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COUNTRY: conventional long form: Russian Federation conventional short form: Russia local long form: Rossiyskaya Federatsiya local short form: Rossiya former: Russian Empire, Russian Soviet Federative Socialist Republic

Image:Russia Basil.jpg BACKGROUND

Founded in the 12th century, the Principality of Muscovy, was able to emerge from over 200 years of Mongol domination (13th-15th centuries) and to gradually conquer and absorb surrounding principalities. In the early 17th century, a new Romanov Dynasty continued this policy of expansion across Siberia to the Pacific. Under Peter I (ruled 1682-1725), hegemony was extended to the Baltic Sea and the country was renamed the Russian Empire. During the 19th century, more territorial acquisitions were made in Europe and Asia. Repeated devastating defeats of the Russian army in World War I led to widespread rioting in the major cities of the Russian Empire and to the overthrow in 1917 of the imperial household. The Communists under Vladimir Lenin seized power soon after and formed the United Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR). The brutal rule of Josef Stalin (1928-53) strengthened Russian dominance of the Soviet Union at a cost of tens of millions of lives. The Soviet economy and society stagnated in the following decades until General Secretary Mikhail Gorbachev (1985-91) introduced glasnost (openness) and perestroika (restructuring) in an attempt to modernize Communism, but his initiatives inadvertently released nationalist and separatist forces that by December 1991 splintered the USSR into 15 independent republics. Since then, Russia has struggled in its efforts to build a democratic political system and market economy to replace the strict social, political, and economic controls of the Communist period. While some progress has been made on the economic front, recent years have seen a recentralization of power under Vladimir PUTIN and an erosion in nascent democratic institutions. A determined guerrilla conflict still plagues Russia in Chechnya.


To describe Russian geographically is almost impossible: it is by far the world’s largest country, comprising almost every imaginable temperate and arctic environment, from snow-cover Svaalbard in the North Sea to the volcanic peaks of Kamchatka and the temperate Riviera on the Black Sea. As a general not, assume that unlike with most countries, where territorial size is a challenge to expanding populations and the ambitions of government, Russia’s challenges are almost reversed: the country is so large, and so scarcely populated, that is almost impossible to either exploit natural resource or assert control from a central government in Moscow.

Location: Northern Asia (that part west of the Urals is included with Europe), bordering the Arctic Ocean, between Europe and the North Pacific Ocean AREA: total: 17,075,200 sq km land: 16,995,800 sq km water: 79,400 sq km

Climate: ranges from steppes in the south through humid continental in much of European Russia; subarctic in Siberia to tundra climate in the polar north; winters vary from cool along Black Sea coast to frigid in Siberia; summers vary from warm in the steppes to cool along Arctic coast

Terrain: broad plain with low hills west of Urals; vast coniferous forest and tundra in Siberia; uplands and mountains along southern border regions

Natural Resources: wide natural resource base including major deposits of oil, natural gas, coal, and many strategic minerals, timber. Formidable obstacles of climate, terrain, and distance hinder exploitation of natural resources; largest country in the world in terms of area but unfavorably located in relation to major sea lanes of the world; despite its size, much of the country lacks proper soils and climates (either too cold or too dry) for agriculture; Mount Elbrus is Europe's tallest peak

Image:Russia Orthodox.jpg Image:Russia Caucasian.jpg PEOPLE

Population: 143,782,338 (July 2004 est.)

