Russia | Facts & Information
- Russia Profile
- History: From Antiquity to Empire
- History: The Soviet Union
- News and Current Events
- State Department Notes on Russia
Infoplease has everything you need to know about Russia. Check out our country profile, full of essential information about Russia's geography, history, government, economy, population, culture, religion and languages. If that's not enough, click over to our collection of world maps and flags.
Facts & Figures
Official name: Russian Federation (Rossiyskaya Federatsiya)
Land area: 494,208,000 sq mi (16,377,742 sq km)
Total area: 496,223,000 sq mi (17,098,242 sq km)
President: Vladimir Putin (Since 2012)
Prime Minister: Mikhail Mishustin (Since 2020)
See also: Rulers of Russia Since 1533
Capital: Moscow, 12.41 million (2018)
Other large cities: Saint Petersburg 5.383 million; Novosibirsk 1.636 million; Yekaterinburg 1.482 million; Nizhniy Novgorod 1.264 million; Samara 1.164 million (2018)
Currency: Russian ruble
National Holiday: Among others, the most celebrated is Victory Day (5/9), celebrating the defeat of the Nazis.
Population: 146,039,519 (March 2022 est.)
Population Change: Growth rate: -0.08%; 11 births/1,000 population, 13.5 deaths/1,000 population, 1.7 migrant(s)/1,000 population; infant mortality rate: 6.8 deaths/1,000 live births (2017 est.)
Life Expectancy: 73 years
Nationality/Demonym: Russian (Rossiyane for the nationality, Russkiye for the ethnicity)
Languages: Russian (official) 85.7%, Tatar 3.2%, Chechen 1%, other 10.1% (2010 est.)
Ethnicity/race: Russian 77.7%, Tatar 3.7%, Ukrainian 1.4%, Bashkir 1.1%, Chuvash 1%, Chechen 1%, other 10.2%, unspecified 3.9% (2010 est.)
Religions: Russian Orthodox 15-20%, Muslim 10-15%, other Christian 2% (2006 est.)
Note: A majority of Russians are non-practicing or are not members of any religion, largely as a result of suppression of religion in the Soviet Union. Russia officially recognizes Orthodox Christianity, Islam, Judaism, and Buddhism as traditional religions
Literacy rate: 99.7% (2015 est.)
The Russian Federation is the largest of the 21 republics that make up the Commonwealth of Independent States. It occupies most of eastern Europe and north Asia, stretching from the Baltic Sea in the west to the Pacific Ocean in the east, and from the Arctic Ocean in the north to the Black Sea and the Caucasus in the south. Russia is the largest country in the world in terms of area, but it's unfavorably located in relation to major sea lanes of the world. Much of the country lacks proper soils and climates (either too cold or too dry) for agriculture. Russia contains Mount El'brus, Europe's tallest peak, and Lake Baikal, the deepest lake in the world. Lake Baikal is estimated to hold one fifth of the world's fresh water.
Russia shares borders with fourteen neighboring countries. In order of shared border length, these are: Kazakhstan (7,644 km), China (Southeast - 4,133 km) and (South - 46 km), Mongolia (3,452 km), Ukraine (1,944 km), Belarus (1,312 km), Finland (1,309 km), Georgia (894 km), Azerbaijan (338 km), Latvia (332 km), Estonia (324 km), Lithuania (Kaliningrad Oblast - 261 km), Poland (Kaliningrad Oblast - 210 km), Norway (191 km), and North Korea (18 km).
The Russian Federation is a federal semi-presidential republic. A semi-presidential system is one in which there is a prime minister who leads the legislature and exercises some authority, but there is also a president who fulfills an executive role in the government. The USSR collapsed in 1991, and after a series of political crises the current constitution was adopted and the government formed in 1993. Since then, there have been four presidencies split between three presidents (Vladimir Putin being the second president from 2000–2008, and the fourth since 2012).
The Russian government has been dominated for over a decade by the United Russia Party, most famous for its not having a fixed long-term platform. Called a "catch-all party," the party responds to particular political issues or figures as they arise, or on a case-by-case basis. Most often, these responses reflect the opinions of leading figures Vladimir Putin and Dmitry Medvedev (the third president of Russia who made Putin his prime minister, and whom Putin made prime minister in turn upon his reelection). The party officially self-identifies as a Russian Conservative party, but the ideological meaning is unclear except in its opposition to the rival Communist Party.
International Disputes: Russia remains concerned about the smuggling of poppy derivatives from Afghanistan through Central Asian countries; China and Russia have demarcated the once disputed islands at the Amur and Ussuri confluence and in the Argun River in accordance with the 2004 Agreement, ending their centuries-long border disputes; the sovereignty dispute over the islands of Etorofu, Kunashiri, Shikotan, and the Habomai group, known in Japan as the "Northern Territories" and in Russia as the "Southern Kurils," occupied by the Soviet Union in 1945, now administered by Russia, and claimed by Japan, remains the primary sticking point to signing a peace treaty formally ending World War II hostilities; Russia's military support and subsequent recognition of Abkhazia and South Ossetia independence in 2008 continue to sour relations with Georgia; Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan, and Russia ratified Caspian seabed delimitation treaties based on equidistance, while Iran continues to insist on a one-fifth slice of the sea; Norway and Russia signed a comprehensive maritime boundary agreement in 2010; various groups in Finland advocate restoration of Karelia (Kareliya) and other areas ceded to the Soviet Union following World War II but the Finnish Government asserts no territorial demands; Russia and Estonia signed a technical border agreement in May 2005, but Russia recalled its signature in June 2005 after the Estonian parliament added to its domestic ratification act a historical preamble referencing the Soviet occupation and Estonia's pre-war borders under the 1920 Treaty of Tartu; Russia contends that the preamble allows Estonia to make territorial claims on Russia in the future, while Estonian officials deny that the preamble has any legal impact on the treaty text; Russia demands better treatment of the Russian-speaking population in Estonia and Latvia; Russia remains involved in the conflict in eastern Ukraine while also occupying Ukraine’s territory of Crimea
Lithuania and Russia committed to demarcating their boundary in 2006 in accordance with the land and maritime treaty ratified by Russia in May 2003 and by Lithuania in 1999; Lithuania operates a simplified transit regime for Russian nationals traveling from the Kaliningrad coastal exclave into Russia, while still conforming, as an EU member state with an EU external border, where strict Schengen border rules apply; preparations for the demarcation delimitation of land boundary with Ukraine have commenced; the dispute over the boundary between Russia and Ukraine through the Kerch Strait and Sea of Azov is suspended due to the occupation of Crimea by Russia; Kazakhstan and Russia boundary delimitation was ratified on November 2005 and field demarcation should commence in 2007; Russian Duma has not yet ratified 1990 Bering Sea Maritime Boundary Agreement with the US; Denmark (Greenland) and Norway have made submissions to the Commission on the Limits of the Continental Shelf (CLCS) and Russia is collecting additional data to augment its 2001 CLCS submission
Human Trafficking: Russia is a source, transit, and destination country for men, women, and children who are subjected to forced labor and sex trafficking; with millions of foreign workers, forced labor is Russia’s predominant human trafficking problem and sometimes involves organized crime syndicates; workers from Russia, other European countries, Central Asia, and East and Southeast Asia, including North Korea and Vietnam, are subjected to forced labor in the construction, manufacturing, agricultural, textile, grocery store, maritime, and domestic service industries, as well as in forced begging, waste sorting, and street sweeping; women and children from Europe, Southeast Asia, Africa, and Central Asia are subject to sex trafficking in Russia; Russian women and children are victims of sex trafficking domestically and in Northeast Asia, Europe, Central Asia, Africa, the US, and the Middle East
Tier Rating: Tier 3 - Russia does not fully comply with the minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking and is not making a significant effort to do so; prosecutions of trafficking offenders remained low in comparison to the scope of Russia’s trafficking problem; the government did not develop or employ a formal system for identifying trafficking victims or referring them to protective services, although authorities reportedly assisted a limited number of victims on an ad hoc basis; foreign victims, the largest group in Russia, were not entitled to state-provided rehabilitative services and were routinely detained and deported; the government has not reported investigating reports of slave-like conditions among North Korean workers in Russia; authorities have made no effort to reduce the demand for forced labor or to develop public awareness of forced labor or sex trafficking (2015)
Illicit Drugs: Limited cultivation of illicit cannabis and opium poppy and producer of methamphetamine, mostly for domestic consumption; government has active illicit crop eradication program; used as transshipment point for Asian opiates, cannabis, and Latin American cocaine bound for growing domestic markets, to a lesser extent Western and Central Europe, and occasionally to the US; major source of heroin precursor chemicals; corruption and organized crime are key concerns; major consumer of opiates
Although much of Russia's cultural legacy bloomed after Peter the Great started westernizing the country, the Russian tradition is distinct and widely regarded. The nation's writers, artists, musicians, and filmmakers are studied in universities around the world. Some of the country's most prominent cultural icons include Leo Tolstoy (War and Peace), Feodor Dostoevksy (The Brothers Karamazov), Aleksandr Pushkin (Eugene Onegin), Modest Moussorgsky (A Night on Bald Mountain), Sergei Eisenstein (Battleship Potemkin) and many more. Russian works have regularly been adapted for different audiences.
Many readers will be acquainted with Russian handicrafts from the Fabergé Eggs to the humble matryoshka (also known as the Russian nesting doll). The country's traditional toys and decorative items are visually stunning. Many of these items date back from before the founding of "Russia," and many originate from Russia's diverse (and widespread) ethnic groups. These artifacts form a unique material archive that bridges hundreds of years and thousands of miles of Russian cultural history.
Among Russia's most striking cultural features is its ballet. Ballet may have originated in Italy and France, but in the intervening centuries the Russian style of ballet may be the most famous. Empress Anna Ivanovna founded the first dance company in the country in the 1740s, and the rest is history. Tchaikovsky's classics The Nutcracker, Swan Lake, and The Sleeping Beauty, and Prokofiev's Romeo and Juliet are among the world's most popular performances. The Bolshoi Theater is one of the most famous performance halls in the entire world. The dancers themselves even enjoy more notoriety than their counterparts elsewhere; at the height of the Soviet Union, ballerina Maya Plisetskaya was a cultural ambassador to the rest of the world.
Since the beginning of the Federation in the 1990s and the decline of Communist leadership, Russia has adopted many market-oriented reforms; The biggest move was privatizing industries that were nationalized under the Soviets. Despite this, the Russian government still plays a major role in directing the country's economy. The Kremlin exercises tight control over ostensibly private companies. On top of this, the Russian economy is fairly volatile, as it is largely dependent on commodities like oil, natural gas, and aluminum, which can see major price changes year to year. The Russian economy suffered major setbacks in the mid-2010s.
GDP/PPP: $4 trillion (2020 est.)
Growth Rate: 1.34% (2019 est.)
Inflation: 4.4% (2019 est.)
Government Revenues: 17.3% of GDP (2017 est.)
Public Debt: 15.5% of GDP (2019 est.)
Working Population: 69.923 million (2019 est.)
Employment by Occupation: Agriculture: 9.4%, Industry: 27.6%, Services: 63% (2016 est.)
Unemployment: 4.6% (2019 est.)
Population Below the Poverty Line: 13.3% (2015 est.)
Total Exports: $372.19 billion (2020 est.)
Major Exports: Petroleum and petroleum products, natural gas, metals, wood and wood products, chemicals, and a wide variety of civilian and military manufactures
Export Partners: China 14%, Netherlands 10%, Germany 5%, Belarus 5% (2019)
Total Imports: $304.68 billion (2020 est.)
Major Imports: Machinery, vehicles, pharmaceutical products, plastic, semi-finished metal products, meat, fruits and nuts, optical and medical instruments, iron, steel
Import Partners: China 20%, Germany 13%, Belarus 6% (2019)
Agricultural Products: Grain, sugar beets, sunflower seeds, vegetables, fruits; beef, milk
Major 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; defense industries (including radar, missile production, advanced electronic components), 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
Natural Resources: Wide natural resource base including major deposits of oil, natural gas, coal, and many strategic minerals, reserves of rare earth elements, timber. Note: formidable obstacles of climate, terrain, and distance hinder exploitation of natural resources
Land Use: Agricultural land: 13.1% (arable land 7.3%; permanent crops 0.1%; permanent pasture 5.7%), Forest: 49.4%, Other: 37.5% (2018 est.)
Fixed Lines: 25,892,405, 18 per 100 residents (2020 est.)
Cell Phones: 238,733,217, 164 per 100 residents, (2020 est.)
International Country Code: 7
Internet Country Code: .ru
Internet Users: 122,488,468, 85% (2020 est.)
13 national TV stations with the federal government owning 1 and holding a controlling interest in a second; state-owned Gazprom maintains a controlling interest in 2 of the national channels; government-affiliated Bank Rossiya owns controlling interest in a fourth and fifth, while a sixth national channel is owned by the Moscow city administration; the Russian Orthodox Church and the Russian military, respectively, own 2 additional national channels; roughly 3,300 national, regional, and local TV stations with over two-thirds completely or partially controlled by the federal or local governments; satellite TV services are available; 2 state-run national radio networks with a third majority-owned by Gazprom; roughly 2,400 public and commercial radio stations (2016).
