Developments in Russia
The occupation of Crimean and the war in Eastern Ukraine has put Russia on a collision course with EU and the US. At the same time, President Putin is strengthening his grip on the power, despite the fact that Russia’s economy has deteriorated.
Since 2000, Putin has ruled Russia, first as president from 2000 to 2008, then as Prime Minister in collaboration with his successor as president, Dmitry Medvedev. In 2012, Putin was once again elected President of Russia.
When the Soviet Union collapsed in 1991, Russia took over most of Soviet Union's international obligations. Thus Russia became a permanent member of the United Nations Security Council. The Russian foreign policy has during the 2000’s more and more focused on strengthening Russia’s role as a superpower.
In recent years, the political diversity decreased in Russia and the Kremlin's influence increased, while the suppression of the opposition has become more evident. The space for civil society and a free media has shrunk. A controversial law that tightened state control of NGO’s came into force in 2006. The law requires NGO’s to register and banned organisations from receiving funding from foreign countries.
The Russian Constitution protects human rights, but in practice the violations are numerous. In Chechnya where many war crimes have been committed, very few cases have led to prosecution and legal charges.
The political system in Russia gives the president a dominant position and the political parties play a subordinate role. The ruling party, United Russia, was formed in 2003 and supports the president. A new opposition movement was formed after the parliamentary elections in December 2011 in protest against the electoral fraud. One of the most influential people in the movement was the former deputy Prime Minister Boris Nemtsov who was shot dead in Moscow in the beginning of 2015. Nemtsovs supporters accuse Putin of the murder.
Business and Economy
Russia has huge natural resources, a broad industrial base and a relatively well-educated population. The extensive oil and gas exports give Russia a huge surplus in foreign trade, but it also makes the Russian economy vulnerable to price fluctuations.
In 2014, the economic situation changed dramatically when the EU and US imposed sanctions against Russia. A decline in oil prices fuelled inflation and the financial crisis started to have impact on ordinary Russians. In 2014 the Russian Ruble lost more than half of its value against the US dollar.
2014 Russia, Belarus and Kazakhstan signed the Eurasian Economic Union (EEU), which entered into force in January 2015. EEU is a customs union involving the free movement of goods, capital, services and labour between countries. Armenia and Kyrgyzstan have since joined. It is unclear, however, what it will mean in practice.
Crimea and the war in eastern Ukraine
In 2014 Russian elite troops took control of the Crimean peninsula in Ukraine. President Putin initially claimed that it was merely local "self-defence forces" that had acted. Later Crimea joined Russia following a referendum. Russia's occupation of Crimea was condemned by the EU and USA, both imposing sanctions against Russia.
The Crimean crisis was followed by uprisings in the Russian dominated eastern part of Ukraine, where armed pro-Russian militias with support of Russian soldiers started a revolt against the national government in Ukraine. Several ceasefires have since been agreed upon, without lasting for long. The support for Putin, however, increased sharply after the annexation of the Crimean peninsula. Despite sanctions and a deteriorating economic situation, Putin's popularity remains strong.
Poverty and ill health
When the Russian economy improved after the millennium, the general living standard began to rise. Still, the income inequality gap remains wide. In 2009, an estimated 17 per cent of the population still lived below the poverty line.
The natural population growth in Russia has since the early 1990’s been negative, partly due alcohol and drug abuse and unhealthy lifestyles. The negative population growth has been partly balanced by immigration, which is estimated at 400,000 persons per year. In the wake of immigration, xenophobia has increased. Besides the population in Russia, more than 20 million Russians live outside Russia, mainly in other former Soviet republics.