National name: Rossiyskaya Federatsiya
Languages: Russian, many minority languages
Ethnicity/race: Russian 79.8%, Tatar 3.8%, Ukrainian 2%, Bashkir 1.2%, Chuvash 1.1%, other or unspecified 12.1% (2002)
Religions: Russian Orthodox 15%–20%, other Christian 2%, Islam 10%–15% (2006 est.; includes practicing worshippers only)
Literacy rate: 100% (2003 est.)
Economic summary: GDP/PPP (2009 est.): $2.116 trillion; per capita $15,100. Real growth rate: –7.9%. Inflation: 11.9%. Unemployment: 8.9%. Arable land: 7%. Agriculture: grain, sugar beets, sunflower seed, vegetables, fruits; beef, milk. Labor force: 75.1 million; agriculture 4.6%, industry 39.1%, services 56.3% (2007 est.). Industries: complete range of mining and extractive industries producing coal, oil, gas, chemicals, and metals; all forms of machine building from rolling mills to high-performance aircraft and space vehicles; defense industries including radar, missile production, and 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, timber; note: formidable obstacles of climate, terrain, and distance hinder exploitation of natural resources. Exports: $295.6 billion (2009 est.): petroleum and petroleum products, natural gas, wood and wood products, metals, chemicals, and a wide variety of civilian and military manufactures. Imports: $196.8 billion (2009 est.): machinery and equipment, consumer goods, medicines, meat, sugar, semifinished metal products. Major trading partners: Netherlands, Germany, Ukraine, Italy, China, U.S., Switzerland, Turkey, Japan, Kazakhstan, France (2004).
Communications: Telephones: main lines in use: 40.1 million (2005); mobile cellular: 150 million (2006). Radio broadcast stations: AM 323, FM 1,500 est., shortwave 62 (2004). Radios: 61.5 million (1997). Television broadcast stations: 7,306 (1998). Televisions: 60.5 million (1997). Internet Service Providers (ISPs): 2.844 million (2007). Internet users: 25.689 million (2006).
Transportation: Railways: total: 87,157 km (2002). Highways: total: 871,000 km paved: 738,000 km (includes 29,000 km of expressways) unpaved: 133,000 km note: includes public and departmental roads (2004). Waterways: Waterways 102,000 km (including 33,000 km with guaranteed depth) note: 72,000 km system in European Russia links Baltic Sea, White Sea, Caspian Sea, Sea of Azov, and Black Sea (2006). Ports and harbors: Aleksandrovsk-Sakhalinsky, Arkhangel’sk, Astrakhan’, De-Kastri, Indigirskiy, Kaliningrad, Kandalaksha, Kazan’, Khabarovsk, Kholmsk, Krasnoyarsk, Lazarev, Mago, Mezen’, Moscow, Murmansk, Nakhodka, Nevel’sk, Novorossiysk, Onega, Petropavlovsk-Kamchatskiy, Rostov, Shakhtersk, Saint Petersburg, Sochi, Taganrog, Tuapse, Uglegorsk, Vanino, Vladivostok, Volgograd, Vostochnyy, Vyborg. Airports: 1,260 (2007).
International disputes: China continues to seek a mutually acceptable solution to the disputed alluvial islands at the confluence of the Amur and Ussuri rivers and a small island on the Argun River as part of the 2001 Treaty of Good Neighborliness, Friendship, and Cooperation; the islands of Etorofu, Kunashiri, Shikotan, and the Habomai group identified by the Russians as the “Southern Kurils” and by Japan as the “Northern Territories” occupied by the Soviet Union in 1945, now administered by Russia, claimed by Japan; boundary with Georgia has been largely delimited but not demarcated with several small, strategic segments remaining in dispute and OSCE observers monitoring volatile areas such as the Pankisi Gorge in the Akhmeti region and the Argun Gorge in Abkhazia; equidistant seabed treaties have been signed with Azerbaijan and Kazakhstan in the Caspian Sea but no resolution on dividing the water column among any of the littoral states; Russia and Norway dispute their maritime limits in the Barents Sea and Russia’s fishing rights beyond Svalbard’s territorial limits within the Svalbard Treaty zone; Russia continues to reject signing and ratifying the joint 1996 technical border agreement with Estonia; the Russian Parliament refuses to consider ratification of the boundary treaties with Estonia and Latvia, but in May 2003, ratified land and maritime boundary treaty with Lithuania, which ratified the 1997 treaty in 1999, legalizing limits of former Soviet republic borders; discussions are still ongoing among Russia, Lithuania and the EU concerning a simplified transit document for residents of the Kaliningrad coastal exclave to transit through Lithuania to Russia; land delimitation with Ukraine is ratified, but maritime regime of the Sea of Azov and Kerch Strait is unresolved; delimitation with Kazakhstan is scheduled for completion in 2003; Russian Duma has not yet ratified 1990 Maritime Boundary Agreement with the US in the Bering Sea.
The Bolshevik Revolution
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 and Political Upheaval
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.
In 1999, 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.
Putin’s Rise to Power
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.
In Feb. 2000, 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.
Attempts at Chechen Independence Fail
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.
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.
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
On Sept. 1–3, 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.
Former Russian president Boris Yeltsin died in April 2007.
Crumbling Relations with the United States 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.
In July 2007, 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 Europe―a move stongly opposed by Russia. The move provided further evidence of deteriorating relations between the United States and Russia.
In September, Putin nominated Viktor Zubkov, a close ally, as prime minister. The Duma, the lower house of Parliament, confirmed the nomination.
Putin Retains Power
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 December, 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 March 2008 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 assumes 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.
Conflict with Georgia and the Demise of the Western Friendship
In August 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.
At the end of August, after a cease-fire agreement between Russia and Georgia was signed, Medvedev severed diplomatic ties with Georgia, officially recognized South Ossetia and 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.