James W. Meng

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Units: Foreword 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22

15.1 15.2 15.3 15.4


Economic, political, and cultural development of contemporary Russia.
15.1. Socioeconomic development during the 1990s and 2000s.

Russia is the largest country in the world by surface area. Its capital is Moscow; it occupies territory of over 17.1 million square kilometers; and its population is 143 million people, the world's ninth largest.

Russia is a multinational country inhabited by representatives of over 160 nationalities. According to its Constitution, the Russian Federation is a secular state whose life is regulated on the basis of civil, not religious, norms. The country's official language is Russian, though its constituent republics may establish state languages alongside Russian.

Following the dissolution of the Soviet Union, a period of formation of statehood for the Russian Federation began. Russia declared itself the legal successor of the USSR and inherited all of the former Soviet property on its territory as well as 60% of the Soviet property outside the borders of the USSR. In exchange, Russia assumed the obligation to repay the external debt of the Soviet Union. Russia also inherited from the USSR the permanent seat of the UN Security Council and control over Soviet nuclear weapons.

In 1991, following a coup, Boris N. Yeltsin became the first president of Russia. Yeltsin, who held office from 1991-99, was most well known for beginning a stage of liberal economic reforms in the country developed by a group of radical reformers led by the Russian vice-premier, Yegor T. Gaidar. These reforms introduced the abolition of fixed prices in order to eliminate commodity deficits; mass privatization of housing and state enterprises in order to promote the adoption of private property rights among the public; and a program of restructuring of heavy industry in order to reduce its total share of the economy, primarily in the defense industry. In the social sphere, these reforms were intended to lead to the creation of a broad middle class based on commerce and ownership of private property.

By March 1992, 90% of retail and 80% of wholesale prices were no longer fixed. Control over the prices for fuel, electricity, a number of food products, housing, and transport remained. The share of military expendatures as a part of the overall national budget was reduced. A formalized program of privatization of state enterprises and housing began in which citizens were given vouchers - a form of security with a declared value of 10,000 rubles. Receipt of a voucher signified the right of a citizen of the Russian Federation to share ownership of privatized enterprises.

Results of this first stage of reforms were deeply contrary to expectations. Liberalization of prices and trade did indeed eliminate the commodity deficit; changes in the structure of employment meant that now, more than half of all employees worked in the non-state sphere. At the same time, industrial and agricultural production experienced sharp declines, as did the overall living standard of the people. Sharp reductions in employment resulted also, and in December 1992, Yegor T. Gaidar was dismissed and replaced by V.S. Chernomyrdin. Changes in the post of prime minister continued to be frequent in the ensuing years.

While President Yeltsin generally managed to maintain the intended course of market reforms in Russia, the policies he supported and implemented did not do so without causing sharp production declines. Market reforms also led to a sharp division of the population into poor and rich: by the end of the 20th century, four out of ten Russians were living below the poverty line. This, coupled with the free trade in privatization vouchers, meant that as a result of reforms property was redistributed in such a way that a large part of it was concentrated in the hands of a small group of the population. The financial oligarchy that developed as a result of these dynamics was, as a result, able to interefere quite significantly in affairs of state for personal gain. The worsening socio-economic situation was also associated with a large-scale war in Chechnya (1994-96).

The worsening economic conditions eventually led to the financial crisis of 1998, whose consequences were severe for the country. High inflation - as much as 60% - coupled with rising prices led to declines in incomes by up to one-third. The market infrastructure and banking system collapsed. During this period the government faced down an open protest movement among the population, which peaked in 1997-98. On the 9th of April 1998 an All-Russian protest rally took place in which people protested delays in payments of wages and pensions; closing of businesses, and rising prices.

In August 1999 a new head of the Cabinet of Ministers took office - Vladimir Vladimirovich Putin - who at the same time was publicly named as the President's successor. At the time of his arrival in the Cabinet of Ministers, the country's key economic indicators were all below their levels in 1990. Both the internal and external debts of the Russian Federation reached a peak of enormous proporitions: over US$158.8 billion dollars, and the Russian economy continued to experience a number of other negative external factors including low commodity prices.

In view of these circumstances, the goals of the new government and then of the first presidency of Vladimir Putin (2000-04) was to mitigate the effects of the financial crisis: to combat poverty, restore incomes and expand the role of domestic demand as a factor in economic growth. The government began implementing tax reforms; reforms of housing and communal services; reforms of education, healthcare, and pensions.

