Population: 142,5 million
Area: 17 098 242 km2
GDP (PPP): 3 471 billion dollar (2015 estimate)
GDP per capita (PPP): 23 700 $ (2015 estimate)
Rate of growth: – 3,9 % (2015 estimate)
Head of state: Vladimir Putin
Head of government: Dmitriy Medvedev
In 1917, the autocracy of the Russian Tsar gave way to bolshevist rule in what was to be known as the October Revolution. In the ensuing years, a civil war was fought between the communist Red Army and the tsarist White Army. The communists won and when Lenin died in 1924, Stalin ascended to power.
By means of his dictatorial powers, Stalin set out to industrialise the Soviet Union. During the 80’s, Gorbachev sought to reform the economy and the politics of the Soviet Union. In December 1991, the Soviet Union was officially dissolved. Boris Yeltsin, President of the former Soviet Republic of Russia remained in office until 2000, when Vladimir Putin was elected president.
Between the years 1993 and 2011, elections to the lower house of the parliament – the State Duma – have been held six times. Presidential elections have been held five times, the last one in 2012. There are also elections to the regional legislative assemblies of the 89 republics as well as local elections to city councils.
After the 2012 presidential election international election observers reported that although measures in order to increase transparency had been implemented, one candidate had a clear advantage: Vladimir Putin. The observers also criticised the way candidates had been registered. The parliamentary elections in 2011 were marked by falsification and a number of measures were undertaken in order to prevent this in the presidential election, including web cameras in the polling stations, however, numerous of irregularities, including carousel voting and ballot stuffing, were report during the Election Day.
President Putin, re-elected in 2012 with 64 percent of the votes, has centralised power at the expense of regional and local authorities and strengthened the president’s position in relation to the federal authorities. Furthermore, the State Duma is dominated by the presidential party United Russia, which received 49,6 percent in the last election. In relation to Putin’s re-election in 2012, the Presidential term was extended from four to six years.
Putin has also sought to strengthen his position in the world and not at least in the surrounding neighborhood. In this ambition the formation of a Eurasian Economic Union (EEU) is included.
Another example of Putin’s ambitions is the aggressive interference in Ukraine. After Viktor Yanukovych fled Kiev in the Euromaidan Revolution in February 2014 a rebellion, by the Russian part of the population, began in the Crimean peninsula. After a heavily criticized referendum, the separatist Parliament, on March 17, asked for Crimea to be incorporated into the Russian Federation. This request was granted immediately. The Russian involvement in Crimea as well as support for separatists in eastern Ukraine has been criticized by the outside world.
Both the EU and the US has imposed sanctions against Russia, due to the involvement in Ukraine. In November 2014 it was reported that Russia calculates the loss of US $ 140 billion per year because of the sanctions, combined with falling oil prices. Anders Åslund writes (Real Time Economic Issues Watch, PIIE, 2014-11-20) that Russia’s economy has substantial problems and a crisis is very likely in the second half of 2015.
The Russian party system is weak. In 2005, the requirements for political parties were raised in terms of the number of members and the extent of local representation. In 2007, the parliament threshold was increased from five percent of the vote to seven. Concurrently, the election procedure was changed so that all the seats in the parliament were distributed according to party lists. These changes accentuate the inability of the fragmented opposition to successfully challenge the increasingly authoritarian rule.
The situation in terms of human rights in Russia is problematic, and in 2005 the oppression of the opposition had become so severe that Freedom House downgraded the country from “Partly free” to “Not Free”. There are reports that journalists, trying to scrutinise the Kremlin, suddenly disappear or end up dead. The regime pressure on the political opposition is increasing and politically motivated arrests are becoming more usual.
The Jarl Hjalmarson Foundation has a long history of cooperation with the democratic and market liberal party Union of Right Forces (SPS). In a party merger in 2008, SPS ceased to exist on a national level. Ever since, the projects in Russia have been put on hold. Nevertheless, the JHS monitors the development in Russia in order to identify ways of strengthening the democratic opposition.