Russia

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The Russian Federation is the largest country in the world in territory, covering 11 time zones. It has a population of 145 million people, although the population is decreasing because of low birthrates and low life expectancy. The capital and largest city is Moscow, with 10 million people; other major cities are St. Petersburg, Novosibirsk, Nizhny Novgorod and Yekaterinburg. Russia is the sucessor state to the Soviet Union, and it adopted a democratic constitution on December 12, 1993. The Russian Federation has one of the five permanent seats on the United Nations Security Council.

The Russian Federation's first President was Boris Yeltsin, who oversaw the more or less peaceful dissolution of the Soviet Union transition from Soviet institutions to a regime that appeared to be a democracy. However, during this period, many of the country's best assets were sold off to shadowy new owners, called the oligarchs. Yeltsin's handpicked repalcement was former KGB section chief Vladimir Putin.

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Government

Russia is a federal state, with a republican form of government. However, in recent years, the central government has increased its power at the expense of the states; for example, state governors are now appointed by the President, Vladimir Putin. The President of Russia is chosen by direct election every four years, and the next presidential election will be in March 2008. Putin has endorsed Dmitry Medvedev, the Deputy Prime Minister, to suceed him, while Putin is likely to become Prime Minister, and to continue ruling from behind the scenes.

Russia has two houses of parliament. The lower house, or Duma, has 450 members, while the upper house, or Federation Council, has 178 members - two from each of Russia's 89 republics and regions. Parliamentary elections were held in December 2007, and the United Russia party won a clear majority. The Prime Minister is Mikhail Fradkov.

Russia's political parties are largely based on personalities, and the political scene is fluid. Nationalist parties are predominant (especially United Russia, which is controlled by the Kremlin), while Western-style liberals get about 5% of the vote, and Communists still have significant support. Television is completely controlled by the state; however there are a few independent newspapers and websites based in Moscow.

Political Elites

Economics

After the collapse of the Soviet Union, and its centrally planned economy, Russia endured many years of Depression-like conditions, culminating in a debt default in 1998. However, high prices for oil,natural gas and minerals have led to rapid economic growth in recent years. At the moment, most of the new wealth has flowed into Moscow, which is becoming a prosperous European capital. Unfortunately, poverty is still widespread in the countryside.

President Putin began a program of disenfranchising the oligarchs, and concentrating economic power into a handful of quasi-state monopolies. For example, he seized the assets of the oil company, Yukos, and imprisoned its president Mikhail Khodorkovsky, then merged it into the state-controlled energy giant, Gazprom. In other sectors, Rosoboronexport is taking over auto and aerospace companies, and Norilsk Nickel produces metals.

Terrorism

Russian has suffered repeated terrorist attacks from radical groups based in Chechenya. Two of the most horrible attacks were a massacre of school children in Beslan, and the seige of a theater in Moscow.

Foreign Policy

Russians refer to the other republics of the former Soviet Union as the "near abroad", and Russia frequently interferes with the internal affairs of those countries. Russia has also used its oil and gas resources to gain political influence on the world stage.

Links

References

  • Henry Hale. 2005. Why Not Parties in Russia?: Democracy, Federalism, and the State. Cambridge University Press.
  • Regina Smyth. 2006. Candidate Strategies and Electoral Competition in the Russian Federation: Democracy Without Foundation. Cambridge University Press.
  • Kremlin Rising, by Peter Baker and Susan Glasser, Scribner Book Company, 2005. ISBN 1-0743264312. This is a good, recent book about Putin's Russia.
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