By the early 2000s, economic growth had returned. For the first time in half a century, Russia became a net grain exporter, and began establishing a history of debt payments to its Western creditors. State obligations for pension payments, wages, and child allowances began to be fulfilled regularly. Rising oil prices played a key role in this economic rebirth, but incomes for a quarter of the population remained below the subsistence minimum.

The period of Vladimir Putin's second presidential term (2004-08) was marked by a second stage of new steps taken to reform the Russian economy. Overseen by deputy prime minister Dmitry Anatolievich Medvedev, the implementation and realization of a series of National Projects (NP) was undertaken and included provision of citizens with housing, quality education, medical care, and the development of agriculture. As part of the education program, all Russian schools received computers and Internet access; through the healthcare program the state healthcare system received new, modernized medical equipment, medical transport, etc.

Judicial, pension, and military reforms continued. A state program for the development of nanotechnologies was initiated, for use in the defense industry, agriculture, medicine and space; and a new technological park, Skolkovo, created around this program.

In 2007, during a session of the International Olympic Committee, Russia won the right to host the Winter Olympic Games in 2014 in Sochi, carrying out the event to international acclaim.

In 2008-12, Vladimir Putin once again headed the government but officially as Prime Minister; during this period, the Russian economy was negatively affected by the international financial crisis of 2008, and a decline in production resulted. The government successfully implemented a number of measures to offset the effects of the crisis among the general population.

In May 2012, Dmitri Medvedev became Chairman of the Government of the Russian Federation, and was also elected as chairman of the United Russia party.

15.2. Political processes in the Russian Federation.

Following the dissolution of the USSR, the principle of separation of powers was established in the political system of the newly-independent RSFSR. Executive power was assigned to the President of Russia, legislative powers to the Supreme Soviet of the RSFSR, and judiciary powers to the Constitutional Court. Boris Yeltsin claimed victory in the first presidential election of the RSFSR on the 12th of June, 1991.

After the suppression of the August putsch of 1991, Boris Yeltsin additionally assumed the post of Chairman of the government in October 1991, increasing both his own political authority and the strength of the executive branch as a whole. To an extent this aggrevated an existing confrontation between the President and the Supreme Council, headed by R.I. Khasbulatov, who strongly opposed Yegor Gaidar's program of radical economic reforms.

In order to unilaterally overcome this struggle, on the 21st of September 1993, President Yeltsin signed decrees disbanding the Supreme Soviet of the RSFSR and starting gradual constitutional reform. Representives of the Supreme Soviet refused and the country was plunged into a constitutional crisis, ending in the events of the 3rd and 4th of October 1993, when several army divisions, led by Boris Yeltsin himself atop a tank, stormed the building of the Supreme Soviet. Armed clashes broke out briefly on the streets of the capital, with injuries and casualties reported. While this confrontation led to a conclusion to the legislative dispute, it did not solve its underlying societal cause.

On the 12th of December 1993, a new Constitution was adopted via a referendum vote. This Constitution declared Russia a democratic, federal state with a republican form of government and eliminated the Soviet political model, establishing a bicameral federal assembly in place of the Supreme Soviet. This assembly exists today: its upper chamber is known as the Federal Assembly, currently chaired by V.I. Matvienko, and its lower chamber is known as the State Duma, chaired presently by S.E. Naryshkin. The new Constitution also enshrined a number of special powers of the President, including the right to dissolve the State Duma in the event of a threefold rejection of a Prime Minister's candidacy.

Following the dissolution of the USSR and the various political upheavals of the ensuing several years, new state symbols were introduced in Russia: the state crest, the state flag, and, after heated discussions, a new anthem.

Per the new Constitution, Russia in 1993 consisted of 89 regional federal subjects, including 21 autonomous republics, 50 regions, 6 territories, 10 autonomous districts, and 2 federal cities - Moscow and Saint Petersburg. Accordingly, two levels of government authority were established in the Russian Federation: that of the federal government and that of its constituent subjects. In 1991, several autonomous republics and regions within the RSFSR declared their sovereignty, and as a result, the Russian Federation was immediately confronted with the need to maintain and strengthen its territorial integrity on the basis of the federalist principles set out in its Constitution. And so, to this end, in March 1992 the Federal Treaty was signed in Moscow: it stipulated the powers of federal subjects and their boundaries. For the first time, individual subjects of the Russian Federation received the right to create their own laws. Not all federal subjects signed immediately; Tatarstan joined the treaty in 1994 on special terms. Chechnya refused to sign it.