Total Airports: 1,218 (2013)
With Paved Runways: 594
With Unpaved Runways: 624
Registered Air Carriers: 32
Registered Aircraft: 661
Annual Passengers: 76,846,126
Total: 87,157 km
Broad Gauge: 86,200 km (1.520-m gauge) (1.435-m gauge)
Narrow Gauge: 957 km (1.067-m gauge) on Sakhalin Island
Note: Industries utilize an additional 30,000 km of non-common carrier lines (2014)
Total: 1,283,387 km
Paved: 927,721 km (includes 39,143 km of expressways)
Unpaved: 355,666 km (2012)
Total: 102,000 km (including 48,000 km with guaranteed depth; the 72,000-km system in European Russia links Baltic Sea, White Sea, Caspian Sea, Sea of Azov, and Black Sea) (2009)
Ports and Terminals:
Major Seaport(s): Kaliningrad, Nakhodka, Novorossiysk, Primorsk, Vostochnyy
River Port(s): Saint Petersburg (Neva River)
Oil Terminal(s): Kavkaz oil terminal
Container Port(s) (TEUs): Saint Petersburg (2,365,174)
LNG Terminal(s) (Exports): Sakhalin Island
Before the Middle Ages, there were three primary ethnic groups who occupied the lands that would become Russia: the Khazars, the Slavs, and some Finno-Ugric groups. The people we consider "ethnic Russians" today are the country's Slavs. The Slavic peoples of Russia weren't especially organized in this time period, however. By contrast the Khazar Khaganate was a massive and dominant political power that controlled much of Asia. The Khazars were a Turkic group, and their Khaganate was most likely a splinter of a much larger Turkic nation that preceded them. They most likely practiced Tengrism, a traditional Central Asian religion, and drew on a great deal from Eastern cultures.
The Rus, for whom Russia would be named, were an ethnic group that contemporary sources identify as Norse people. The Vikings traded extensively across Northern Europe and into Central Asia, and there is substantial evidence to suggest they established settlements on the trade route from the Baltic Sea to the Byzantine Empire. The Norse would intermarry with local Finns and Slavs, eventually creating the Rus. The Rus are the predecessors to the modern-day "East Slavs" of Russia, Belarus, and Ukraine. There is some evidence to suggest that the Rus were loosely organized into a khaganate of their own during this time, but no clear records remain.
The Kievan Rus
Historians disagree on the dates involved, but the traditional account of Russian history says the Viking Rurik came to the Russian city of Novgorod in 862 C.E., where he was elected prince. Rurik's son Oleg would expand their rule to the city of Kiev, which became their capital. Their new state would be called the Kievan Rus, and is the earliest antecedent to the countries of Russia, Belarus, and Ukraine. In the past few decades archaeologists have reexamined the history of the region; many experts now believe that the city of Novgorod (which means "new city") wasn't built until well after the beginning of the dynasty and the conquest of Kiev. This would call into question the city's reputation as the birthplace of Russia.
The Kievan Rus would wage war against the Khazars, and over subsequent generations they would completely destroy their rival. Prince Vladimir the Great imported Orthodox Christianity from the Rus's southern neighbors, the Byzantines, and Kiev became an important trade center between Byzantium and Scandinavia. Several future kings of Norway would take up residence in the city. At its peak, Kiev controlled vast swathes of Eastern Europe, its capital was made incredibly wealthy through trade, and it established a code of laws under Prince Yaroslav the Wise that would influence later polities.
This would all come to an end with Yaroslav's death in 1054, as regional powers began to rise up in opposition. The weakening of central authority was made worse by the decline of the Byzantine Empire; the loss of their most important trade partners left the princes of Kiev without enough money to exert their influence. At least symbolically the greatest blow to their rule was the loss of Novgorod, which was occupied by a rival principality and then later became an independent republic. In this weakened state, the Kievan Rus was easily conquered by the Mongols in 1240.
The Novgorod Republic
The people of Novgorod dismissed their prince in 1136, and thereafter began to regularly invite in and dismiss princes who would hold executive power. This would evolve into an intricate democratic state, which from historic accounts was run by freely elected officials and participants in regular town assemblies. The exact details are a bit unclear due to a general lack of reliable written sources. What we do know for certain is that the Republic flourished over the next few centuries, making many beneficial trade agreements and developing valuable industries. While the Kievan Rus was conquered and destroyed, Novgorod remained intact by wilfully paying tithes and taxes to the Golden Horde. Even as their fortunes eventually declined, the people of the republic remained free for several centuries. The infrastructure and structure built up in Novgorod during this time would later play a major part in the creation of greater Russia.
Through the 1300s and heading into the 1400s, Novgorod became a focal point for regional rivals like the Grand Duchy of Lithuania and the rapidly growing Grand Duchy of Moscow (Muscovy). Due to common Rus heritage, religion, and aligned interests the republic initially built up ties with the Muscovites, but as Moscow continued to grow in power they became more and more antagonistic. Eventually Novgorod would try to create a military alliance with Lithuania—a Catholic country, which the Muscovites and the common people saw as a betrayal against their shared Orthodoxy. In 1471 Moscow would declare war against and defeat Novgorod, and seven years later Grand Duke Ivan III of Moscow would assume complete control.
The Grand Duchy of Moscow
Unlike in Novgorod, most of Russia fell under the rule of the khans, first Mongol and later Turkic. The Golden Horde exercised firm control of the region, as did its successor states. Moscow began as a very small trade outpost, mostly overlooked due to its remoteness, and so the early Muscovite princes were able to establish and consolidate a political order and establish control over some of their surroundings in the 1290s. Within forty years Moscow controlled the entire Moscow River Basin; to secure their holdings, the Prince Yuriy of Moscow formed an alliance with Uzbeg Khan of the Golden Horde and married his sister. In exchange for his support, Uzbeg Khan granted Yuriy the Grand Duchy of Vladimir, a historic region that included Novgorod. Yuriy's successor Ivan I consolidated on the gains of his predecessor by acting as the regional enforcer of the khan's taxes. Ivan I was believed to be the richest man in Russia at the time as a result of his campaigns. Moscow's prestige grew even more after the local Metropolitan (Orthodox Church leader akin to a bishop) moved there from Kiev in 1326.
Ivan's son Dmitri began the campaign for Muscovite independence. With the support of the Orthodox Church, Dmitri began rallying the Rus people against the Golden Horde, prompting the Khan to attack Moscow. Although the Muscovites were ultimately defeated and the city sacked in 1382, Dmitri won one important major battle against the khan, which would later serve as a symbol of Russian resistance against the "Tatar yoke." When Timur attacked the Golden Horde in the early 1400s, the Muscovites again began to push for more influence and autonomy. This would be completed under Grand Duke Ivan III (Ivan the Great), who would seize control of Novgorod in 1478, completely defeat the Tatars in 1480, and conquer the Grand Duchy of Tver (another regional rival) in 1485. With his complete control of a massive territory, the backing of the Orthodox Church, and his eventual marriage to the niece of the last Byzantine Emperor, Ivan III would declare Muscovy the "third Rome" after Rome and Constantinople. His son, Ivan IV (Ivan the Terrible) would become the first Tsar of All Russia.
The Tsardom of Russia
The reign of Ivan IV is most famous for one particular facet; the tsar earned his sobriquet "the Terrible" (in this case meaning "inspiring fear") due to his relentless centralization of power by assailing the country's aristocrats. He routinely passed measures to curtail the influence of landowners and the clergy. Using his unprecedented control of the country, Ivan initiated numerous military campaigns of expansion. He failed to reach the Baltic Sea, but he did conquer several neighboring Khanates; this would be the inception of Russia's historic Tatar Muslim population. Private interests also began encouraging for Cossack settlement of Siberia. In the later years of his rule, the tsar would institute harsher and harsher policies to curb dissent. He created a secret police and purged the aristocrats; his violence culminated in the Massacre of Novgorod in 1570, where he killed several thousand people in Novgorod and contributed to the city's continual decline.
As a result of the relentless violence, Russia was unable to resist attacks from Lithuania and Sweden, who devastated large parts of the country, and in 1571 the Khanate of Crimea sacked and burned down Moscow. Ivan died with one legitimate heir, Feodor, who would die childless in 1606. The succession crisis that followed was made worse by a severe famine that killed much of the country's population. The Commonwealth of Poland-Lithuania, the successor state to Muscovy's rival Lithuania, conquered Moscow and installed their own series of tsars to run the country. Russia allied with former rival Sweden, but their alliance was unable to dislodge the Polish-Lithuanians, and Sweden would eventually also seize Russian territory.
The Time of Troubles, as this period was known, came to an end due to the efforts of the common people of Russia. The people of Russia at the time were largely poor and rural serfs, lacking protection against the brigandry and violence of the time. During this time period the serfs began to suffer tighter legal restrictions; it was illegal for them to leave the farm they were bound to. For the common person this meant there was no incentive to abide the occupation, and plenty of reason to resent it. The Catholic Polish-Lithuanians imprisoned the Patriarch of the Orthodox Church, which was the main cultural unifier among the people. In 1611, after five years of conflict, merchants in the city of Nizhny Novgorod began organizing a revolt. They selected the butcher Kuzma Minin to handle the funding, and he in turn would turn to Prince Dmitri Pozharski to command the troops. The popular militia succeeded in liberating Moscow and driving out the occupying troops.
The Empire of Peter and Catherine
The Russian Empire began shortly after the end of the Time of Troubles. After regaining control of the country, a convention of leading Russians elected Michael Romanov to be the new Tsar. The Romanovs would be the ruling family for the entire lifespan of the Empire—to ensure that fact, Michael Romanov executed the surviving relatives of the Polish-appointed tsars.
Peter the Great (1689–1725), grandson of the first Romanov czar, Michael (1613–1645). Peter made extensive reforms aimed at westernization and, through his defeat of Charles XII of Sweden at the Battle of Poltava in 1709, he extended Russia's boundaries to the west. Catherine the Great (1762–1796) continued Peter's westernization program and also expanded Russian territory, acquiring the Crimea, Ukraine, and part of Poland. During the reign of Alexander I (1801–1825), Napoléon's attempt to subdue Russia was defeated (1812–1813), and new territory was gained, including Finland (1809) and Bessarabia (1812). Alexander originated the Holy Alliance, which for a time crushed Europe's rising liberal movement.
The Empire of the Alexanders
Alexander II (1855–1881) pushed Russia's borders to the Pacific and into central Asia. Serfdom was abolished in 1861, but heavy restrictions were imposed on the emancipated class.
The Russian Revolutions
Revolutionary strikes, following Russia's defeat in the war with Japan, forced Nicholas II (1894–1917) to grant a representative national body (Duma), elected by narrowly limited suffrage. It met for the first time in 1906 but had little influence on Nicholas.
World War I demonstrated czarist corruption and inefficiency, and only patriotism held the poorly equipped army together for a time. Disorders broke out in Petrograd (renamed Leningrad and now St. Petersburg) in March 1917, and defection of the Petrograd garrison launched the revolution. Nicholas II was forced to abdicate on March 15, 1917, and he and his family were killed by revolutionaries on July 16, 1918. A provisional government under the successive prime ministerships of Prince Lvov and a moderate, Alexander Kerensky, lost ground to the radical, or Bolshevik, wing of the Socialist Democratic Labor Party. On Nov. 7, 1917, the Bolshevik Revolution, engineered by Vladimir Lenin and Leon Trotsky, overthrew the Kerensky government, and authority was vested in a Council of People's Commissars, with Lenin as prime minister.
The humiliating Treaty of Brest-Litovsk (March 3, 1918) concluded the war with Germany, but civil war and foreign intervention delayed Communist control of all Russia until 1920. A brief war with Poland in 1920 resulted in Russian defeat.
Emergence of the USSR
The Union of Soviet Socialist Republics was established as a federation on Dec. 30, 1922. The death of Lenin on Jan. 21, 1924, precipitated an intraparty struggle between Joseph Stalin, general secretary of the party, and Trotsky, who favored swifter socialization at home and fomentation of revolution abroad. Trotsky was dismissed as commissar of war in 1925 and banished from the Soviet Union in 1929. He was murdered in Mexico City on Aug. 21, 1940, by a political agent. Stalin further consolidated his power by a series of purges in the late 1930s, liquidating prominent party leaders and military officers. Stalin assumed the prime ministership on May 6, 1941.
The term Stalinism has become defined as an inhumane, draconian socialism. Stalin sent millions of Soviets who did not conform to the Stalinist ideal to forced-labor camps, and he persecuted his country's vast number of ethnic groups—reserving particular vitriol for Jews and Ukrainians. Soviet historian Roy Medvedev estimated that about 20 million died from starvation, executions, forced collectivization, and life in the labor camps under Stalin's rule.