Ethnic Groups: Russian 81.5%, Tatar 3.8%, Ukrainian 3%, Chuvash 1.2%, Bashkir 0.9%, Belarusian 0.8%, Moldavian 0.7%, other 8.1% (1989)

The Russian people, who dominate the Russian Federation, historically lived around the great river deltas of the Volga and Dniepr in Eastern Europe, between the vast plains of Poland and Hungary but west of the Ural Mountains, which divide Europe from Asia. The Russians are the largest subgroup of the Slavic people, who make up the majority of Eastern Europe, including Poles, Bosnians, Croatians, Bulgarians, Serbians, Ukrainians, Belorussians, Czechs, and Slovaks. They speak a language which is historically very close to Ukrainian, and in appearance tend towards fair skin and hair. They are historically a Christian culture, subscribing to the Orthodox Church, which split from the Catholic Church in 1054. Although religion was outlawed during the Soviet era, since the fall of communism many Russians have become reacquainted with their faith, and religion is currently on the rise among Orthodox Russians. As a result of the expansion of Russian princedoms during the medieval and early modern era, the Russians became overlords of an empire which came to encompass hundreds of different peoples in central and eastern Asia. These include:

Caucasians: Native to the mountainous eras between the Black and Caspian seas, Caucasians are a very diverse group of peoples, divided into a number of completely distinct ethnicities which defy easily description. Most Caucasians are Christian, like Georgians and Armenians, though a significant number of them, including Chechens and Daghestanis, are Muslims, who have historically resisted the rule of Moscow and are currently engaged in a serious rebellion against government control.

Turks: Central Asia is the ancestral homeland of the Turkish peoples, who speak similar Turkish languages like Kazakh and Uzbek and are generally Sunni Muslims. Russian officials have always been slightly afraid of these groups, since it is obvious that they have little attachment to the Christian Russian government in Eastern Europe. They are generally involved in raising animals like sheep and horses, and have not been very successful at integrating into the world economy after the fall of communism, a fact which has only increased Turkish disaffection with Moscow.


Type: Federation

Capital: Moscow

Head of State: President Vladimir Vladimirovich PUTIN (acting president since 31 December 1999, president since 7 May 2000)

Head of Government: Premier Mikhail Yefimovich FRADKOV (since 5 March 2004); Deputy Premier Aleksandr Dmitriyevich ZHUKOV (since 9 March 2004)

Cabinet: Ministries of the Government or "Government" composed of the premier and his deputy, ministers, and selected other individuals; all are appointed by the president note: there is also a Presidential Administration (PA) that provides staff and policy support to the president, drafts presidential decrees, and coordinates policy among government agencies; a Security Council also reports directly to the president

Elections: president elected by popular vote for a four-year term; election last held 14 March 2004 (next to be held NA March 2008); note - no vice president; if the president dies in office, cannot exercise his powers because of ill health, is impeached, or resigns, the premier succeeds him; the premier serves as acting president until a new presidential election is held, which must be within three months; premier appointed by the president with the approval of the Duma.

Russia operates as a federal government, with an strong central presidency—largely created by current President Vladimir Putin—which is balanced out by a relatively strong unicameral legislature, the Duma, made up of directly elected members of Russia’s many competing parties. Compared with the American system individual states are also very powerful, which can lead to very different political customs in different parts of the country.

Keep in mind: the Russian political system is very, very new. Putin is only the second president in the history of the Russian federation, which means he is establishing a lot of precedents and political procedures as he goes. The same is true of Russia’s many political parties, which are charged with providing representatives to the Duma, but the powers of the Duma itself are still a matter of much debate, so surprising developments should be considered the rule when looking at the Russian political system.


For the entirety of Putin’s presidency, the once devastated Russian economy has been rebounding strongly, aided by Putin’s aggressive promotion of Russian natural gas to Europe and Asia. Russia ended 2006 strongly, averaging 6.9% annually since the financial crisis of 1998. Although high oil prices and a relatively cheap ruble are important drivers of this economic rebound, since 2000 investment and consumer-driven demand have played a noticeably increasing role. Investments are seeing greater gains, and personal incomes are steadily rising as well. Oil, natural gas, metals, and timber account for more than 80% of exports, leaving the country vulnerable to swings in world prices. Russia's manufacturing base is dilapidated and must be replaced or modernized if the country is to achieve broad-based economic growth. Other problems include a weak banking system, a poor business climate that discourages both domestic and foreign investors, corruption, local and regional government intervention in the courts, and widespread lack of trust in institutions. In addition, a string of investigations launched against a major Russian oil company, culminating with the arrest of its CEO in the fall of 2003, have raised concerns by some observers that President PUTIN is granting more influence to forces within his government that desire to reassert state control over the economy. Internationally, this has become a strong complaint against Putin’s economic policies: he seems to be willing to crush rivals, expel enemies, and seize their companies for the State, after which his old allies usually seem to take them over. The Russian economy might be expanding at the expense of its young democracy.