By 1998, Boris Yeltsin as President had become almost totally inactive politically and lost most of his influence on society. On the 31st of December, 1999, Yeltsin announced his resignation and the transfer of power to then-Prime Minster Vladimir Putin. Per regular schedule, presidential elections were then held on the 26th of March, 2000, in which Vladimir Putin secured an early victory in the first round with 52.2% of the popular vote. He was received positively by the public and authorities alike with great hopes for the restoration of statehood, law and order.

Following the end of the first Chechen War in 1996, Russia faced the problem of terrorism from the North Caucasus. While fighting the militants, the Russian government worked simultaneously to re-establish a peaceful standard of everyday life in Chechnya - but the separtists quickly turned to methods of guerrila warfare and terrorism.

One early decision made by President Vladimir Putin shortly after his ascendancy to the seat of power was that of reforming the organization of the federal government, in order to more ideally preserve the integrity and security of Russian statehood. By decree of the President of the Russian Federation in 2000, seven distinct federal districts were formed from the 89 federal subjects, each headed by representatives selected personally by the President (Central, Urals, Privolzhsky, Far East, Northwest, Siberian, and Southern).

In 2001 the Federation Council was reformed. In its composition, in place of governors and the heads of regional legislative assemblies, representatives of the regions working in the upper house of the legislature (the Federal Assembly) on a permanent basis were included. An advisory council was also established, consisting of the heads of each federal subject.

The year 2004 held a number of significant changes in the management of Russian democracy. In March 2004, a new, three-level government structure was formed. The first level consists of federal ministries; the second, the federal services, and the third - federal agencies. Gubernatorial elections were also abolished in 2004, and local parliaments asked to confirm gubernatorial candidates nominated by the President. Also in 2004 a number of procedural changes were made: voting "against all" on ballots was no longer permitted, and the required minimum vote percentage threshold for election to the Duma was raised from 5% to 7%. The first election of candidates to the State Duma based on these new rules took place in December 2007.

Per Russian rules on presidential term limits, Dmitri Medvedev was elected president on the 2nd of March, 2008 while Vladimir Putin stepped in to head the government as prime minister.

On the 4th of December, 2011, elections were held for the sixth State Duma. For the first time, deputies were elected for five-year instead of four-year terms. Totals in this election increased the opposition's representation in the Duma slightly: the Communist Party of the Russian Federation held 19.19%, Fair Russia held 13.24%, and the Liberal Democratic Party of Russia held 11.67%, while United Russia retained a majority at 49.32%. Nevertheless, widespread dissatisfaction with the election results, as well as a number of violations of procedure during the campaign, resulted in mass rallies and the gradual formation of a protest movement.

Under those conditions, Dmitri Medvedev initiated several political reforms intended to address concerns about the democratic process. The procedure for registration of political parties was simplified somewhat: the number of members required to register a political party was reduced from 45,000 to 500 people. The procedure for direct gubernatorial elections was reintroduced, and the vote threshold for election to the State Duma was again reduced from 7% to 5%.

On the 4th of March, 2012, Vladimir Putin was again elected President of Russia for the country's first six-year presidential term, winning the popular vote easily in the first round. He was reelected once again on the 18th of March, 2018.

15.3. Sociocultural changes in contemporary Russia.

Russia is currently undergoing many important sociocultural changes in its cultural and spiritual life, many of which began during the "Perestroika" period under former Soviet Premier Mikhail Gorbachev. This process has been accompanied by changes in the previous value system. One notable characteristic of this process in the contemporary period has been the development of greater individualism: to take advantage of the greater freedoms of a market economy, and to demonstrate individualistic career motivations.

In recent years, Russian leaders of the spiritual sphere have also set about to preserve and strengthen the moral values of society: ideals of patriotism and family morality based upon respect for parents and seniors. As such, the traditional religions of Russia's many peoples are beginning to play a more influential role in society than they did previously during the Soviet period. Today the main religions in Russia are Christianity (primarily the Russian Orthodox Church, constituting up to 70%), Islam (6%) and Buddhism (1%). There is also a sizeable population of non-believers. It is of note that on the 17th of May 2007, the Act on Canonical Communion of the Russian Orthodox Church (Moscow Patriarchate) with the Russian Orthodox Church Abroad was signed, beginning the unification of two churches separated by the October Revolution.

