Trending: Economy of Russia

Trending: Economy of Russia

The Russian republic, by virtue of its great size and abundant natural resources, played a leading role in the economy of the Soviet Union. In the first decades of the Soviet regime, these resources made possible great economic advances, including the rapid development of mining, metallurgy, and heavy engineering, the expansion of the railway network, and a massive increase in the energy supply. In the 1960s a second phase of Soviet industrial development began to exert a particularly strong effect on the Russian republic. In addition to further growth in established industries—especially in the production of oil, gas, and electricity and in the chemical industries—there was a marked diversification in industrial output, including a limited expansion in consumer goods. In the years before the dissolution of the Soviet Union, however, the economy of Russia and of the entire country was in a state of decline, and official statistics masked industrial inefficiencies.

After the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, the Russian government implemented a series of radical reforms designed to transform the economy from one that was centrally planned and controlled to one based on capitalist principles. Major components of the reforms included establishing privately owned industrial and commercial ventures (using both foreign and Russian investment) and privatizing state-owned enterprises. To encourage privatization, the government issued vouchers to Russian citizens that enabled them to purchase of shares in privatized firms, though in practice these vouchers frequently were sold for cash and were accumulated by entrepreneurs. A commodity- and stock-exchange system also was established.

The privatization process was slow, however, and many firms—particularly in the heavy industries—remained under state ownership. In addition, there was significant debate regarding the buying and selling of land. In 2001 the government legalized the sale of land, though it did so only for urban housing and industrial real estate—which together accounted for only a small fraction of Russia’s total area. At the beginning of the 21st century, similar legislation was also under discussion for rural and agricultural areas. Though full private ownership of land is provided for in the 1993 constitution, the practice has not yet been implemented. As a result of delays in implementing structural reforms, the conversion to market-based agriculture was slow, as many clung to the old, familiar collective system.

The reforms beginning in the 1990s caused considerable hardships for the average Russian citizen; in the decade after the dissolution of the Soviet Union, the Russian economy contracted by more than two-fifths. The monetary system was in disarray: the removal of price controls caused a huge escalation in inflation and prices; the value of the ruble, the country’s currency, plummeted; and real incomes fell dramatically. Conditions began to improve by the mid-1990s, but the recovery was interrupted in 1998 by a severe financial crisis, which caused the government to sharply devalue the ruble. Numerous banks became insolvent, and millions of citizens lost their life savings. Gradually, corrective measures were implemented. For example, the licensing of private banks became more rigorous, and the government cracked down on tax evasion, which had been rampant since the implementation of economic reforms. To accommodate business growth, taxes on medium and small enterprises were moderated, and the government began to offer incentives for reinvesting profits into the domestic economy. By the early 21st century, the measures had begun to have a positive effect on the Russian economy, which showed signs of recovery and stable growth. Steady earnings from oil exports permitted investments in factories, and the devalued currency made Russian goods more competitive on the international market.

In the post-Soviet years, foreign direct investment was encouraged, but it was constrained by unfavourable conditions, including state intervention in industry, corruption, and weakness in the rule of law. An upsurge in violence by organized crime syndicates contributed to hampering Western investment, and though the activity of such groups was curtailed in the early 21st century, it still presented severe obstacles to both Western and Russian businesses. Investment by non-Russian companies was also discouraged by moves taken by the Russian government to increase state ownership in various industries, including oil and gas, aviation, and automobile manufacturing.

In addition to the difficulties the country encountered in its effort to restructure the economy, Russia had been subjected to serious long-term environmental degradation during the Soviet period, the full extent of which became apparent only in the 1990s. The most visible aspects of this situation—such as the Chernobyl accident at a nuclear power plant in Ukraine in 1986, widespread industrial pollution, and the drastic reduction in the volume of the Aral Sea as a result of inflow diversions—were only symptomatic of decades of wasteful resource exploitation. These environmental concerns placed another burden on Russia’s already overwhelmed economic structure.

The economic foundation of the country itself remained similar to that which had been developed during the Soviet period. For purposes of description it is convenient to refer to the official set of 11 traditional economic regions into which Russia is divided (though the federal districts created in 2000 have begun to replace the traditional economic regions for statistical purposes). In Europe the regions are the North, Northwest, Central, Volga-Vyatka, Central Black Earth, North Caucasus, Volga, and Ural, and in Asia they are West Siberia, East Siberia, and the Far East.