Currency: Russian ruble (RUR)

GDP: $1.282 trillion (2004 est.)

Industries: complete range of mining and extractive industries producing coal, oil, gas, chemicals, and metals; all forms of machine building from rolling mills to high-performance aircraft and space vehicles; shipbuilding; road and rail transportation equipment; communications equipment; agricultural machinery, tractors, and construction equipment; electric power generating and transmitting equipment; medical and scientific instruments; consumer durables, textiles, foodstuffs, handicrafts

Exports: petroleum and petroleum products, natural gas, wood and wood products, metals, chemicals, and a wide variety of civilian and military manufactures

Imports: machinery and equipment, consumer goods, medicines, meat, sugar, semifinished metal products

Image:Russia Army.jpg MILITARY

The Russian military, during the Soviet era, rivaled that of the USA as the best in the world. Russia was never able to assume the kind of naval supremacy that the US enjoyed, largely because its natural ports are so bad for large warships, but the Soviet weapons industry excelled at communications equipments and avionics—Russian radar and broadcasting systems are still superior to American systems in some ways, and to this day the Russian military produces some of the world’s finest fighter jets. The problem was simply that the Russian economy could not afford to build enough of them to truly compete with that of the United States. Since the end of the Cold War the Russians have scaled back their arms industry out of financial necessity, and only recently, under Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov, have they started to rebuild it to its former Superpower level.

To help support this refurbishment, Russia has begun selling several of its more advanced weapons systems to countries around the world, offering high tech weaponry to many countries who normally could not buy such products from western suppliers, especially Iran, Venezuela, and Syria. This has been a source of diplomatic tension with some western governments, but for a Russia eager to reassert its military might, international complaints mean less than the hard cash it takes to build new tanks, planes, and battleships.

Image:Russia Gorbachev Yeltsin.jpg RECENT HISTORY

After more than seven decades of Soviet rule, the regime of President Gorbachev marked the end of repressive political controls and permitted nationalist movements to arise in the constituent republics of the USSR. In 1990, Boris Yeltsin and other nationalists and reformers were elected to the Russian parliament; Yeltsin was subsequently chosen Russian president. Under Yeltsin, Russia declared its sovereignty (but not its independence) and began to challenge the central government's authority. In 1991, Yeltsin was reelected in the first popular election for president in the history of the Russian Republic.

Yeltsin and the leaders of eight other republics reached a power-sharing agreement with Gorbachev, but its imminent signing provoked a coup attempt (Aug., 1991) by Soviet hard-liners. In the aftermath, the USSR disintegrated. With Ukraine and Belarus, Russia established the Commonwealth of Independent States. When Gorbachev resigned (Dec., 1991), Yeltsin had already taken control of most of the central government, and Russia assumed the USSR's UN seat. Yeltsin moved rapidly to end or reduce state control of the economy, but control of parliament by former Communists led to conflicts and power struggles. On Sept. 21, 1993, Yeltsin suspended the parliament and called for new elections. Parliament retaliated by naming Vice President Aleksandr Rutskoi as acting president, and anti-Yeltsin forces barricaded themselves inside the parliament building. On Oct. 3, supporters of the anti-Yeltsin group broke through a security cordon to join the occupation, and also attacked other sites in the capital. The military interceded on Yeltsin's side, and on Oct. 4, after a bloody battle, troops recaptured the parliament building. Many people were jailed, and the parliament was dissolved. In Dec., 1993, voters approved a new constitution that strengthened presidential power, establishing a mixed presidential-parliamentary system similar to that of France.