In 2012, officially dubbed the Year of History in the Russian Federation, the Russian Historical Society was established. Led by the Chairman of the State Duma, S.E. Naryshkin, its goal is to unite society in order to form a pan-Russian historical culture on the basis of objective study and popularization of national and world history and the preservation of national memory. To accompany it, a competition has been announced for the development of a new teaching and methodological complex on Russian history.

In Russia it is widely viewed that the contemporary stage of cultural development is characterized by the search for new forms of representation of reality in literature, theater, cinema, painting, and architecture. At the same time, the process of spreading mass culture from the West across different mediums has intensified somewhat.

Daily life in Russia has also seen significant changes during this same period. The concept of shortages as part of everyday life has disappeared, quality of life has improved; and, as part of this, the Internet has made the availability of information much more free and open.

Today, the need for changes in education has again become noticeable, as a direct result of economic reforms. In response, recent years have seen a reform of education, most notably in universities, wherein the transition to multilevel training corresponding to the Western model of bachelor's, master's, and doctoral degrees has now been carried out. The reform also affected the system of the Russian Academy of Sciences and its branch institutes to some degree.

15.4. External politics of the Russian Federation.

Following the dissolution of the USSR and the creation of the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) the Russian Federation faced entirely new foreign policy conditions. Russia's leadership faced a greater number of problems both internally and externally and thus its foreign policy activity in the international arena decreased dramatically.

At the same time, other former Soviet republics at the time of the USSR's dissolution had nationalized powerful military units located on their territories. The previously-unified anti-aircraft defense system was destroyed. Russia lost critical allies - the Warsaw Pact states - in Eastern and Central Europe. In their place, along the CIS' borders, were a belt of unstable states. Russia therefore established the restoration of its historical status as an influential world power as one of its most critical national tasks, and in order to do this, determined to integrate the Russian Federation into the world market, and develop relations with the leading powers both in the East and in the West.

With the collapse of the Soviet Union, the period of the Cold War ended and so, in an official sense, Russia and the United States no longer considered each other to be potential adversaries. Their relations, going forward, were to be based upon principles of trust and commitment to democracy and economic freedom. As a result, in the 1990s, Russia offered preferential treatment for Western countries in the foreign policy sphere, and particularly to the United States. In January 1993, a second Russian-American treaty was signed limiting arsenals of strategic offensive weapons; the first had been concluded already in 1991 under Mikhail Gorbachev.

However, under these new, favorable geopolitical conditions, the Russian leadership was confronted with Western attempts to add former Soviet states and allies to the NATO bloc. This in a sense brought a return to many of the conditions of the Cold War, which in turn brought Russia back to reconsidering the need for greater national defense.

Russia has cooperated greatly with Western countries in settling numerous international crises, in the fight against drug trafficking, in the aftermath of natural disasters, and in other emergency situations. Russia also took part in the resolution of the Balkan crisis.

In 1996 Russia was admitted to the Council of Europe, and became a signatory to a number of important European legal and diplomatic agreements, including that of the Convention on the Protection of Fundamental Human Rights and Freedoms.

Upon coming to power in 2000, Vladimir Putin's foreign policy became increasingly focused on the task of protecting national interests. Since 2004, the Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Russian Federation is Sergei V. Lavrov.

A new stage in the process of Russian-American cooperation began after the events of terrorism on the 11th of September 2001 in the United States. While Russia supported the Americans' efforts to combat world terrorism, the Russian government does not partake in the belief that the problem of world terrorism can be solved by addressing a so-called 'axis of evil' constituted of Iraq, Iran, and North Korea. And as such, Russia did not support the United States' operation to overthrow the regime of Saddam Hussein in Iraq during the spring of 2003.

As does China, Russia opposes the United States' global leadership in the world and instead has proclaimed a desire to see a multipolar world diplomatic structure. In 2002 the United States unilaterally withdrew from a treaty on missile defense concluded with the USSR in 1972 and announced the creation of a new missile defense system, with intentions to fully deploy ground-based missile defense elements in Europe near the borders of Russia and Belarus by 2020.

