threshold. Two new counties had been added in the 2016 elections - Crimea and Sevastopol. Internationally, Russia is criticised for the annexation of Crimea, supporting separatist movements in Eastern Ukraine and alleged meddling in the 2016 US Presidential elections. Sanctions have been multiplied by Western countries, affecting its economy. In the 2018 Russian presidential elections, Putin managed to retain his seat by nullifying the opposition through systematic repression.
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- 144,096,812 million (2015 World Bank est.)
- Governmental Type:
- Ruling Coalition:
- One ruling party - United Russia
- Last Elections:
- 11 March 2018 (presidential elections)
- Next Elections:
- 2021 (parliamentary elections)
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.
Civil liberties are reduced by the state. 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. Based on a suspicious fraud case the state filled against him, Navalny was unable to run for president in 2018. The content he publishes on social media is often taken down by Russia’s internet watchdog. Other movements have also been undermined or even forbidden. 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. 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. Support for anti-European groups in Western Europe and the Balkans are making relations with the EU 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. 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 usual 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 analyst 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. Analyst suspect, this sequence of events all serve the purpose of keeping Putin in power. In 2024, Putin will have to end his presidency as the constitution prescribes, but it currently looks like Putin might have already started the process of changing the constitution in his favour.
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. 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.
On 18 September 2016, parliamentary elections were held in Russia. The official turnout was 47,81 per cent (60,1 per cent in 2011).
Final election results
|Parties||Seats in parliament||% of votes|
|United Russia||343||54,24 %|
|Communist Party (CPRF)||42||13,44 %|
|Liberal Democratic Party||39||13,25 %|
|Just Russia||23||6,18 %|
|Grazhdanskaya Platforma||1||0,22 %|
|Self-nominated candidate Vladislav Reznik||1||-|
The ruling United Russia party gained 54,24 per cent of the votes, which indicates an increase in support in comparison with the 2011 elections, where the party won 49,32 per cent of the votes. The Communist Party of the Russian Federation (CPRF) received 13,44 per cent of the counted votes (19,19 per cent in 2011), Liberal Democratic Party of Russia (LDPR) - 13.25 per cent (11,67 per cent in 2011), and A Just Russia – 6,18 per cent (13,24 per cent in 2011).
The other eight parties that participated in the elections – among others Yabloko, Parnas and Patriots of Russia, will not be represented in the parliament, as they did not pass the 5 per cent threshold. As Yabloko won less than 3 per cent of the votes, it doesn’t get the right to receive financial support from the state.
The results mean that the United Russia party gets the constitutional majority that it lost after the previous election.
According to the Statement of Preliminary Findings and Conclusions of the OSCE Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR), a low level of campaigning and violations during the campaigning process were observed. The activities of the ruling party were generally the most visible and prevalent. The main campaign topics were the socio-economic situation, political stability, patriotism and foreign policy issues. There was no clear political alternative offered in the elections, which limited the voters’ choice.
In almost half of the federal subjects, local state bodies attempted to pressure the voters into voting for the governing party and selectively applied notification procedure to deny or condition permissions to hold rallies for the opposition. Media – and especially state media - failed to grant contestants with equitable coverage, with the ruling party receiving more editorial coverage than other contestants.
During the campaign, leaders and several members of the opposition Parnas party were physically attacked (e. g. Mikhail Kasyanov on 10 August in Stavropol) or detained by police. On 3 September in Tyumen, police disrupted an authorised opposition party Yabloko event, briefly detained three participants and confiscated campaign material due to participation of minors. There was also the destruction of campaign material and dissemination of false and libellous information about various contestants, thereby discrediting them.
OSCE Election Observation Mission (EOM) recognised the Central Election Commission (CEC) administration to be transparent, whereas lower-level commissions performed unevenly and lacked impartiality and independence. There were problems with the secrecy of the vote in half of the polling stations. Numerous procedural irregularities were noticed during counting. EOM observers were not able to meaningfully observe the counting and tabulation. At 38 per cent of the monitored stations' ballots were counted in a manner that not all those present could see the voter’s mark. A third of the Precinct Election Commissions' results protocols were not posted for public scrutiny.
Opposition members reported instances of mass lifts (to the polling stations; illegal if organised by a candidate or his/her affiliated structures) and ‘cruise voting’ or carousel voting, where the same voters are taken around several polling stations to vote several times with an absentee authorisation.
Election monitoring group Golos had received more than 2,000 complaints of suspected vote-rigging from all over the country by early afternoon on 18 September. Among the reported violations were long lines of soldiers voting at stations where they weren’t registered, and voters casting their ballots on tables instead of curtained-off voting booths.
The U.S. State Department noted that the election commission "administered the elections transparently", but added that it shares OSCE observers' concern about limitations during the candidate registration process, misuse of administrative resources by some local authorities during the campaign and harassment of opposition members.
Great Britain and the European Union didn’t recognise election results in Crimea and Sevastopol.
On 18 March 2018 presidential elections took place in Russia, in which 67,96 per cent of the Russians cast their ballot.
Final election results
% of the votes
Vladimir Putin (Independent)
Pavel Grudinin (Communist Party of the Russian Federation)
Vladimir Zhirinovsky (Liberal Democrat of Party of the Russian Federation)
Ksenia Sobchak (Independent)
Grigory Yavlinsky (Yabloko)
Boris Titov (Party of Growth)
Maxim Suraykin (Communists of Russia)
Sergey Baburin (Russian All-People's Union)
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.
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.
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."
Former prime-ministerRead biography
Leader of ‘A Just Russia’ partyRead biography
Leader of the Progress PartyRead biography
Founder and former leader of the Yabloko partyRead biography
- CIA World Factbook
- Election Committee Russia
- Human Rights Watch
- Moscow Times
- OSCE Elections observation mission Final Report Parliamentary elections (12 January 2012)
- Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty
- Russia Profile
- Russian Energy Policy Toward Neighboring Countries (Sept 2009) CRS Report for Congress
- Russian Political, Economic, and Security Issues and U.S. Interests (January 2010) CRS Report for Congress
- Russia-U.S. Relations and Russia's vision for international affairs (13 April 2010 Washington D.C.) The Brookings Institution