From 1993 until 2000, the Yeltsin presidency can generally be said to have laid the groundwork for a democratic Russia and avoided total societal meltdown…but little else. A series of electoral disputes, compounded by scandals, widespread mafia activities and Yeltsin’s growing number of political enemies essentially froze the Russian system into a state of permanent paralysis, made all the worse because the Russian economy nearly collapsed from inflation in 1998. A sense of political crisis returned in August 1998 when Islamic militants from Chechnya invaded Dagestan (see below), and Yeltsin appointed a relatively unknown St. Petersburg politico, Vladimir Putin, to be his Prime Minister. After a series of terrorist bombings in Moscow and elsewhere that were blamed on Chechen militants, Putin launched an invasion of Chechnya. That action bolstered his popularity, as did a slight upturn in the economy due to rising prices for oil, Russia's most important export. On Dec. 31 1999, Yeltsin resigned as president, and Putin became acting president.

One of Putin's first acts was to form an alliance with the Communists in the Duma; together his supporters (the Unity bloc) and the Communists held about 40% of the seats. In the elections of Mar., 2000, Putin bested ten other candidates to win election as Russia's president. Putin introduced several measures designed to increase central government control over the various Russian administrative units, dramatically increasing his own power in the process. He also won the authority to remove governors and dissolve legislatures that enact laws that conflict with the national constitution. Mikhail M. Kasyanov, a liberal, was appointed prime minister, and a broad plan for liberal economic reforms was enacted. The alliance with the Communists lasted until 2002, when the Unity bloc was strong enough to control the Duma alone.

Image:Russi Putin.jpg Image:Russia Chechen.jpg PUTIN’S PRESIDENCY

Chechnya: Since the disintegration of the Soviet Union, Russia has had to confront separatist movements in several ethnically based republics and other areas, including Tatarstan and, most notably, Chechnya, which declared independence upon the dissolution of the Soviet Union in Dec., 1991. Russian troops were sent there in Dec., 1994; subsequent fighting resulted in heavy casualties, with the Chechen capital of Grozny reduced to rubble by Russian bombardment. A peace accord between Russia and Chechnya was signed in Moscow in May, 1996. The invasion of Dagestan by Islamic militants from Chechnya in 1999 and a series of terrorist bombings in Russia during Aug.’Sept., 1999, however, led to Russian air raids on Chechnya in Sept., 1999, and a subsequent full-scale ground invasion of the breakaway republic that again devastated its capital and resulted in ongoing guerrilla warfare. Chechen terrorists have also continued to mount attacks outside Chechnya, including the seizure of a crowded Moscow theater in Oct., 2002, and a school in Beslan, North Ossetia, in Sept, 2004. The Russian occupation of Chechnya continues to the present, and Putin has made it clear that he is unwilling to hold negotiations with the Chechen leaders, calling them “murdering bastards,” a statement which reflects the Russian public’s general lack of support for concessions in the face of what they consider Islamic terrorism. Putin has used this conflict to move his country strategically closer to the west, arguing that Russia’s war against Chechen insurgents is a crucial arena of the “War on Terror,” belying the fact that he has not allowed international observers to investigate alleged human rights abuses by the Russian army.