At the present time, major disagreements in US-Russian relations remain on the issues of installing US missile defense systems in Central Europe; policies toward Iran and Syria; and recognition of the independence of South Ossetia, Abkhazia, Transnistria in addition to the independence of and re-integration of the Crimea with Russia.

Russia's economic cooperation with foreign countries is expanding. In 1994 the Group of Seven (G7) of the leading Western economic powers was expanded to include Russia, becoming the G8. Russia has also become a full member of the International Monetary Fund (IMF).

Russia became a full member of the World Trade Organization (WTO) in 2012. In November of that same year, the United States Senate abolished the Jackson-Vanik amendment, which since 1974 has restricted trade with the United States. But the "Magnitsky Act" was adopted in its place shortly thereafter, which again provides for significant visa restrictions and the freezing of monetary assets of officials whom the United States believes are involved in violations of civil and human rights in the Russian Federation. This measure is another that in many ways hearkens back to the hostile environment of Cold War-era Russian-American relations.

At present, the Russian Federation has focused its growth efforts in foreign trade on its eastern partners, where Russia has long maintained direct access to the world market, and its main export resources are most easily transported there. Therefore the Asia-Pacific zone has long held special significance.

Russo-Japanese relations were left relatively undeveloped for some time as a result of Russia's relations with Western nations. Historically, this has been the result of a conflict involving several territories - islands that were handed over to the USSR after the Second World War. At present, Japan separates the problem of these territories (the Southern Kuril islnads) from the general base of issues in Russo-Japanese bilateral relations. In principle, a commission is in force to prepare the conclusion of a formalized peace treaty between Russia and Japan, which, due to the territorial dispute, was never concluded after World War II.

China has become one of Russia's most important trading partners in the Asia-Pacific region. Traditional ties have long been maintained with India and Vietnam. Some shifts are beginning to be outlined in trade with Japan and South Korea, including in the arms market. In more recent years, Russia has begun to pay greater attention to Latin American nations, many of which were more firmly in the United States' zone of influence during much of the 20th century.

Since 2011, Russia has been included in an acronym, BRICS, used in discussions of five rapidly-developing nations: Brazil, Russia, India, China, and South Africa. BRICS members are the most rapidly developing large countries, with substantial natural resources and high population numbers, which results in low labor costs and high economic growth rates. This is expected to help the BRICS to strengthen their political influence in the future.

Within the sphere of Russia's strategic interests are also the other independent states of the CIS. Relations with these states are of paramount importance for Russia, both in the political-economic and military spheres. In the CIS countries, Russia has access to well-developed markets in which Russian products and technical expertise have long found the greatest demand and sales. But in a military sense, these countries have long been independent from Russia: the process of withdrawing Russian (formerly Soviet) troops from the Baltic countries of Estonia, Lithuania, Latvia, as well as Georgia, Moldova, Tajikistan, and Armenia began, costing Russia over US$600 million.

In terms of Russia's ongoing relations with the three Baltic countries, the question of the rights of the Russian-speaking population there remains, as does the question of the status of the Russian language. In April 2010, the Presidents of Russia and Ukraine signed new agreements in Kharkov on the extension of the lease for the Black Sea fleet base in Sevastopol, Crimea, then part of Ukraine, for another 25 years following the end of the existing lease in 2017. This question was eventually made moot as the whole of Crimea was integrated into the territory of the Russian Federation in 2014.

In 1995, arrangements for a customs union between Russia and Belarus were signed into law, to which Kazhakstan later also joined. In 1995, the Intergovernmental Council of Four was formed between Russia, Belarus, Kazhakstan, and Kyrgyzstan in order to "adopt mutually acceptable principles for carrying out reforms and structural adjustments" in trade. Some military integration was reintroduced among CIS states, as confirmed by the Collective Security Treaty of the 15th of May 1992.

In connection with the August 2008 war, there was a break in diplomatic relations between Russia and Georgia. Russia rendered military assistance to the Republics of Abkhazia and South Ossetia in an armed conflict with Georgia, and subsequently recognized their independence as modern democratic nation-states. Georgia, by contrast, has chosen a pro-American orientation in terms of foreign policy and has also expressed intentions to begin the process of accession to NATO.

While varied economic opportunities, socio-political systems, and national interests have created difficulties among the Commonwealth of Independent States, it is allied relations within the CIS that today appear the most promising.