Agriculture, forestry, and fishing


The harshness of the Russian environment is reflected in the small proportion of land that is used for farming. Agricultural land constitutes less than one-sixth of the country’s territory, and less than one-tenth of the total land area is arable. About three-fifths of Russian farmland is used to grow crops; the remainder is devoted to pasture and meadow. Overall, agriculture contributes little more than 5 percent to Russia’s gross domestic product (GDP), though the sector employs about one-eighth of the total labour force.

The main product of Russian farming has always been grain, which occupies considerably more than half of the cropland. Wheat is the chief cereal, followed by barley, rye, and oats. More than one-third of the sown area is devoted to fodder crops—sown grasses, clovers, root crops, and, in the southern districts, corn (maize). The remaining farmland is devoted to industrial crops, such as sunflowers, sugar beets, and flax, and to potatoes and other vegetables.

Variations in relief, soil, and climate produce pronounced regional variations in agriculture. In European Russia the proportion of land devoted to crops increases southward, from virtually none in the North region to about two-thirds in the Central Black Earth region. In West and East Siberia and the Far East, crops are largely confined to the southern fringe. Even in West Siberia, where the cultivated zone is at its widest, crops occupy less than one-tenth of the region’s territory, and the proportion falls to negligible levels in East Siberia and the Far East. Cereals occupy more than two-thirds of the cropland in most regions but less than half in the damper Northwest and Central regions, where fodder crops and livestock are more important. The intensity of farming and the yields achieved are generally much higher in the European section than in Siberia. The same is also the case for livestock farming.

In general, the old collective farms and state farms have continued to function in post-Soviet Russia, though they have often been renamed as cooperatives or labour-management firms. Privatized farms have experienced significant obstacles, because many in the agricultural sector treated them as pariahs, and the land that many were allocated was unproductive or inaccessible. Thus, the bulk of the grain continues to be produced by very large agricultural enterprises, particularly those in the Northern Caucasus and in the Volga economic regions.


Russia contains the world’s largest forest reserves, and its lumbering, pulp, paper, and woodworking industries are particularly important. More than two-fifths of Russia is forested, and the country has more than one-fifth of the world’s total forests—an area nearly as large as the continental United States. However, Russian forests have very slow rates of growth because of the cold, continental climate, and the country has lost about one-third of its estimated original forest area. Legislation was implemented in the late 1990s to moderate further deforestation. Nevertheless, logging continued to endanger the last intact forest landscapes of northern European Russia. Similar risks have also spread to areas east of the Urals.

The forestry industry employs some one million people. Coniferous species are predominant; Russia produces about one-fifth of the world’s softwood. The country is among the world leaders in the production of many other wood-related products, and timber, saw lumber, pulp, paper, cardboard, and roundwood contribute to Russia’s export income.


The fishing industry plays a significant role in the Russian economy. With access to the substantial resources of both the Atlantic and Pacific oceans, marine fishing is particularly well developed, and Russia’s fleet of factory ships can process huge catches at remote locations. The chief European ocean-fishing ports are Kaliningrad and St. Petersburg on the Baltic Sea and Murmansk and Arkhangelsk in the far north. Russia’s chief Pacific port is Vladivostok, but there are several others, particularly in Sakhalin and Kamchatka provinces. Smaller-scale fishing takes place in the Sea of Azov and the Black and Caspian seas (the Caspian sturgeon is the source of the world’s finest caviar), but reduced river flows and pollution from agricultural runoff, industrial waste, and sewage dumping have thinned fish populations. There are important inland fisheries on lakes and rivers, including a good deal of fish farming.

The Russian fishing industry rivals the size of the world’s other leading producers (Japan, the United States, and China). Russia produces about one-third of all canned fish and some one-fourth of the world’s total fresh and frozen fish. The privatization of fishing in the 1990s shifted the industry’s focus from production for domestic consumption to exports. Especially important catches are pollack, herring, cod, and salmon. Russia’s earnings from the export of fish are steadily larger than from grain export. Salmon, crabmeat, caviar, beluga, sterlet, and herring were among the important seafoods generating export income.