Under Putin, Russia also has revived its ties with many former Soviet client states, and used its economic leverage to reassert its sway over the more independent-minded former Soviet republics, particularly Georgia. The country has nonetheless continued to maintain warmer ties with the West than the old Soviet Union did. Putin was an earlier supporter of the U.S. ‘war on terrorism’, and in 2001 Russia began to explore establishing closer ties with NATO, which culminated in the establishment (2002) of a NATO-Russia Council through which Russia could participate in NATO discussions on many nondefense issues. Russia even returned to Afghanistan, providing aid in the aftermath of the overthrow of the Taliban. Russia did, however, resist the idea of resorting to military intervention in Iraq in order to eliminate weapons of mass destruction, and as the United States pressed in 2003 for a Security Council resolution supporting the use of force, Russia joined France in vowing to veto such a resolution. By the end of 2003, Russia had experienced five years of steady economic growth, and recovered (and even seen benefits) from the collapse of the ruble in 1998.

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Internally, Putin has aggressively combatted the perceived corruption of Russia’s ultra-rich business class, the Oligarchs, over the extent of the role business executives would be allowed to play in politics. Mikhail Khodorkovsky, chairman of the Russian oil giant Yukos, was arrested on charges of fraud and tax evasion, but his political aspirations were believed to have had as much to due with the government's move against him as any crime. This fact seemed emphasized by the occurrence of the arrest in the month before the parliamentary elections and just a few months before the 2004 presidential elections. He is one of many among Russia’s richest citizens who have either been jailed, forced into exile, or otherwise eliminated from Russia’s political scene, all as part of Putin’s allegedly egalitarian plan of empowering the middle class by reducing the power of the ulta-wealthy. This policy remains very popular domestically, but outsiders observers claim that Putin has attacked the rich to secure his own power, since most appropriated companies come under control of the government or government subsidiaries, and many of the new chairpeople of these companies are personal friends of Vladimir Putin.

Putin was reelected by a landslide in Mar., 2004, but observers criticized the campaign as biased, if not outright corrupt. A series of deadly, Chechnya-related terror attacks during the summer culminated in the seizure of a school in Beslan, North Ossetia, which ended with the deaths more of more than 300 people, many of them children. Putin responded by calling for, among others, an end to the election of Duma representatives from districts and the appointment (instead of election) of the executives of oblasts and similar divisions of Russia. These moves further centralized power in the Russian Federation and diminished its federal aspects Despite yet another charge of creeping towards dictatorship, since 2004 Putin has continued to improve Russia’s economic, military, and political influence internationally, and if he steps down as promised in 2008, he will likely be remembered as the many who rebuilt Russia after the collapse of the Soviet Union.


As the world’s largest nation, and one of its most economically and militarily powerful, Russia maintains a complex web of alliances and rivalries, in the Middle East and abroad. Always remember that Russia is a member of the “Quartet,” the group consisting of the United States, European Union, United Nations, and Russia, which is currently considered to be the international entity most capable of solving the Israeli-Palestinian dispute. Also, Russia is a permanent member of the UN security council, and generally seen as having the world's second strongest military after the United States. While it has been inactive in the Middle East until recently, many Arabs are beginning to see Russia as a possible counterweight to what they perceive to be America's blanket support of Israel and expansionist desires. What the Russians think about this is harder to tell, but in a very real way, Russia is one of the only countries of the world which, if necessary, can tell the US "NO" and make it stick. Russia is currently persuing a non-threatening policy internationally, but with a strong president and a growing economy, Russia will never forget that it was once a superpower, and might become one again soon.

Israel: Russia, as the Soviet Union, generally sided against Israel throughout the Cold War, and it is rumored that Israel actually had nuclear weapons pointed at Moscow. This is not necessarily due to any animosity on the part of Soviets towards Israel (many of Israel’s founders were actually Russian immigrants), but a reflection of the fact that Israel lined up with the west during this conflict, necessarily leading the Russians to counterbalance by supporting Israel’s enemies to its own advantage. Now that the Cold War is over, relations between these nations have improved somewhat, though on an institutional level the Russian government is still reported as maintaining its general pro-Arab tilt in regional affairs. Putin made a state visit to Israel in 2005, the first Russian president to do so, and publicly met with Israeli leaders. All the same, it is current Russian policy that the Palestinians must be given an independent state, and further, that the Israelis have seriously tarnished their own reputation by holding onto the Occupied Territories. As a result of the war in Chechnya, however, many Russians have become more sympathetic to the security plight of the Israelis, who they also believe to be suffering from the threat of “Islamic terrorism.”