Soviet foreign policy, at first friendly toward Germany and antagonistic toward Britain and France and then, after Hitler's rise to power in 1933, becoming anti-Fascist and pro–League of Nations, took an abrupt turn on Aug. 24, 1939, with the signing of a nonaggression pact with Nazi Germany. The next month, Moscow joined in the German attack on Poland, seizing territory later incorporated into the Ukrainian and Belorussian SSRs. The Russo-Finnish War (1939–1940) added territory to the Karelian SSR set up on March 31, 1940; the annexation of Bessarabia and Bukovina from Romania became part of the new Moldavian SSR on Aug. 2, 1940; and the annexation of the Baltic republics of Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania in June 1940 created the 14th, 15th, and 16th Soviet republics. The Soviet-German collaboration ended abruptly with a lightning attack by Hitler on June 22, 1941, which seized 500,000 sq mi of Russian territory before Soviet defenses, aided by U.S. and British arms, could halt it. The Soviet resurgence at Stalingrad from Nov. 1942 to Feb. 1943 marked the turning point in a long battle, ending in the final offensive of Jan. 1945. Then, after denouncing a 1941 nonaggression pact with Japan in April 1945, when Allied forces were nearing victory in the Pacific, the Soviet Union declared war on Japan on Aug. 8, 1945, and quickly occupied Manchuria, Karafuto, and the Kuril Islands.
The Berlin Blockade and the Cold War
After the war, the Soviet Union, United States, Great Britain, and France divided Berlin and Germany into four zones of occupation, which led to immediate antagonism between the Soviet and Western powers, culminating in the Berlin blockade in 1948. The USSR's tightening control over a cordon of Communist states, running from Poland in the north to Albania in the south, was dubbed the “iron curtain” by Churchill and would later lead to the Warsaw Pact. It marked the beginning of the cold war, the simmering hostility that pitted the world's two superpowers, the U.S. and the USSR—and their competing political ideologies—against each other for the next 45 years. Stalin died on March 6, 1953.
The new power emerging in the Kremlin was Nikita S. Khrushchev (1958–1964), first secretary of the party. Khrushchev formalized the eastern European system into a Council for Mutual Economic Assistance (Comecon) and a Warsaw Pact Treaty Organization as a counterweight to NATO. The Soviet Union exploded a hydrogen bomb in 1953, developed an intercontinental ballistic missile by 1957, sent the first satellite into space (Sputnik I) in 1957, and put Yuri Gagarin in the first orbital flight around Earth in 1961. Khrushchev's downfall stemmed from his decision to place Soviet nuclear missiles in Cuba and then, when challenged by the U.S., backing down and removing the weapons. He was also blamed for the ideological break with China after 1963. Khrushchev was forced into retirement on Oct. 15, 1964, and was replaced by Leonid I. Brezhnev as first secretary of the party and Aleksei N. Kosygin as premier.
U.S. president Jimmy Carter and Brezhnev signed the SALT II treaty in Vienna on June 18, 1979, setting ceilings on each nation's arsenal of intercontinental ballistic missiles. The U.S. Senate refused to ratify the treaty because of the invasion of Afghanistan by Soviet troops on Dec. 27, 1979. On Nov. 10, 1982, Leonid Brezhnev died. Yuri V. Andropov, who had formerly headed the KGB, became his successor but died less than two years later, in Feb. 1984. Konstantin U. Chernenko, a 72-year-old party stalwart who had been close to Brezhnev, succeeded him. After 13 months in office, Chernenko died on March 10, 1985. Chosen to succeed him as Soviet leader was Mikhail S. Gorbachev, who led the Soviet Union in its long-awaited shift to a new generation of leadership. Unlike his immediate predecessors, Gorbachev did not also assume the title of president but wielded power from the post of party general secretary.
Gorbachev introduced sweeping political and economic reforms, bringing glasnost and perestroika, “openness” and “restructuring,” to the Soviet system. He established much warmer relations with the West, ended the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan, and announced that the Warsaw Pact countries were free to pursue their own political agendas. Gorbachev's revolutionary steps ushered in the end of the cold war, and in 1990 he was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for his contributions to ending the 45-year conflict between East and West.
The Soviet Union took much criticism in early 1986 over the April 24 meltdown at the Chernobyl nuclear plant and its reluctance to give out any information on the accident.
Dissolution of the USSR
Gorbachev's promised reforms began to falter, and he soon had a formidable political opponent agitating for even more radical restructuring. Boris Yeltsin, president of the Russian SSR, began challenging the authority of the federal government and resigned from the Communist Party along with other dissenters in 1990. On Aug. 29, 1991, an attempted coup d'état against Gorbachev was orchestrated by a group of hard-liners. Yeltsin's defiant actions during the coup—he barricaded himself in the Russian parliament and called for national strikes—resulted in Gorbachev's reinstatement. But from then on, power had effectively shifted from Gorbachev to Yeltsin and away from centralized power to greater power for the individual Soviet republics. In his last months as the head of the Soviet Union, Gorbachev dissolved the Communist Party and proposed the formation of the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS), which, when implemented, gave most of the Soviet Socialist Republics their independence, binding them together in a loose, primarily economic federation. Russia and ten other former Soviet republics joined the CIS on Dec. 21, 1991. Gorbachev resigned on Dec. 25, and Yeltsin, who had been the driving force behind the Soviet dissolution, became president of the newly established Russian Republic.
At the start of 1992, Russia embarked on a series of dramatic economic reforms, including the freeing of prices on most goods, which led to an immediate downturn. A national referendum on confidence in Yeltsin and his economic program took place in April 1993. To the surprise of many, the president and his shock-therapy program won by a resounding margin. In September, Yeltsin dissolved the legislative bodies left over from the Soviet era.
The president of the southern republic of Chechnya accelerated his region's drive for independence in 1994. In December, Russian troops closed the borders and sought to squelch the independence drive. The Russian military forces met firm and costly resistance. In May 1997, the two-year war formally ended with the signing of a peace treaty that adroitly avoided the issue of Chechen independence.
Financial Crisis, Political Upheaval, and Putin's Rise to Power
In March 1998 Yeltsin dismissed his entire government and replaced Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin with fuel and energy minister Sergei Kiriyenko. On Aug. 28, 1998, amid the Russian stock market's free fall, the Russian government halted trading of the ruble on international currency markets. This financial crisis led to a long-term economic downturn and political upheaval. Yeltsin then sacked Kiriyenko and reappointed Chernomyrdin. The Duma rejected Chernomyrdin and on Sept. 11 elected foreign minister Yevgeny Primakov as prime minister. The repercussions of Russia's financial emergency were felt throughout the Commonwealth of Independent States.
Impatient with Yeltsin's increasingly erratic behavior, the Duma attempted to impeach him in May 1999. But the impeachment motion was quickly quashed and soon Yeltsin was on the ascendancy again. In keeping with his capricious style, Yeltsin dismissed Primakov and substituted Interior Minister Sergei Stepashin. Just three months later, however, Yeltsin ousted Stepashin and replaced him with Vladimir Putin on Aug. 9, 1999, announcing that in addition to serving as prime minister, the former KGB agent was his choice as a successor in the 2000 presidential election. That same year the former Russian satellites of Poland, Hungary, and the Czech Republic joined NATO, raising Russia's hackles. The desire of Lithuania, Latvia, and Estonia, all of which were once part of the Soviet Union, to join the organization in the future further antagonized Russia.
Just three years after the bloody 1994–1996 Chechen-Russian war ended in devastation and stalemate, the fighting started again in 1999, with Russia launching air strikes and following up with ground troops. By the end of November, Russian troops had surrounded Chechnya's capital, Grozny, and about 215,000 Chechen refugees had fled to neighboring Ingushetia. Russia maintained that a political solution was impossible until Islamic militants in Chechnya had been vanquished.
In a decision that took Russia and the world by surprise, Boris Yeltsin resigned on Dec. 31, 1999, and Vladimir Putin became the acting president. Two months later, after almost five months of fighting, Russian troops captured Grozny. It was a political as well as a military victory for Putin, whose hard-line stance against Chechnya greatly contributed to his political popularity.
On March 26, 2000, Putin won the presidential election with about 53% of the vote. Putin moved to centralize power in Moscow and attempted to limit the power and influence of both the regional governors and wealthy business leaders. Although Russia remained economically stagnant, Putin brought his nation a measure of political stability it never had under the mercurial and erratic Yeltsin. In Aug. 2000 the Russian government was severely criticized for its handling of the Kursk disaster, a nuclear submarine accident that left 118 sailors dead.
Russia was initially alarmed in 2001 when the U.S. announced its rejection of the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty of 1972, which for 30 years had been viewed as a crucial force in keeping the nuclear arms race under control. But Putin was eventually placated by President George W. Bush's reassurances, and in May 2002, the U.S. and Russian leaders announced a landmark pact to cut both countries' nuclear arsenals by up to two-thirds over the next ten years.
On Oct. 23, 2002, Chechen rebels seized a crowded Moscow theater and detained 763 people, including 3 Americans. Armed and wired with explosives, the rebels demanded that the Russian government end the war in Chechnya. Government forces stormed the theater the next day, after releasing a gas into the theater that killed not only all the rebels but more than 100 hostages.
In March 2003, Chechens voted in a referendum that approved a new regional constitution making Chechnya a separatist republic within Russia. Agreeing to the constitution meant abandoning claims for complete independence, and the new powers accorded the republic were little more than cosmetic. During 2003, there were 11 bomb attacks against Russia that were believed to have been orchestrated by Chechen rebels.
Putin was reelected president in March 2004, with 70% of the vote. International election observers considered the process less than democratic.
A Shocking Hostage Situation, a Move Towards Climate Change, and Radiation Poison
In April 2003 reformist politician Sergei Yushenkov became the third outspoken critic of the Kremlin to be assassinated in five years. Just hours before he was gunned down, Yushenkov had officially registered his new political party, Liberal Russia. In Nov. 2003, billionaire Mikhail Khodorkovsky, president of the Yukos oil company, was arrested on charges of fraud and tax evasion. Khodorkovsky supported liberal opposition parties, which led many to suspect that President Putin may have engineered his arrest. On May 31, 2005, Khodorkovsky was sentenced to nine years in prison.
On Sept. 1–3, 2004, dozens of heavily armed guerrillas seized a school in Beslan, near Chechnya, and held about 1,100 young schoolchildren, teachers, and parents hostage. Hundreds of hostages were killed, including about 156 children. Chechen warlord Shamil Basayev claimed responsibility. In the aftermath of the horrific attack, Putin announced that he would radically restructure the government to fight terrorism more effectively. The world community expressed deep concern that Putin's plans would consolidate his power and roll back democracy in Russia.
In Sept. 2004, Russia endorsed the Kyoto Protocol on climate change. It was the final endorsement needed to put the protocol into effect worldwide.
Former Chechen president and rebel leader Aslan Maskhadov was killed by Russian special forces on March 8, 2005. Putin hailed it as a victory in his fight against terrorism. An even greater victory occurred in July 2006, when Russia announced the killing of Chechen warlord Shamil Basayev, responsible for the horrific Beslan terrorist attack. In Feb. 2007, Putin dismissed the president of Chechnya, Alu Alkhanov, and appointed Ramzan Kadyrov, a security official and the son of former Chechen president Akhmad, who was killed by rebels in 2004. Ramzan Kadyrov and forces loyal to him have been linked to human-rights abuses in the troubled region.
Alexander Litvinenko, a former KGB agent who has been critical of the Kremlin, died from poisoning by a radioactive substance in November 2006. On his deathbed in a London hospital, he accused Putin of masterminding his murder. In July 2007, Moscow refused the British government's request to extradite Andrei Lugovoi, another former KGB agent who British authorities have accused in Litvinenko's murder.
Crumbling Relations with the United States and Conflict with Georgia
The International Olympic Committee announced in July 2007 that Sochi, Russia, a Black Sea resort, will host the Winter Games in 2014. It will be the first time Russia or the former Soviet Union hosts the Winter Games. That same month, President Putin announced that Russia will suspend the 1990 Conventional Forces in Europe treaty, which limits conventional weapons in Europe. Several U.S. officials speculated that Putin was acting in response to U.S. plans to build a missile shield in Europea move stongly opposed by Russia. The move provided further evidence of deteriorating relations between the United States and Russia. In Sept., Putin nominated Viktor Zubkov, a close ally, as prime minister. The Duma, the lower house of Parliament, confirmed the nomination.
Putin announced in October that he would head the list of candidates on the United Russia ticket, the country's leading political party. Such a move would pave the way for Putin to become prime minister, and thus allow him to retain power. In December parliamentary elections, United Russia won in a landslide, taking 64.1% of the vote, far ahead of the Communist Party of Russia, which took 11.6%. Opposition parties complained that the election was rigged, and European monitors said the vote wasn't fair. Putin used his sway over the media to stifle the opposition and campaign for United Russia, making the election a referendum on his popularity. Opposition leader and former chess champion Garry Kasparov said the election was "the most unfair and dirtiest in the whole history of modern Russia."