Resources and power

Russia has enormous energy resources and significant deposits of many different minerals. Most, if not all, of the raw materials required by modern industry are found within its borders. Its coal reserves are particularly extensive. The biggest fields lie in the remote Tunguska and Lena basins of East Siberia and the Far East, but these are largely untapped, and the bulk of output comes from more southerly fields along the Trans-Siberian Railroad. About three-fourths of Russia’s coal is produced in Siberia—some two-fifths from the Kuznetsk Basin alone and the remainder from the Kansk-Achinsk, Cheremkhovo, and South Yakut basins and numerous smaller sources. The production of hard (anthracite) coal in European Russia takes place mainly in the eastern Donets Basin and, in the Arctic, in the Pec

Privatization of the coal industry began in the 1990s, and by the early 21st century some three-fifths of overall coal production was coming from privatized mines. However, the removal of state subsidies also forced the closure of many unprofitable mines. The most severe cuts in coal output occurred in the Central and Ural economic regions and in Rostov province of the North Caucasus region. Coal mines in regions with access to large reserves of oil and natural gas fared better.

Russia is among the world’s leading producers of oil, extracting about one-fifth of the global total. It also is responsible for more than one-fourth of the world’s total natural gas output. The great bulk of oil and natural gas comes from the huge fields that underlie the northern part of the West Siberia region. Another significant source of reserves is the Volga-Ural zone, and the remainder is derived mainly from the Komi-Ukhta field (North region); the North Caucasus region, once the Soviet Union’s leading producer, is now of little importance. Extensive pipeline systems link production sites to all regions of the country, the neighbouring former Soviet republics, and, across the western frontier, numerous European countries.

There are some 600 large thermal power plants, more than 100 hydroelectric stations, and several nuclear power plants that generate electricity. About three-fourths of electricity is generated in thermal stations; some two-thirds of thermal generation is from oil and gas. The remaining power output is produced by hydroelectric and nuclear plants. Most of the hydroelectricity comes from huge stations on the Volga, Kama, Ob, Yenisey, Angara, and Zeya rivers. Nuclear power production expanded rapidly before development was checked by the Chernobyl accident in Ukraine in 1986. Much of Siberia’s electricity output is transmitted to the European region along high-voltage lines.

Russia also produces large quantities of iron ore, mainly from the Kursk Magnetic Anomaly (Central Black Earth region), Kola Peninsula, Urals, and Siberia. Although there is steel production in every economic region, the largest steel-producing plants are located mainly in the Urals, Central Black Earth region, and Kuznetsk Basin. Russia produces about one-sixth of the world’s iron ore and between one-tenth and one-fifth of all nonferrous, rare, and precious metals.

Nonferrous metals are available in great variety from many districts, but by far the most important are those of the Ural region, which is Russia’s main centre of nonferrous metallurgy. Russia is a major producer of cobalt, chrome, copper, gold, lead, manganese, nickel, platinum, tungsten, vanadium, and zinc. The country produces much of its aluminum from plants powered by the Siberian hydroelectric stations, but bauxite deposits are relatively meagre.

Manufacturing of Russia

Machine building

Russia’s machine-building industry provides most of the country’s needs, including steam boilers and turbines, electric generators, grain combines, automobiles, and electric locomotives, and it fills much of its demand for shipbuilding, electric-power-generating and transmitting equipment, consumer durables, machine tools, instruments, and automation components. Russia’s factories also produce armaments, including tanks, jet fighters, and rockets, which are sold to many countries and contribute significantly to Russia’s export income. Older automobile factories are located in Moscow and Nizhny Novgorod; the largest plants are those at Tolyatti (near Samara) and at Naberezhnye Chelny (in Tatarstan; a heavy truck factory). Smaller producers of road vehicles are in Miass, Ulyanovsk, and Izhevsk.