Palestinians: The Russians, as previously mentioned, are staunch defenders of the idea of a Palestinian state, and for their part want a strong, united Palestinian government to be present to inherit it. Unlike most actors in the Middle East conflict, the Russians can truly be seen as neutral when it comes to the Palestinian leadership struggle. Putin has supported Mahmud Abbas repeatedly in public, most recently in February 2007, but his government also maintains that Hamas, as the current ruling party of the Palestinian Authority, must be constructively engaged as a sovereign government.

Syria: Syria was the Soviet Union’s closest Arab ally, and the fall of communism almost destroyed the Syrian regime, leaving it friendless and outgunned by its archenemy Israel and Israel’s victorious superpower backer, the United States. Since 2003 Putin’s government has attempted to reinvigorate this relationship, if nothing else as a way for Russia to effectively reenter the region as a major actor. Russia forgave almost $13 billion in Syrian debt, effectively reducing Syria’s foreign debt by 80%, and even proceeded to provide the Damascus government with advanced missile systems—a move which was immediately decried by the United States and Israel. Russia responded with just as much ardor, insisting that Syria has an important role to play in the region, and cannot be marginalized forever. Since 2003 Russia has also invited increasing numbers of Syrians to study at Russian universities, as part of a larger bid to help reintegrate Syria into the globalizing world.

Iran: International pariah though it might seem to the west, Iran and Russia have deep economic and military links with each other. They share a border on the Caspian Sea, and have agreed to a number of security arrangements to defuse tensions along that water body. Likewise, Russia has supplied many weapons systems to Tehran, especially surface-to-air missile arrays to protect sensitive government locations, including Iran’s nuclear facilities. Nuclear security is certainly the most important issue Iran now presents Russia with, seeing as the Russians are the primary providers of Iran’s nuclear technology. Russia is therefore strongly in favor of allowing Iran to possess a civilian nuclear power program (it would make a good advertisement for Russian nuclear technology), and have repeatedly tried to press Iran to commit itself to treaties and provisions that would force their program to remain a purely peaceful enterprise. Since Iran has refused, Russia has grudgingly agreed to UN sanctions against the Iranian nuclear program, though it insists that these sanctions be targeted only against nuclear technologies, and not meant to simply harm the Iranian people. Russia is adamantly opposed to any military operation against Iran, and has warned that any such attack from Israel or the US would have catastrophic international consequences.

Saudi Arabia: As an ally of America and staunch opponent of communism, the kingdom of Saudi Arabia has been one of Russia’s strongest detractors. Recently, however, Putin has made an effort to reach out to the conservative kingdom, and made a historic trip to the Gulf in February 2007, where he supported the “Abdullah Plan” for Middle East peace, which offers peace with Israel if it withdraws to its pre-1967 borders. The Saudis have likewise started to buy Russian equipment for their military, indicating that the strategic relationship between these countries might blossom in the future.

United States: The Russian government emerged as one of the US’s harshest critics following the invasion of Iraq, accusing the US of trying to become an empire capable of bullying the world into submission. Putin is a frequent target of US journalists, who accuse him of being a tyrant; Putin normally responds by asking about the wellbeing of detainees in Guantanamo Bay, or about America’s domestic spying program and the Patriot Act. Most recently, and perhaps most seriously, Russia has emerged as the strongest international voice against a US attack on Iran. Russia has not threatened America in any way, but as the Bush Administration stepped up its rhetoric against Tehran, Putin became more and more strident about rebuilding Russia’s military capabilities. Iran might prove the spark that ignites a new Cold War, if the Russians once again feel that the US has stepped beyond the pale of international law.


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