In Dec., Putin endorsed Dmitri Medvedev in the presidential election scheduled for March 2008. A Putin loyalist who is said to be moderate and pro-Western, Medvedev is a first deputy prime minister and the chairman of Gazprom, the country's oil monopoly. He has never worked in intelligence or security agencies, unlike Putin and many members of his administration. Medvedev said that if elected, he would appoint Putin as prime minister. Medvedev won the presidential election with 67% of the vote. Putin said he would serve as Medvedev's prime minister and indicated that he will increase the responsibilities of the position. Although Medvedev vowed to restore stability to Russia after the 1990s turmoil, significant change in the government is not expected.
On April 15, 2008, Putin was chosen as chairman of the United Russia party and agreed to become prime minister when Dmitri Medvedev assumed the presidency in May. On May 6, 2008, Dmitry Medvedev was sworn in as president, and Putin became prime minister days later. Although Medvedev assumed the presidency, Putin clearly remained in control of the government and signaled that the premiership would gain broad authority. In assembling a cabinet, Putin called on several members of his former administration.
In Aug. 2008, fighting broke out between Georgia and its two breakaway regions, South Ossetia and Abkhazia. Russia sent hundreds of troops to support the enclaves, and also launched airstrikes and occupied the Georgian city of Gori. Observers speculated that Russia's aggressive tactics marked an attempt to gain control of Georgia's oil and gas export routes. By the end of Aug., after a cease-fire agreement between Russia and Georgia was signed, Medvedev severed diplomatic ties with Georgia, officially recognized South Ossetia ad Abkhazia as independent regions, and pledged military assistance from Russia. The move heightened tensions between Russia and the West.
Both Russia and Georgia have painted each other as the aggressor responsible for the war—Georgia said it launched an attack in South Ossetia because a Russian invasion was under way, and Russia claimed it sent troops to the breakaway region to protect civilians from Georgia's offensive attack. In November 2008, Erosi Kitsmarishvili, a former Georgian diplomat to Moscow, testified that the Georgian government was responsible for starting the conflict with Russia. Kitsmarishvili stated that Georgian officials told him in April that they planned to start a war in the breakaway regions and were supported by the U.S. government.
A dispute over debts and pricing of gas supplies between Russia and Ukraine led Gazprom, the major Russian gas supplier, to halt its gas exports to Europe via Ukraine for two weeks in January 2009, affecting at least ten EU countries. About 80% of Russian gas exports to Europe are pumped through Ukraine. Russia and Ukraine blamed each other for the disruption to Europe's energy supply.
String of Suicide Bombs Sparks Fear of a Crackdown by Putin
On March 24, 2010, the United States and Russia reported a breakthrough in arms-control negotiations. Both countries agreed to lower the limit on deployed strategic warheads and launchers by 25% and 50%, respectively, and also to implement a new inspection regime. President Obama and President Medvedev signed the treaty that outlines this agreement on April 8 in Prague. The U.S. Senate ratified the treaty, called New Start, in December.
Two female suicide bombers, acting just minutes apart, detonated bombs in two Moscow subways stations, killing at least 39 people in March 2010. It was the first terrorist attack in the capital city since 2004, when Moscow experienced a string of deadly violence. Doku Umarov, a former Chechen separatist and the self-proclaimed emir of the north Caucasus, claimed responsibility for masterminding the attack. Two days later, two explosions killed 12 people in the north Caucasus region of Dagestan. The attacks prompted concern that Prime Minister Putin would crack down on civil liberties and democracy as he did in 2004, following the siege of a school in Beslan.
In June 2010, the FBI announced it had infiltrated a Russian spy ring that had agents operating undercover in several cities in the United States. Ten people were arrested and charged with espionage. By most accounts, their attempts to collect policy information were largely ineffective and clumsy, and any material they managed to gather was readily available on the Internet. Days later, the U.S. and Russia completed a prisoner exchange, with 12 suspected spies deported to Russia and four men accused of spying on the West were sent to the United States.
Protests and Unrest Surrounds the 2012 Presidential Election
In Sept. 2011, Putin announced that he would run for president as the candidate of the United Russia party in March 2012 elections. In a deal that was reportedly struck two years ago, Putin and President Medvedev would swap positions, with Medvedev assuming the role as head of the party and thus becoming prime minister. Putin was all but assured to sweep the election and serve another six years as president. The announcement confirmed the widely held assumption that Putin ran the country. Putin announced his plans for the Eurasian Union that same month. The new union would include countries that were formerly part of the Soviet Union.
The Dec. 2011 parliamentary elections sparked protests, mainly from middle-class Russians. International and local monitors condemned the election as fraudulent. United Russia, the party led by Putin, came out on top in the elections, receiving nearly 50 percent of the vote, but they lost 77 seats. Monitors said that United Russia would have lost more seats were it not for ballot-box stuffing and voting irregularities. The height of the protests came on Dec. 10, when over 40,000 Russians rallied near the Kremlin. It was the largest anti-Kremlin protest since the early 1990s. The activists called for Putin's resignation and denounced the election results. Three minority parties in Parliament also complained about the election's outcome, but they were all at odds over what to do about it. President Medvedev called for an inquiry into the election fraud. Meanwhile, Putin accused the United States, singling out Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, for instigating the demonstrations when she criticized conduct during the parliamentary elections.
On Dec. 12, billionaire industrialist Mikhail D. Porkhorov announced that he planned to run for president against Putin in 2012. Porkhorov owns many businesses in Russia as well as the New Jersey Nets, the NBA franchise, in the United States. In his announcement, Porkhorov said, "I made a decision, probably the most serious decision in my life: I am going to the presidential election." Many observers questioned if Porkhorov was truly challenging Putin or if he had Putin's approval to run to create an air of legitimacy to the race.
On March 4, 2012, Vladimir Putin won the presidential election, claiming 64% of the vote. The following day, observers from the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe challenged the election, saying Putin won because he had no competition and government spending at his disposal. The United States and the European Union called for an investigation into fraud allegations. Meanwhile, thousands of demonstrators in Moscow took to the streets, chanting, "Russia without Putin." A similar demonstration happened in St. Petersburg. When protestors refused to leave, police arrested them. In Moscow, 250 people were arrested. In St. Petersburg, 300 demonstrators were detained. Inspired by the protests against Putin, about 200 young Muscovites ran as independent candidates in municipal March 2012 elections. More than 70 of them won spots on district councils. Even with Putin's supporters occupying many of the other council seats, the elections were a sign that the protests had made an impact in the political system and, perhaps, would continue to do so.
In May of 2012 as Putin prepared to take office for a third time as president, demonstrations turned violent. The day before the inauguration, 20,000 antigovernment demonstrators fought with police near the Kremlin. The fighting included smoke bombs, bottles, and sticks. The following day, while Putin officially took office, the protests continued and police arrested 120 people. Even though antigovernment protests have been going on for months, the demonstrations had been peaceful until now. The violence was a dramatic shift. Dressed in riot gear, police searched cafes and restaurants for protesters. The demonstrators taken into police custody were sent to military draft offices. Right after Putin was sworn in as president, he nominated Medvedev as Russia's prime minister.
On June 8, 2012, Putin signed a law imposing a huge fine on organizers of protests as well as people who take part in them. The law gives Russian authorities the power to crackdown on the anti-government protests which started months ago when Putin announced his decision to run again for President. Four days later, 10,000 protesters took to the Moscow streets in response to the new law. The fine for those marching in protests was set at $9,000, a steep penalty considering the average yearly salary in Russia is $8,500. For organizers of demonstrations, the fine was set at $18,000.
Russia Blocks U.N. Action in Syria, Passes New Laws against Political Activists
In Feb. 2012, Russia made international headlines by blocking an effort by the United Nations Security Council to end the violence in Syria. Russia, along with China, vetoed the resolution just hours after the Syrian military launched an assault on the city of Homs. The Security Council voted 13 to 2 for a resolution backing an Arab League peace plan for Syria. Russia and China voted against the resolution, seeing it as a violation of Syria's sovereignty. Russia also continued to provide weapons to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad as well as diplomatic support. Syria's 11-month uprising has caused more than 5,000 casualties.
Also in Feb. 2012, President Medvedev awarded Syrian writer and poet Ali Ukla Ursan a Pushkin Medal. Ursan was one of 11 foreigners honored for their close ties with Russia. Ursan, an adviser to the Syrian Writers Union, has publicly expressed anti-Semitic opinions and praised the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks.
On July 19, 2012, Russia and China vetoed a United Nations Security Council resolution to impose sanctions on the Syrian government. The proposed U.N. sanctions were intended to push Syria into putting a peace plan into action and ending its 17-month-old conflict. The resolution was proposed by Britain and backed by ten other council members, including France and the United States. Russian ambassador Vitaly I. Churkin explained the Russian veto to the council, "We simply cannot accept a document which would open the path for pressure of sanctions and further to external military involvement in Syrian domestic affairs."
During the summer of 2012, the government began cracking down against political activists in new ways. Two new laws were signed by Putin. One law gave the government the power to shut down websites that have content which could be harmful to children. The other law increased penalties for libel. In July 2012, the Investigative Committee began criminal cases against Aleksei Navalny, an anticorruption blogger, and Gennady Gudkov, a lawmaker. Navalny, a leader of the anti-Putin protest movement which began in Dec. 2011, was found guilty of embezzlement and faced five to 10 years in prison.
Also in July 2012, three members of a Russian punk band called Pussy Riot were arrested and put on trial for hooliganism after they performed an anti-Putin song on the altar of Moscow's main Orthodox cathedral. During one of the most high-profile trials that Russia's had in years, the band members said their demonstration was political, not an attack on Orthodox Christians. Masha, Katya, and Nadya, the three members of Pussy Riot, were convicted of hooliganism on Aug. 17, 2012, and sentenced to two years in a penal colony. At the sentencing, activists outside of the courthouse began to protest, chanting "Free Pussy Riot!" Police arrested dozens of protestors. Rallies supporting the three women were held in cities around the world, including London, New York and Paris. Immediately following the verdict, the United States, other governments, and human rights groups criticized the decision, calling the sentence severe.
On Oct. 10, 2012, a court in Moscow freed one of the three members of Pussy Riot, the punk band convicted of hooliganism for protesting in a cathedral last February. Yekaterina Samutsevich was released after judges accepted her new lawyer's argument that she played less of a role in the cathedral protest performance that landed her in jail with her band mates. More than a year later, President Putin announced that the two members of Pussy Riot who were still in jail would be released under an amnesty in Dec. 2013. Nadezhda Tolokonnikova, age 24, and Maria Alyokhina, age 25, would be released, in part, because they are both mothers to young children.
On Oct. 19, 2012, Leonid Razvozzhayev, a Russian opposition leader, disappeared from Kiev, Ukraine. According to an interview with The New Times magazine, published on October 24, he was held for three days by men threatening to kill his children if he did not sign a confession. Razvozzhayev was in Kiev seeking advice on political asylum from the United Nations office there. He was held in a house and not allowed to eat or drink for three days. Once he signed the confession, his kidnappers turned him over to authorities in Moscow.
Russian authorities charged Razvozzhayev and other opposition figures with plotting riots and seeking aid from Georgia in order to overthrow Putin's government. Vladimir Markin, a spokesman for Russian federal investigators, said that Razvozzhayev turned himself in to the authorities in Moscow and, at the time, he did not speak of any "torture, abduction or any other unlawful actions." Markin said investigators would look into the claim of a forced signed confession.
Russia Joins World Trade Organization while at Odds with U.S. over Weapons Pact, Snowden, and Syria
After 19 years of negotiations, Russia became the newest member of the World Trade Organization on Aug. 22, 2012. Russia has cut tariffs on imports and set limits on export duties as part of a series of reforms enacted to qualify for entry into the international trading arena. Expectations of membership include an increase of 3% in the Russian GDP, more foreign investment, and a doubling of U.S. exports to Russia—as long as trade relations are normalized through the lifting of the 1974 Jackson-Vanik amendment.
On Oct. 10, 2012, the Russian government announced it would not renew the Nunn-Lugar Cooperative Threat Reduction Program with the United States when the agreement expires in the spring of 2013. The agreement was part of a successful 20-year partnership between Russia and the United States. It eliminated nuclear and chemical weapons from the former Soviet Union and protected against the threat of nuclear war. For example, as part of the agreement, 7,600 nuclear warheads were deactivated and all nuclear weapons were removed from former Soviet territories such as Belarus, Kazakhstan, and Ukraine.
Russian officials explained that their country's economy had improved since the agreement. In a statement, Russia's Foreign Ministry said that it had increased its budget allocation "in the field of disarmament." The statement went on to say, "American partners know that their proposal is not consistent with our ideas about what forms and on what basis further cooperation should be built." The statement left open the possibility of a new agreement with the United States, but no specific conditions of a new agreement were given.