Because of the complex history of the development of the chemical industries and the great variety of raw materials involved, chemical manufacture is widely dispersed. The industry initially utilized mineral salts, coke-oven and smelter gases, timber, and foodstuffs (mainly potatoes) as their raw materials. On this basis synthetic-rubber factories were built in the Central Black Earth and Central regions, areas of large-scale potato production; sulfuric acid plants were developed in the Urals and North Caucasus, where there was nonferrous metallurgy; and potassium and phosphatic fertilizer plants were constructed at sites in several regions, near deposits of potassium salts and phosphorites.

As oil and gas input increased in the second half of the 20th century, new chemical plants were built, particularly in the Volga, Ural, and North Caucasus zones and in other regions served by pipelines, which helped to reduce the dependence on traditional resources. Chemical industries requiring large quantities of electric power, such as those based on cellulose, are particularly important in Siberia, where both timber and electricity are plentiful. Overall, Russia’s chemical industry lags in scale and diversity compared with those of the United States, Canada, China, and the countries of the European Union.

Light industry

Textile industries are heavily concentrated in European Russia, especially in the Central region, which produces a large share of the country’s clothing and footwear. Cotton textiles are dominant, with the raw cotton supplied mainly by Central Asian countries. In the zone between the Volga and Oka rivers, east of Moscow, there are numerous cotton-textile towns, the largest of which are Ivanovo, Kostroma, and Yaroslavl. Durable consumer goods (e.g., refrigerators, washing machines, radios, and television sets) are produced primarily in areas with a tradition of skilled industry, notably in and around Moscow and St. Petersburg.


Russia’s monetary unit is the ruble, which is now freely convertible, a radical departure from the practice of artificial exchange rates and rigid restrictions that existed during the Soviet era. The Russian Central Bank (RCB), which took over the functions of the Soviet-era Gosbank, is exclusively responsible for regulating the country’s monetary system. The bank’s primary function is to protect and stabilize the ruble, which it attempts to do through its control of foreign exchange. Under the constitution adopted in 1993, the RCB was given greater autonomy from the central government than the Gosbank had enjoyed, but its head is appointed by the president and subject to approval by the State Duma, the lower house of the Russian legislature. In 1995 the RCB was granted the authority to oversee all banking transactions, set exchange-rate policies, license banks, and service the country’s debt. To maintain its hard currency reserves, the RCB relies on the obligation of all exporters to convert half their hard-currency earnings into rubles. In the mid-1990s the RCB established a system of supervision and inspection of the country’s commercial banks.

During much of the 1990s Russia’s financial system was in a state of chaos, largely because many of the thousands of banks that formed after the fall of communism became insolvent, particularly during the economic crisis of the late 1990s. Even with consolidation of the banking industry, at the beginning of the early 21st century there were more than 1,000 Russian commercial banks, many of which were state-owned or were institutions that offered few financing opportunities for small- and medium-size businesses. Dozens of foreign banks also operate in the country.

The state-owned Russian commercial banks, such as Vneshtorgbank and Sberbank, shadow the RCB both in the pursuit of stability and in operations philosophy. The banking sector is frequently accused of cronyism, benefiting only a select few, particularly former communist apparatchiks. Before the banking crisis in the late 1990s, private commercial banks mushroomed, but most of them acted as outsourcing financial agents for enterprises inherited from the Soviet era. By the beginning of the 21st century, two major clusters of banks had survived. One cluster, which included the National Reserve Bank, Gazprombank, Promstroybank, and International Moscow Bank, served the oil and gas industry. The second cluster, consisting of banks servicing the government of Moscow, included the Bank of Moscow, Mosbusinessbank, Guta Bank, Most Bank, Unikombank, International Financial Corporation, Sobinbank, MDM Bank, Toribank, Promradtekhbank, and dozens of smaller banks.


During the communist period the Russian republic traded extensively with the other Soviet republics, from which it “imported” a variety of commodities that it was unable to produce in sufficient quantities itself. These included cotton (from Central Asia) and other high-value agricultural products, grain (mainly from Kazakhstan), and various minerals. In return, Russia “exported” oil and gas to republics with a weak energy base, such as Belorussia (now Belarus) and the Baltic states, and sent its skilled-engineering products and consumer goods to most of its partners.

By the late 1990s trade between the former union republics no longer continued in any systematic manner, particularly because agreement could not be reached on the prices to be charged for goods previously exchanged at artificially low rates during the Soviet period. Still, Russia generally has a positive trade balance with the former republics of the Soviet Union.