In early July 2013, Fugitive American intelligence contractor, Edward Snowden, asked international human rights organizations to help him receive asylum in Russia. Snowden had been seeking refuge at an international transit zone at Moscow's Sheremetyevo Airport since June 2013. When he first arrived at the Russian airport, he expressed a desire for asylum in Russia. President Putin responded by saying that Snowden could stay in Russia only if he ceased "his work aimed at inflicting damage on our American partners." Meanwhile, the United States made diplomatic moves to prevent Snowden from receiving permanent asylum in Bolivia, Nicaragua, and Venezuela, the three Latin American governments that have stated they would take him.
Snowden filed a temporary asylum request after more than three weeks at the airport in Sheremetyevo on July 17, 2013. After the request was filed, Putin would not say whether or not Russia would grant Snowden's request. Instead, Putin reiterated that Snowden must do no further harm to the United States. The following week, while Edward Snowden still waited on approval of his temporary asylum request, U.S. Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr., attempted to dissuade Russia from granting the asylum. Holder wrote in a letter to Russian Justice Minister Alexander Konovalov that Snowden would not face torture or the death penalty should he be returned to the United States to face charges of espionage. Despite these efforts, on Aug. 1, 2013, Russia granted Snowden asylum for one year. The temporary asylum allowed him to leave the Moscow airport where he had been since June. Russia granted Snowden asylum despite strong urging from the U.S. not to do so. In response, President Obama canceled a planned summit meeting with Putin which was to be held in Moscow in September.
On Sept. 9, 2013, U.S. secretary of state John Kerry suggested half-heartedly that a strike on Syria could be averted if Syrian President Bashar al-Assad agreed to hand over all chemical weapons. Russia took the proposal seriously, and Russian foreign minister Sergey Lavrov said, "If the establishment of international control over chemical weapons in the country will prevent attacks, then we will immediately begin work with Damascus. And we call on the Syrian leadership to not only agree to setting the chemical weapons storage sites under international control, but also to their subsequent destruction." Syrian foreign minister Walid al-Moallem also embraced the option. "We are ready to reveal the locations of the chemical weapon sites and to stop producing chemical weapons and make these sites available for inspection by representatives of Russia, other countries and the United Nations," he said in a statement on Sept. 12. It was the first time the Syrian government acknowledged it had chemical weapons. Given the uncertainty of Congressional authorization, diplomacy would spare Obama a potential rebuke that could undercut his authority for the remainder of his presidency.
Russia and the U.S. reached an agreement on Sept. 15 that said Syria must provide an inventory of its chemicals weapons and production facilities within a week and either turn over or destroy all of its chemical weapons by mid-2014. If the government fails to comply, then the UN Security Council would take up the issue. The timetable is extremely aggressive; such disarmament typically takes years, not months. While the agreement delayed a Congressional vote on a military strike, the U.S. kept that possibility on the table. "If diplomacy fails, the United States remains prepared to act," Obama said.
On Sept. 16, the UN confirmed in a report that the chemical agent sarin had been used near Damascus on Aug. 21. "Chemical weapons have been used in the ongoing conflict between the parties in the Syrian Arab Republic, also against civilians, including children, on a relatively large scale," the report said. "The environmental, chemical and medical samples we have collected provide clear and convincing evidence that surface-to-surface rockets containing the nerve agent sarin were used." The report did not indicate who was responsible for launching the attack. Two days later, Russia denounced the UN's report, calling it incomplete. In a statement broadcast on Russian television, Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei A. Ryabkov said, "We think that the report was distorted. It was one-sided. The basis of information upon which it is built is insufficient."
International Protests and Multiple Bombings Threaten 2014 Olympics
During the summer of 2013, Russia's State Duma passed an anti-gay bill with a 436-0 vote. Backed by the Kremlin, the legislation banned the "propaganda of nontraditional sexual relations." The language of the bill was vague, but it was seen by the international community as an effort to crack down on homosexuality. While the State Duma, or lower house, voted on the bill, more than two dozen protestors were attacked by anti-gay demonstrators and then arrested by police in Moscow. Russian President Vladimir Putin signed the law in July. The law included a large fine for holding gay pride rallies or for giving any LGBT information to minors. Those caught breaking the new law could be arrested. Foreigners could be deported.
Throughout July and Aug. 2013, Russia's anti-gay bill sparked international protest and outrage. Athletes throughout the world threatened to boycott the 2014 Olympics in protest. The International Olympic Committee began probing Russia to see how the country would enforce the law during the Olympics. In an effort to do damage control over the controversy, the International Olympic Committee said by late July that it had "received assurances from the highest level of government in Russia that the legislation will not affect those attending or taking part in the Games." Meanwhile, FIFA reported that it was also seeking out "clarification and more details" about the new anti-gay law from Russia, which would host the 2018 World Cup.
On Sunday, Dec. 29, 2013, at least sixteen people were killed in a suicide bombing at a railroad station in Volgograd, a city in southern Russia. Nearly three dozen others were wounded. The following day another suicide bombing took place on a trolley bus in the same city. At least ten people were killed and ten others were wounded. Both explosions came just six weeks before the Winter Olympics were being held in Sochi, 400 miles away from Volgograd. Never has a host country experienced this level of violent terrorism so close to the Olympic Games. President Putin vowed to double security in all of Russia's railway stations and airports. During the Olympics, the government has planned for more than 40,000 law enforcement officials to be on hand at the event.
In Jan. 2014, another bomb exploded and suspicious deaths occurred in the Stavropol territory, which borders the province where the Winter Olympics will be held. A vehicle exploded on Wednesday, Jan. 8, 2014. One person was in the car at the time of the explosion. Two other bodies were found nearby. The following day, explosive material was found in another vehicle along with the bodies of three men. Russian authorities began an investigation into all six deaths.
Despite threats of terrorist attacks, complaints about poor preparations, and the international condemnation over their anti-gay law, Russia kicked off the costliest Olympic Games in history on Feb. 7, 2014, with an opening ceremony filled with music, floats and a light show using the most advanced technology available. While the games were originally estimated to cost $12 billion, that number has risen to $50 billion. The opening ceremony was mostly glitch free, although one of the five floating Olympic rings failed to open. Russian President Vladimir Putin attended and officially announced the start of the games during the ceremony. On the same day as the opening ceremony, a passenger on a Turkish jetliner told the crew that a bomb was on board and to fly the plane to Sochi. Instead, the crew landed in Istanbul. The suspect was taken into custody and no bomb was found. Meanwhile, the United States government banned all liquids, gels, aerosols and powders in carry-on luggage for flights to and from Russia. The ban came after the U.S. issued a warning that explosive material could be concealed in toothpaste tubes.
On Feb. 23, 2014, the Sochi Winter Games closed with an impressive ceremony, including Russia poking fun at its five floating ring opening ceremony malfunction. Despite the controversies and terror threats, the Sochi Games were incident free and considered a success. Russia led the medal count with 33, following by the United States with 28, and Norway with 26.
Russia Annexes Crimea, Experiences Economic Fallout Due to Sanctions
On March 1, 2014, Russian president Vladimir Putin dispatched troops to Crimea, citing the need to protect Russians from extremist ultranationalists, referring to the anti-government protesters in Kiev. The Russian troops surrounded Ukrainian military bases, and by March 3, Russia was reportedly in control of Crimea. The move sparked international outrage and condemnation just days after Russia successfully hosted the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi. President Obama called the move a "breach of international law."
In a press conference on March 4, Putin said he didn't see an immediate reason to initiate a military conflict, but Russia "reserves the right to use all means at our disposal to protect" Russian citizens and ethnic Russians in the region. Two days later, the U.S. imposed sanctions on officials, advisers, and other individuals who have been involved in the undermining of democracy in the Crimea. The sanctions involved revoking visas for travel to the U.S. for those who hold them and refusing visas for those seeking them. On the same day, the Crimean Parliament approved a referendum, scheduled for March 16, asking voters if they want to secede from Ukraine and be annexed by Russia.
Nearly 97% of voters in Crimea chose to secede from Ukraine in the referendum on March 16, 2014. The next day, the Crimean Parliament declared the region independent and formally sought annexation by Russia. In a statement from the Kremlin, Putin said, "The referendum was organized in such a way as to guarantee Crimea's population the possibility to freely express their will and exercise their right to self-determination." Obama told Putin that neither the U.S. nor the international community would recognize the results of the referendum. He said the referendum "violates the Ukrainian Constitution and occurred under duress of Russian military intervention." On March 17, Obama imposed economic sanctions on 11 Russian officials and Putin advisers, including Crimean prime minister Sergey Aksyonov, who were "responsible for the deteriorating situation in Ukraine." The sanctions froze the assets held in the U.S. and banned Americans from doing business with those sanctioned.
On March 18, Putin signed a treaty stating that Russia had annexed Crimea, reclaiming territory that was part of Russia from 1783, when Empress Catherine II took it over from the Ottoman Empire, to 1954 when Nikita Khrushchev transferred the region to Ukraine. After signing the treaty, Putin gave a speech that both defended his move, denounced internationally as a land grab, and lashed out at the West. "Our Western partners have crossed a line," he said, referring to the West's support for Kiev. "We have every reason to think that the notorious policy of confining Russia, pursued in the 18th, 19th and 20th centuries, continues today."
The move certainly jeopardized Russia's relationship with the U.S. and Europe, and complicated any hopes for a peace agreement in Syria and cast a cloud over the talks over Iran's nuclear program. Neither the U.S. nor the European Union recognized Crimea as part of Russia. The members of the Group of 8 industrialized nations announced on March 24 that they had suspended Russia from the group and moved the upcoming meeting from Sochi, Russia, to Brussels. The UN General Assembly passed a resolution on March 27 that declared Russia's annexation of Crimea illegal and described the referendum on the issue as "having no validity." One hundred countries voted in favor, 11 voted against, and 58 abstained. The resolution has no enforcement power, making it symbolic. Nonetheless, it clearly sent Putin a message.
After annexation, Putin continued to deploy as many as 40,000 Russian troops on the southern and eastern border with Ukraine, areas that are dominated by ethnic Russians, raising fears that he may attempt to take over additional regions of the country. Those fears were realized in early April, when pro-Russian protesters and armed militants in the eastern cities of Donetsk, Kharkiv, Luhansk, and Mariupol took over several government buildings and police stations. On April 17, 2014, in Geneva, representatives from the U.S., Russia, Ukraine, and the European Union reached an agreement intended to de-escalate the tension in eastern Ukraine. The agreement stated that all illegal armed groups will lay down their arms and all buildings seized illegally will be surrendered. Both sides agreed to end the violence and intolerance, with anti-Semitism being singled out. However, Russia did not commit to withdrawing the 40,000 troops it has massed on the Ukrainian border.
In response to Russia's refusal to comply with the agreement reached in Geneva to rein in the pro-Russian groups, the U.S. imposed additional sanctions in late April on seven Russian individuals, including Igor Sechin, the head of Russia's largest oil producer, and 17 companies with close ties to Putin, targeting some of the country's wealthiest and most powerful businessmen. The sanctions, announced on April 28, put a travel ban on the individuals and froze the assets of the officials and the businesses. They also restricted the import of U.S. goods that could be used for military purposes. The European followed with similar sanctions and the U.S. added more sanctions at the end of the year. The sanctions took a toll on Russia's economy. Standard & Poor's downgraded Russia's credit rating, leaving it just one notch above junk status, investors withdrew about $50 billion from the country, and the stock market fell 13% in 2014.
Putin Signs Gas Accord with China, Begins Eurasian Union as Ukraine Fallout Continues
After a decade of discussion, Russia's Gazprom signed a deal to sell natural gas to China's National Petroleum Corporation in May 2014. The deal was a $400 billion, 30-year supply contract for 38 billion cubic meters of gas per year. The supply would start in 2018. The fuel would come from a new pipeline in eastern Siberia. By 2014, China consumed about 4% of the world's gas, but about half of the world's iron ore, coal, and copper. However, China was on its way to being the world's biggest gas user by 2035. That same month, Russian President Vladimir Putin launched an Eurasian Union. Kazakhstan and Belarus joined Russia in the new economic alliance that hoped to one day rival the European Union. With a combined $2.7 trillion gross domestic product between the three countries, the union has promise. However, the fallout from recent events in Ukraine, which had been expected to be a part of the new bloc, could hurt the union and prevent it from growing to the same level as the European Union.
As the fighting and chaos escalated in eastern Ukraine and the U.S. and Europe threatened additional sanctions, on May 7, Putin announced the withdrawal of the 40,000 troops from the border with Ukraine, urged separatists to abandon plans for a referendum on autonomy, and said Russia would participate in negotiations to end the crisis. "I simply believe that if we want to find a long-term solution to the crisis in Ukraine, open, honest, and equal dialogue is the only possible option," Putin said. Both the U.S. and European officials responded with a heavy dose of skepticism that Putin would follow through.
A Malaysia Airlines Boeing 777 crashed in eastern Ukraine near the Russian border on July 17, killing all 298 passengers and crew members. The crash occurred in territory where pro-Russian separatists have been battling Ukrainian troops. Ukrainian, European, and American officials said the plane was shot down by a Russian-made surface-to-air missile, citing satellite images. President Putin denied having any role in the disaster. Most analysts said rebels may have thought they were targeting a military transport plane rather than a commercial jet. A day before the crash, the U.S. imposed further sanctions on Russia in response to Putin's refusal to stop arming the separatists.
In late July 2014, the U.S. accused Russia of violating the 1987 Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty, an agreement between the two countries banning medium range missiles. The treaty stated that the Russian Federation may not possess, produce, or test a ground-launched cruise missile with a range capability of 310 to 3,417 miles, nor produce or possess launchers of such missiles. Senior U.S. State Department officials said that Russia had violated the treaty, citing cruise missile tests by Russia dating back to 2008. That same month Russia sent 20,000 troops to the border of Ukraine. The move was in response to an aggressive campaign by the Ukrainian military, which included taking control of some of the border crossings that Russia had been using to arm the rebels.
On Sept. 5, representatives from the Ukrainian government, the Russian-backed separatists, Russia, and the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe who had been meeting in Minsk, Belarus, announced that they had agreed on a cease-fire, an agreement called the Minsk Protocol. The terms include an immediate end to fighting, the exchange of prisoners, amnesty for those who did not commit serious crimes, a 6-mile buffer zone along the Ukrainian-Russian border, decentralization of power in the Donbass region (the area dominated by the Russian-backed rebels), and the creation of a route to deliver humanitarian aid. However, the fighting continued despite the cease-fire. Between the signing of the cease-fire and early December, about 1,000 civilians and soldiers were killed-about 25% of the total 4,300 military and civilian fatalities. In addition, NATO reported that Russia has continued to supply the rebels with combat troops, vehicles, backing up claims by the Ukrainian government.
The cease-fire was all but shattered in January 2015 when the fighting between separatists and the government intensified in eastern Ukraine, rebels took over the Donetsk airport, and evidence mounted that Russia was supplying the rebels with increasingly sophisticated weapons. Poroshenko said as many as 9,000 Russian soldiers were taking part in the fighting in Luhansk and Donetsk, a claim Russia denied. Amid the crisis, the leaders of Russia, Ukraine, Germany, and France met in Feb. 2015 to try to resurrect the Minsk Protocol. After 16 hours of negotiations, the parties agreed to a cease-fire and to end the war in eastern Ukraine.
Nemtsov Is Assassinated, Two Aircraft Crash in 2015
On Feb. 27, 2015, just two days before he was scheduled to lead an opposition peace rally, Boris Nemtsov was shot and killed in Moscow. Nemtsov had been a vocal critic of Russian President Vladimir Putin, and most recently, of the war in Ukraine. According to fellow opposition leader Ilya Yashin, at the time of his death, Nemtsov had been working on a report of the Russian military's involvement in Ukraine. Putin condemned Nemtsov's murder and promised to lead the investigation into his death.
Nemtsov was the most prominent opposition leader to be killed during Putin's presidency. The incident sparked outrage and protests, including tens of thousands marching through Moscow in the days after the assassination.
On Oct. 31, 2015, Airbus A321-200, an 18-year-old Russian passenger plane, crashed just 20 minutes after taking off from Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt. All 224 people on board were killed. Investigators exploring the debris said that the plane's fuselage disintegrated in the air while flying over Egypt's Sinai Peninsula. The cause of the disintegration was not immediately known. However, The Sinai Province of the Islamic State, an ISIS offshoot, claimed responsibility for bombing the plane. The following month, Russia's FSB security service announced that Airbus A321-200 was taken down by a homemade explosive device.
Turkey shot down a Russian warplane for invading its airspace in late Nov. 2015. At least one of the two pilots was killed. Turkish officials said that the plane ignored repeated warnings as it crossed over into its airspace from Syria. In a statement, Russian President Vladimir Putin called the act a "stab in the back." He also said that there would be "significant consequences." It was the first time in fifty years that a NATO member had shot down a Russian aircraft.
Russia Invades Ukraine
Almost eight years to the day after their hostile actions in Crimea, the Russian Federation moved its armed forces into Ukraine ostensibly to protect ethnic Russians in the country against the Ukrainian government--primarily residents of two autonomous zones that declared independence from Ukraine after the 2014 annexation. The invasion prompted an international outcry. The situation is ongoing (as of 2022).
U.S. Department of State Background Note
Sponsored LinksTravel reviews & great deals at TripAdvisor:
Although human experience on the territory of present-day Russia dates back to Paleolithic times, the first lineal predecessor of the modern Russian state was founded in 862. The political entity known as Kievan Rus was established in Kiev in 962 and lasted until the 12th century. In the 10th century, Christianity became the state religion under Vladimir, who adopted Greek Orthodox rites. Consequently, Byzantine culture predominated, as is evident in much of Russia's architectural, musical, and artistic heritage. Over the next centuries, various invaders assaulted the Kievan state and, finally, Mongols under Batu Khan destroyed the main population centers except for Novgorod and Pskov in the 13th century and prevailed over the region until 1480. Some historians believe that the Mongol period had a lasting impact on Russian political culture.
In the post-Mongol period, Muscovy gradually became the dominant principality and was able, through diplomacy and conquest, to establish suzerainty over European Russia. Ivan III (1462-1505) referred to his empire as "the Third Rome" and considered it heir to the Byzantine tradition. Ivan IV (the Terrible) (1530-1584) was the first Russian ruler to call himself tsar. He pushed Russian eastward with his conquests but his later reign was marked by the cruelty that earned him his familiar epithet. He was succeeded by Boris Godunov, whose reign commenced the so-called Time of Troubles. Relative stability was achieved when Michael Romanov established the dynasty that bore his name in 1613.
During the reign of Peter the Great (1689-1725), modernization and European influences spread in Russia. Peter created Western-style military forces, subordinated the Russian Orthodox Church hierarchy to the tsar, reformed the entire governmental structure, and established the beginnings of a Western-style education system. He moved the capital westward from Moscow to St. Petersburg, his newly-established city on the Baltic. His introduction of European customs generated nationalistic resentments in society and spawned the philosophical rivalry between "Westernizers" and nationalistic "Slavophiles" that remains a key dynamic of current Russian social and political thought.
Catherine the Great continued Peter's expansionist policies and established Russia as a European power. During her reign (1762-96), power was centralized in the monarchy, and administrative reforms concentrated great wealth and privilege in the hands of the Russian nobility. Catherine was also known as an enthusiastic patron of art, literature and education and for her correspondence with Voltaire and other Enlightenment figures. Catherine also engaged in a territorial resettlement of Jews into what became known as "The Pale of Settlement," where great numbers of Jews were concentrated and later subject to vicious attacks known as pogroms.
Alexander I (1801-1825) began his reign as a reformer, but after defeating Napoleon's 1812 attempt to conquer Russia, he became much more conservative and rolled back many of his early reforms. During this era, Russia gained control of Georgia and much of the Caucasus. Throughout the 19th century, the Russian Government sought to suppress repeated attempts at reform and attempts at liberation by various national movements, particularly under the reign of Nicholas I (1825-1855). Its economy failed to compete with those of Western countries. Russian cities were growing without an industrial base to generate employment, although emancipation of the serfs in 1861 foreshadowed urbanization and rapid industrialization late in the century. At the same time, Russia expanded into the rest of the Caucasus, Central Asia and across Siberia. The port of Vladivostok was opened on the Pacific coast in 1860. The Trans-Siberian Railroad opened vast frontiers to development late in the century. In the 19th century, Russian culture flourished as Russian artists made significant contributions to world literature, visual arts, dance, and music. The names of Dostoyevsky, Tolstoy, Gogal, Repin, and Tchaikovsky became known to the world.
Alexander II (1855-1881), a relatively liberal tsar, emancipated the serfs. His 1881 assassination, however, prompted the reactionary rule of Alexander III (1881-1894). At the turn of the century, imperial decline became evident. Russia was defeated in the unpopular Russo-Japanese war in 1905. The Russian Revolution of 1905 forced Tsar Nicholas II (1894-1917) to grant a constitution and introduce limited democratic reforms. The government suppressed opposition and manipulated popular anger into anti-Semitic pogroms. Attempts at economic change, such as land reform, were incomplete.
1917 Revolution and the U.S.S.R.
The ruinous effects of World War I, combined with internal pressures, sparked the March 1917 uprising that led Tsar Nicholas II to abdicate the throne. A provisional government came to power, headed by Aleksandr Kerenskiy. On November 7, 1917, the Bolshevik Party, led by Vladimir Lenin, seized control and established the Russian Soviet Federated Socialist Republic. Civil war broke out in 1918 between Lenin's "Red" army and various "White" forces and lasted until 1920, when, despite foreign interventions and a war with Poland, the Bolsheviks triumphed. After the Red army conquered Ukraine, Belarus, Azerbaijan, Georgia, and Armenia, a new nation, the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (U.S.S.R.), was formed in 1922.
First among its political figures was Lenin, leader of the Bolshevik Party and head of the first Soviet Government, who died in 1924. In the late 1920s, Josef Stalin emerged as General Secretary of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union (CPSU) amidst intra-party rivalries; he maintained complete control over Soviet domestic and international policy until his death in 1953. In the 1930s, Stalin oversaw the forced collectivization of tens of millions of its citizens in state agricultural and industrial enterprises. Millions died in the process. Millions more died in political purges, the vast penal and labor system, and in state-created famines. Initially allied to Nazi Germany, which resulted in significant territorial additions on its western border, the U.S.S.R. was attacked by the Axis on June 22, 1941. Twenty million Soviet citizens died during World War II in the successful effort to defeat the Axis, in addition to over two million Soviet Jews who perished in the Holocaust. After the war, the U.S.S.R. became one of the Permanent Members of the UN Security Council. In 1949, the U.S.S.R. developed its own nuclear arsenal.
Stalin's successor, Nikita Khrushchev, served as Communist Party leader until he was ousted in 1964. Aleksey Kosygin became Chairman of the Council of Ministers, and Leonid Brezhnev was made First Secretary of the CPSU Central Committee in 1964. In 1971, Brezhnev rose to become "first among equals" in a collective leadership. Brezhnev died in 1982 and was succeeded by Yuriy Andropov (1982-84) and Konstantin Chernenko (1984-85). In 1985, Mikhail Gorbachev became the next (and last) General Secretary of the CPSU. Gorbachev introduced policies of perestroika (restructuring) and glasnost (openness). But his efforts to reform the creaky Communist system from within failed. The people of the Soviet Union were not content with half-freedoms granted by Moscow; they demanded more and the system collapsed. Boris Yeltsin was elected the first president of the Russian Federation in 1991. Russia, Ukraine and Belarus formed the Commonwealth of Independent States in December 1991. Gorbachev resigned as Soviet President on December 25, 1991. Eleven days later, the U.S.S.R. was formally dissolved.
The Russian Federation
After the December 1991 dissolution of the Soviet Union, the Russian Federation became its successor state, inheriting its permanent seat on the UN Security Council, as well as the bulk of its foreign assets and debt. By the fall of 1993, politics in Russia reached a stalemate between President Yeltsin and the parliament. The parliament had succeeded in blocking, overturning, or ignoring the President's initiatives on drafting a new constitution, conducting new elections, and making further progress on democratic and economic reforms.
In a dramatic speech in September 1993, President Yeltsin dissolved the Russian parliament and called for new national elections and a new constitution. The standoff between the executive branch and opponents in the legislature turned violent in October after supporters of the parliament tried to instigate an armed insurrection. Yeltsin ordered the army to respond with force to capture the parliament building and crush the insurrection. In December 1993, voters elected a new parliament and approved a new constitution that had been drafted by the Yeltsin government. Yeltsin remained the dominant political figure, although a broad array of parties, including ultra-nationalists, liberals, agrarians, and communists, had substantial representation in the parliament and competed actively in elections at all levels of government.
In late 1994, the Russian security forces launched a brutal operation in the Republic of Chechnya against rebels who were intent on separation from Russia. Along with their opponents, Russian forces committed numerous violations of human rights. The protracted conflict, which received close scrutiny in the Russian media, raised serious human rights and humanitarian concerns abroad as well as within Russia. After numerous unsuccessful attempts to institute a cease-fire, in August 1996 the Russian and Chechen authorities negotiated a settlement that resulted in a complete withdrawal of Russian troops and the holding of elections in January 1997. A peace treaty was concluded in May 1997. Following a number of terrorist incidents blamed on Chechen separatists, the Russian government launched a new military campaign into Chechnya. By spring 2000, federal forces claimed control over Chechen territory, but fighting continues as rebel fighters regularly ambush Russian forces in the region. Throughout 2002 and 2003, the ability of Chechen separatists to battle the Russian forces waned but they claimed responsibility for numerous terrorist acts. In 2005 and 2006, key separatist leaders were killed by Russian forces.
On December 31, 1999 Boris Yeltsin resigned, and Vladimir Putin was named Acting President. In March 2000, he won election in his own right as Russia's second president with 53% of the vote. Putin moved quickly to reassert Moscow's control over the regions, whose governors had confidently ignored edicts from Boris Yeltsin. He sent his own "plenipotentiary representatives" (commonly called ‘polpred' in Russian) to ensure that Moscow's policies were followed in recalcitrant regions and republics. He won enactment of liberal economic reforms that rescued a faltering economy and stopped a spiral of hyperinflation. Putin achieved wide popularity by stabilizing the government, especially in marked contrast to what many Russians saw as the chaos of the latter Yeltsin years. The economy grew, both because of rising oil prices and in part because Putin was able to achieve reforms in banking, labor, and private property. During this time, Russia also moved closer to the U.S., especially after the terror attacks of September 11, 2001. In 2002, the NATO-Russia Council was established, giving Russia a voice in NATO discussions.
GOVERNMENT AND POLITICAL CONDITIONS
In the political system established by the 1993 constitution, the president wields considerable executive power. There is no vice president, and the legislative branch is far weaker than the executive. The bicameral legislature consists of the lower house (State Duma) and the upper house (the Federation Council). The president nominates the highest state officials, including the prime minister, who must be approved by the Duma. The president can pass decrees without consent from the Duma. He also is head of the armed forces and of the Security Council.
Duma elections were held most recently on December 7, 2003, and presidential elections on March 14, 2004. The pro-government party, United Russia, won close to half of the seats in the Duma. Combined with its allies, United Russia commands a two-thirds majority. The OSCE judged the Duma elections as failing to meet international standards for fairness, due largely to extensive slanted media bias in the campaign. Vladimir Putin was re-elected to a second four-year term with 71% of the vote in March 2004. The Russian constitution does not allow presidents to serve more than two consecutive terms. Next elections for the Duma occur in December 2007, and for President in March 2008.
Russia is a federation, but the precise distribution of powers between the central government and the regional and local authorities is still evolving. The Russian Federation consists of 89 regional administrative units, including two federal cities, Moscow and St. Petersburg. The constitution explicitly defines the federal government's exclusive powers, but it also describes most key regional issues as the joint responsibility of the federal government and the regional administrative units. In 2000, President Putin grouped the regions into seven federal districts, with presidential appointees established in Moscow and six provincial capitals. In March 2004, the Constitution was amended to permit the merger of some regional administrative units. A law enacted in December 2004 eliminated the direct election of the country's regional leaders. Governors are now nominated by the president and subject to confirmation by regional legislatures.
The Russian judicial system consists of the Constitutional Court, courts of general jurisdiction, military courts, and arbitrage courts (which hear commercial disputes). The Constitutional Court of the Russian Federation is a court of limited subject matter jurisdiction. The 1993 constitution empowers the Constitutional Court to arbitrate disputes between the executive and legislative branches and between Moscow and the regional and local governments. The court also is authorized to rule on violations of constitutional rights, to examine appeals from various bodies, and to participate in impeachment proceedings against the president. The July 1994 Law on the Constitutional Court prohibits the court from examining cases on its own initiative and limits the scope of issues the court can hear. The system of general jurisdiction courts includes the Supreme Court of the Russian Federation, regional level courts, district level courts and justices of the peace.
The Duma passed a Criminal Procedure Code and other judicial reforms during its 2001 session. These reforms help make the Russian judicial system more compatible with its Western counterparts and are seen by most as an accomplishment in human rights. The reforms have reintroduced jury trials in certain criminal cases and created a more adversarial system of criminal trials that protect the rights of defendants more adequately. In 2002, the introduction of the new code led to significant reductions in time spent in detention for new detainees, and the number of suspects placed in pretrial detention declined by 30%. Another significant advance in the new Code is the transfer from the Procuracy to the courts of the authority to issue search and arrest warrants. There are rising concerns, however, that prosecutors have selectively targeted individuals for political reasons, as in the prosecution of Yukos Oil CEO Mikhail Khodorkovskiy.
In spite of the general tendency to increase judicial independence (for example, by recent considerable salary raise to judges), many judges still see their role not as of impartial and independent arbiters, but as of government officials protecting state interests. See below for more information on the commercial court/business law.
Russia's human rights record remains uneven and has worsened in some areas in recent years. Despite significant improvements in conditions following the end of the Soviet Union, problem areas remain. In particular, the Russian Government's policy in Chechnya has been a cause for international concern. Although the government has made progress in recognizing the legitimacy of international human rights standards, the institutionalization of procedures to safeguard these rights has lagged. There are, however, some indications that the law is becoming an increasingly important tool for those seeking to protect human rights.
The judiciary is often subject to manipulation by political authorities and is plagued by large case backlogs and trial delays. Lengthy pretrial detention remains a serious problem. Russia has one of the highest prison population rates in the world, at 685 per 100,000. There are credible reports of beating and torture of inmates and detainees by law enforcement and correctional officials. Prison conditions fall well below international standards. In 2001, President Putin pronounced a moratorium on the death penalty. There are reports that the Russian Government might still be violating promises they made upon entering the European Council, especially in terms of prison control and conditions.
In Chechnya, there have been credible allegations of violations of international human rights and humanitarian law committed by Russian and pro-Moscow Chechen forces. Chechen rebels also have committed abuses as well as acts of terrorism. Human rights groups have criticized Russian officials concerning cases of Chechens disappearing while in custody. Chechen rebels have similarly been responsible for politically motivated disappearances. Russian authorities have introduced some improvements, including better access to complaint mechanisms, the formal opening of investigations in most cases, and the introduction of two decrees requiring the presence of civilian investigators and other nonmilitary personnel during all large-scale military operations and targeted search and seizure operations. Human rights groups welcome these changes but claim that most abuses remain uninvestigated and unpunished and may be spreading more broadly in the North Caucasus.
The Russian constitution provides for freedom of religion and the equality of all religions before the law, as well as the separation of church and state. Although Jews and Muslims continue to encounter prejudice and societal discrimination, they have not been inhibited by the government in the free practice of their religion. High-ranking federal officials have condemned anti-Semitic hate crimes, but law enforcement bodies have not always effectively prosecuted those responsible. The influx of foreign missionaries has led to pressure by groups in Russia, specifically nationalists and the Russian Orthodox Church, to limit the activities of these "nontraditional" religious groups. In response, the Duma passed a restrictive and potentially discriminatory law on religion in October 1997. The law is complex, with many ambiguous and contradictory provisions. The law's most controversial provisions distinguish between religious "groups" and "organizations" and introduce a 15-year rule, which allows groups that have been in existence for 15 years or longer to obtain accredited status. Senior Russian officials have pledged to implement the 1997 law on religion in a manner that is not in conflict with Russia's international human rights obligations. Some local officials, however, have used the law as a pretext to restrict religious liberty.
Government pressure continued to weaken freedom of expression and the independence and freedom of some media, particularly major national television networks and regional electronic media outlets. A government decision resulted in the elimination of the last major non-state television network in 2003. National press is also increasingly in government hands or owned by government officials, narrowing the scope of opinion available. Self-censorship is a growing press problem. Unsolved murders of journalists, including the killing of respected investigative reporter Anna Politkovskaya in October 2006, have caused significant international concern and increased pressure on journalists to avoid subjects considered sensitive. In August 2007, authorities arrested several suspects in connection with the Politkovksaya case.
Enactment of a new law on foreign non-governmental organizations (NGOs) in 2006 was criticized in many quarters as a device to control civil society. Implementing regulations appear to impose onerous paperwork reporting burdens on NGOs that could be used to limit or even suppress some of them. This law was used to shut down an NGO for the first time in January 2007 on the basis of extremism charges; however, most foreign NGOs have successfully re-registered. Domestic NGOs were not required to re-register, but are required to meeting new reporting requirements.
The constitution guarantees citizens the right to choose their place of residence and to travel abroad. Some big-city governments, however, have restricted this right through residential registration rules that closely resemble the Soviet-era "propiska" regulations. Although the rules were touted as a notification device rather than a control system, their implementation has produced many of the same results as the propiska system. The freedom to travel abroad and emigrate is respected although restrictions may apply to those who have had access to state secrets. Recognizing this progress, since 1994, the U.S. President has found Russia to be in full compliance with the provisions of the Jackson-Vanik Amendment.
Principal Government Officials
Prime Minister--Dmitry Medvedev
The Russian Federation maintains an embassy at 2650 Wisconsin Ave., NW, Washington, DC 20007 (tel. 202-298-5700) and a consular section at 2641 Tunlaw Road, Washington, DC (tel. 202-939-8907/8913/8918). Russian consulates also are located in Houston, New York, San Francisco, and Seattle.
A strong expansion in domestic demand continues to drive GDP growth, despite a slowdown in manufacturing. GDP growth and industrial production for 2006 were 6.7% and 4.8%, respectively, relative to 6.4% and 5.7% in 2005. GDP growth is currently derived from non-tradable sectors, but investment remains concentrated in tradables (oil and gas). Construction was the fastest growing sector of the economy, expanding by 14% in 2006. The main private sector services--wholesale & retail trade, banking & insurance, and transportation & communications--showed strong growth of about 10%. In contrast, public sector services--education, health care, and public administration--lagged behind with only 2-4% growth in 2006. Recent productivity growth has still been strong in some parts of domestic manufacturing. Real disposable incomes grew by 10.2% in 2006, spurring considerable growth in private consumption.
Large balance of payments surpluses have complicated monetary policy for Russia. The Central Bank has followed a policy of managed appreciation to ease the impact on domestic producers and has sterilized capital inflows with its large budget surpluses. However, the Central Bank also has been buying back dollars, pumping additional ruble liquidity into the system. Given the rising demand for money, this has softened the inflationary impact, but these policy choices have complicated the government's efforts to lower inflation to the single digits. Consumer Price Index (CPI) inflation was 9% in 2006 and 10.9% in 2005, having steadily decreased from 20.2% in 2000, due primarily to prudent fiscal policy and in 2006 lower world oil prices.
The Russian federal budget has run growing surpluses since 2001, as the government has taxed and saved much of the rapidly increasing oil revenues. According to preliminary figures, the 2006 budget surplus was 7.4% of GDP on a cash basis. Although there are strong pressures to relax spending ahead of elections, the government has loosened its spending gradually, as the economy is running at near capacity and there are dangers of increasing inflation and rapid exchange rate appreciation. Spending increases to date have mostly been for increased salaries of government employees and pensions, but some money is also being dedicated to special investment funds and tax breaks to develop new industries in special economic zones. The government overhauled its tax system for both corporations and individuals in 2000-01, introducing a 13% flat tax for individuals and a unified tax for corporations, which improved overall collection. Business has put pressure on the government to reduce value added taxes (VAT) on oil and gas, but the government has postponed this discussion. Tax enforcement of disputes, particularly following the Yukos case, continues to be uneven and unpredictable.
Russia's population of 142.9 million (2006) is falling. Lower birth rates and higher death rates have reduced Russia's population at a nearly 0.5% annual rate since the early 1990s. Russia is one of few countries with a declining population (although birth rates in many developed countries have dropped below the long-term population replacement). Population decline is particularly drastic in Russia due to higher death rates, especially among working-age males. Cardiovascular disease, cancer, traffic injuries, suicide, alcohol poisoning, and violence are major causes of death. In a June 2006 speech to the Russian National Security Council, President Putin declared that Russia is facing a demographic crisis and called for measures to improve birth and mortality rates and increase population through immigration, primarily the return of Russian-speaking foreigners.
Russia and Ukraine are said to have the highest growth rates of HIV infection in the world. In Russia HIV seems to be transmitted mostly by intravenous drug users sharing needles, although data is very uncertain. Data from the Federal AIDS Center shows that the number of registered cases is doubling every 12 months and is currently at 300,000 persons. When projections are made which allow for people in high-risk groups who have not been tested for the disease, estimates of the actual number of HIV-infected persons are approximately 3 million. The high growth rate of AIDS cases, if unchecked, will have negative economic consequences. Investment will suffer from the diversion of private and government funds to AIDS treatment. The effect on the labor force may be acute since about 80% of infected individuals in Russia are under 30 years of age. At the September 2003 Camp David Summit, and again at the Bratislava meeting in February 2005, Presidents Bush and Putin pledged to deepen ongoing cooperation between the two countries to fight HIV/AIDS.
Russia has a body of conflicting, overlapping and rapidly changing laws, decrees and regulations, which has resulted in an ad hoc and unpredictable approach to doing business. In this environment, negotiations and contracts from commercial transactions are complex and protracted. Uneven implementation of laws creates further complications. Regional and local courts are often subject to political pressure, and corruption is widespread. However, more and more small and medium businesses in recent years have reported fewer difficulties in this regard, especially in the Moscow region. In addition, Russian businesses are increasingly turning to the courts to resolve disputes. Russia's WTO accession process is also helping to bring the country's legal and regulatory regime in line with internationally accepted practices.
The mineral-packed Ural Mountains and the vast oil, gas, coal, and timber reserves of Siberia and the Russian Far East make Russia rich in natural resources. However, most such resources are located in remote and climatically unfavorable areas that are difficult to develop and far from Russian ports. Nevertheless, Russia is a leading producer and exporter of minerals, gold, and all major fuels. Natural resources, especially energy, dominate Russian exports. Ninety percent of Russian exports to the United States are minerals or other raw materials.
Russia is one of the most industrialized of the former Soviet republics. However, years of very low investment have left much of Russian industry antiquated and highly inefficient. Besides its resource-based industries, it has developed large manufacturing capacities, notably in metals, food products, and transport equipment. Russia is now the world's third-largest exporter of steel and primary aluminum. Russia inherited most of the defense industrial base of the Soviet Union, so armaments remain an important export category for Russia. Efforts have been made with varying success over the past few years to convert defense industries to civilian use, and the Russian Government is engaged in an ongoing process to privatize the remaining 9,222 state-owned enterprises, 33% of which are in the industrial manufacturing sector.
For its great size, Russia has relatively little area suited for agriculture because of its arid climate and inconsistent rainfall. Northern areas concentrate mainly on livestock, and the southern parts and western Siberia produce grain. Restructuring of former state farms has been an extremely slow process. Foreigners are not allowed to own farmland in Russia although long-term leases are permitted. Private farms and garden plots of individuals account for over one-half of all agricultural production.
Russia attracted an estimated $31 billion in FDI in 2006 (3.2% of GDP), up from $13 billion in foreign direct investment (FDI) in 2005.Russia's annual FDI figures are now in line with those of China, India, and Brazil. However, Russia's per capita cumulative FDI still lags far behind such countries as Hungary, Poland, and the Czech Republic. The paradox is that Russia's challenging business climate, lack of transparency, and weak rule of law/corruption has taken a back seat to Russia's extraordinary macroeconomic fundamentals and the consumer and retail boom, which is providing double digit returns to investors and attracting new flows. Russian domestic investment is also returning home, as the foreign investment coming into Russia from havens like Cyprus and Gibraltar, is actually returning Russian capital . As of the end of 2006, loans to the financial sector were 57.2% of total banking sector assets. Retail loans amounted to $78.4 billion at the end of 2006, up from $41 billion at the end of 2005. Retail deposits increased to $144.1 billion from $95.7 billion over the same period. Also, currently deposits are fully insured up to $4,000 and an additional $12,000 is insured at 90%.
Although still small by international standards, the Russian banking sector is growing fast and is becoming a larger source of investment funds. To meet a growing demand for loans, which they were unable to cover with domestic deposits, Russian banks borrowed heavily abroad in 2006, accounting for two-thirds of the private-sector capital inflows in that year. Ruble lending has increased since the October 1998 financial crisis, and in 2006 loans were 63% of total bank assets, with consumer loans posting the fastest growth at 74% that same year. Fewer Russians prefer to keep their money outside the banking sector, the recent appreciation of the ruble against the dollar has persuaded many Russians to keep their money in rubles or other currencies such as the euro, and retail deposits grew by 65% in 2006. Despite recent growth, the poorly developed banking system, along with contradictory regulations across banking, bond, and equity markets, still makes it difficult for entrepreneurs to raise capital as well as to permit capital transfer from a capital-rich sector such as energy to capital-poor sectors such as agriculture and manufacturing and to diversify risk. Banks still perceive small and medium commercial lending as risky, and some banks are inexperienced with assessing credit risk, though the situation is improving. In 2003, Russia enacted a deposit insurance law to protect deposits up to 100,000 rubles (about $3,700) per depositor, and a bill is currently in the Duma, which if passed will increase this coverage to 190,000 rubles (about $7,000) per depositor.
The U.S. exported $4.7 billion in goods to Russia in 2006, a 21% increase from the previous year. Corresponding U.S. imports from Russia were $19.8 billion, up 29%. Russia is currently the 33rd-largest export market for U.S. goods. Russian exports to the U.S. were fuel oil, inorganic chemicals, aluminum, and precious stones. U.S. exports to Russia were machinery, meat (mostly poultry), electrical equipment, and high-tech products.
Russia's overall trade surplus in 2006 was $139 billion, up from $118 billion in 2005. World prices continue to have a major effect on export performance, since commodities--particularly oil, natural gas, metals, and timber--comprise 80% of Russian exports. Russian GDP growth and the surplus/deficit in the Russian Federation state budget are closely linked to world oil prices.
Russia is in the process of negotiating terms of accession to the World Trade Organization (WTO). The U.S. and Russia concluded a bilateral WTO accession agreement in late 2006, and negotiations continue in 2007 on meeting WTO requirements for accession. Russia reports that it has yet to conclude bilateral agreements with Saudi Arabia and Georgia.
According to the 2005 U.S. Trade Representative's National Trade Estimate, Russia continues to maintain a number of barriers with respect to imports, including tariffs and tariff-rate quotas; discriminatory and prohibitive charges and fees; and discriminatory licensing, registration, and certification regimes. Discussions continue within the context of Russia's WTO accession to eliminate these measures or modify them to be consistent with internationally accepted trade policy practices. Non-tariff barriers are frequently used to restrict foreign access to the market and are also a significant topic in Russia's WTO negotiations. In addition, large losses to U.S. audiovisual and other companies in Russia owing to poor enforcement of intellectual property rights in Russia is an ongoing irritant in U.S.-Russia trade relations. Russia continues to work to bring its technical regulations, including those related to product and food safety, into conformity with international standards.
Russia's efforts to transform its Soviet-legacy military into a smaller, lighter and more mobile force continue to be hampered by an ossified military leadership, discipline problems and human rights violations, limited funding and demographics. Recent steps by the Government of Russia suggest a desire to reform. There has been an increased emphasis on practical training, and the government is introducing bills to improve the organization of the military.
Despite recent increases in the budget, however, defense spending is still unable to sustain Russia's oversized military. Current troop strength, estimated at 1.1 million, is large in comparison to Russia's GDP and military budget, which continues to make the process of transformation to a professional army difficult. This is the result of the Soviet legacy and military thinking that has changed little since the Cold War. Senior Russian leaders continue to emphasize a reliance on a large strategic nuclear force capable of deterring a massive nuclear attack.
Russian military salaries are low. Theoretically, the army provides all necessities, but housing and food shortages continue to plague the armed forces. Problems with both discipline and brutal hazing are common as well. HIV infection rates in the Russian army are estimated to be between two to five times higher than in the general population, and tuberculosis is a persistent problem.
Such conditions continue to encourage draft evasion and efforts to delay military service. Although the available manpower (males 15-49) for the Russian Armed Forces was projected at 35.2 million in 2005, only approximately 11% of eligible males do military service. Moreover, military officials complain that new recruit cohorts are plagued by increasing incidences of poor education, communicable diseases and criminality.
The Russian Government has stated a desire to convert to a professional army, but implementation has been delayed repeatedly. Current plans envision a transition to a mixed force, in which professional soldiers fill the ranks of select units and conscription is gradually phased out. Some officials have talked of developing a non-commissioned officer corps to lead the professional army, but the military has yet to make any concrete investments in training or facilities that would begin this process.
In the years after the dissolution of the Soviet Union, Russia took important steps to become a full partner in the world's principal political groupings. On December 27, 1991, Russia assumed the permanent UN Security Council seat formerly held by the Soviet Union. Russia also is a member of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) and the Euro-Atlantic Partnership Council (EAPC). Russia and the European Union (EU) signed a Partnership and Cooperation Agreement. It signed the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) Partnership for Peace initiative in 1994. The NATO-Russia Founding Act in 1997 and the NATO-Russia Council superseded that in 2002. Russia acquiesced (despite misgivings) in enlargement of NATO by members first of the former Warsaw Pact and most recently by the Baltic states that had been forcibly integrated into the Soviet Union.
Over the past several years Russia has increased its international profile, played an increasing role in regional issues, and been more assertive in dealing with its neighbors. The rise in energy prices has given it leverage over countries which are dependent on Russian sources. Russia continues to support separatist regimes in Georgia and Moldova.
For more detailed information on U.S. Government assistance to Russia, please see the annual reports to Congress on U.S. Government Assistance to and Cooperative Activities with Eurasia, which are available in the Bureau of European and Eurasian Affairs section on the State Department's website. A fact sheet on FY 2006 U.S. Assistance to Russia can be found at http://www.state.gov/p/eur/rls/fs/66166.htm.
The U.S. Embassy is located in Russia at Bolshoy Devyatinskiy Pereulok, Number 8, 121099 Moscow (tel. (095) 728-5000; fax: (095) 728-5090).
Consulate General, St. Petersburg--Furshtadskaya Ulitsa 15; tel.  (812) 331-2600; Mary Kruger, Consul General
Consulate General, Vladivostok--32 Pushkinskaya Ulitsa; tel.  (4232) 30-00-70; John Mark Pommersheim, Consul General
Consulate General, Yekaterinburg--Ulitsa Gogolya 15; tel.  (343) 379-30-01; John Stepanchuk, Consul General
In Moscow, the U.S. Commercial Office is located at Bolshaya Molchanovka 23/38 (tel. (095) 737-5030; fax: (095) 737-5033).
In St. Petersburg, the U.S. Commercial Office is located at Nevsky Prospekt 25 (tel. (812) 326-2560; fax: (812) 326-2561).
In Vladivostok, the U.S. Commercial Office is located at 32 Pushkinskaya Ulitsa (tel.  (4232) 30-00-93; fax: (4232) 30-00-92).
In Yekaterinburg, the U.S. Commercial Office is located at Ulitsa Gogolya 15 (tel. (343) 379-3001).
TRAVEL AND BUSINESS INFORMATION
The U.S. Department of State's Consular Information Program advises Americans traveling and residing abroad through Consular Information Sheets, Public Announcements, and Travel Warnings. Consular Information Sheets exist for all countries and include information on entry and exit requirements, currency regulations, health conditions, safety and security, crime, political disturbances, and the addresses of the U.S. embassies and consulates abroad. Public Announcements are issued to disseminate information quickly about terrorist threats and other relatively short-term conditions overseas that pose significant risks to the security of American travelers. Travel Warnings are issued when the State Department recommends that Americans avoid travel to a certain country because the situation is dangerous or unstable.
For the latest security information, Americans living and traveling abroad should regularly monitor the Department's Bureau of Consular Affairs Internet web site at http://www.travel.state.gov, where the current Worldwide Caution, Public Announcements, and Travel Warnings can be found. Consular Affairs Publications, which contain information on obtaining passports and planning a safe trip abroad, are also available at http://www.travel.state.gov. For additional information on international travel, see http://www.usa.gov/Citizen/Topics/Travel/International.shtml.
The Department of State encourages all U.S citizens traveling or residing abroad to register via the State Department's travel registration website or at the nearest U.S. embassy or consulate abroad. Registration will make your presence and whereabouts known in case it is necessary to contact you in an emergency and will enable you to receive up-to-date information on security conditions.
Emergency information concerning Americans traveling abroad may be obtained by calling 1-888-407-4747 toll free in the U.S. and Canada or the regular toll line 1-202-501-4444 for callers outside the U.S. and Canada.
The National Passport Information Center (NPIC) is the U.S. Department of State's single, centralized public contact center for U.S. passport information. Telephone: 1-877-4USA-PPT (1-877-487-2778). Customer service representatives and operators for TDD/TTY are available Monday-Friday, 7:00 a.m. to 12:00 midnight, Eastern Time, excluding federal holidays.
Travelers can check the latest health information with the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta, Georgia. A hotline at 877-FYI-TRIP (877-394-8747) and a web site at http://www.cdc.gov/travel/index.htm give the most recent health advisories, immunization recommendations or requirements, and advice on food and drinking water safety for regions and countries. A booklet entitled "Health Information for International Travel" (HHS publication number CDC-95-8280) is available from the U.S. Government Printing Office, Washington, DC 20402, tel. (202) 512-1800.
Further Electronic Information
Department of State Web Site. Available on the Internet at http://www.state.gov, the Department of State web site provides timely, global access to official U.S. foreign policy information, including Background Notes and daily press briefings along with the directory of key officers of Foreign Service posts and more. The Overseas Security Advisory Council (OSAC) provides security information and regional news that impact U.S. companies working abroad through its website http://www.osac.gov
Export.gov provides a portal to all export-related assistance and market information offered by the federal government and provides trade leads, free export counseling, help with the export process, and more.STAT-USA/Internet, a service of the U.S. Department of Commerce, provides authoritative economic, business, and international trade information from the Federal government. The site includes current and historical trade-related releases, international market research, trade opportunities, and country analysis and provides access to the National Trade Data Bank.
Revised: Sep. 2007