International trade during the Soviet era was rather limited until the 1960s, and most of it was governed by bilateral and multilateral arrangements with the other members of Comecon (Council for Mutual Economic Assistance), the Soviet-led trade organization of communist eastern European countries. As Soviet economic expansion slowed during the 1970s and ’80s, it became apparent that further growth required large quantities of high-tech equipment from the West. To finance these imports, increasing amounts of hard currency were needed, and this could be obtained only by increasing exports to the West. As a result, Russia came to rely heavily on oil and gas exports as a source for its hard currency needs. With Comecon’s collapse and the dissolution of the Soviet Union itself, individual republics began to develop their own trading relations with the outside world. Russia, with its large resources of oil, gas, and minerals, seemed well placed to continue the type of trading relations with the West already developed by the former Soviet Union.

In 1994 Russia signed an agreement that strengthened economic ties with the European Union, and Russia soon joined economic discussions with the Group of Seven (G-7), which represented the most advanced economies of the world; in 1997 it was admitted as member of the Group of Eight (G-8). However, that membership was suspended indefinitely after Russia annexed the Ukrainian autonomous republic of Crimea in 2014. Russia’s long-delayed application to join the World Trade Organization was finally granted in 2012. In January 2015 Russia became a founding member of the Eurasian Economic Union. The trade bloc, which included Armenia, Belarus, Kazakhstan, and Kyrgyzstan, was intended as a counterweight to expanding EU political and economic influence in the former Soviet sphere.

Foreign trade is tremendously important to the Russian economy. The country has generally enjoyed a healthy trade surplus since the dissolution of the Soviet Union. Primary exports include oil, metals, machinery, chemicals, and forestry products. Principal imports include machinery and foods. Among Russia’s leading trade partners are Germany, the United States, Belarus, Ukraine, and China.


During the Soviet era the service sector suffered from drastic inadequacies. The state-owned services, which made no effort to respond to consumer demand, were hampered by inefficient bureaucratization. In the post-Soviet era private-sector services grew dramatically, and many of the shortages that characterized the previous era were eliminated. By the beginning of the 21st century, services accounted for more than half of GDP. Still, complaints remained regarding the provision of services by the public sector, particularly the police, schools, and hospitals. Owing to budget shortfalls, many of the public-sector services are poorly financed and have been unable to retain skilled employees.

Travel and tourism account for several million jobs in Russia. Some 20 million foreign visitors travel to Russia each year, though many of these visitors are seasonal workers from former Soviet republics. Free from the restrictions of Soviet times, Russians have increasingly traveled abroad.

Labour and taxation

Before the dissolution of the Soviet Union, an overarching All-Union Central Council of Trade Unions nominally represented the interests of workers, though it was controlled by the governing Communist Party. In the mid-1980s there was increasing labour unrest, particularly from miners, and greater rights were granted to workers. Since the collapse of communism, labour relations have been in constant flux, and several labour codes have been adopted. Trade union reform in 2001 effectively provided the Federation of Independent Trade Unions of the Russian Federation, which represents some 50 million workers organized into various branches, a monopoly on most union activity. Alternative trade unions were unable to operate unless they represented at least half of the employees at a company.

The primary sector continues to provide employment for a large proportion of the workforce, with one-eighth of workers employed in agriculture and one-fifth in mining and manufacturing. Still, the service sector (including banking, insurance, and other financial services) has grown appreciably and now employs about three-fifths of all Russian workers.

Tax laws have undergone dramatic reform since the dissolution of the Soviet Union. As a result of high tax rates, the large number of unreported incomes (particularly related to organized-crime syndicates), and general fraud, the government failed to collect a significant proportion of the revenue to which it was legally entitled. In the early 21st century, to combat fraud and encourage investment, the government simplified the tax system and reduced the overall tax burden, particularly on businesses. For example, corporate taxes were reduced by about one-third, a flat tax was imposed on incomes, and the value-added tax on the sale of goods was reduced. A single natural resource extraction tax also replaced three existing resource taxes. The value-added tax is a large source of government revenue.

Transportation and telecommunications
vast size and the great distances that often separate sources of raw materials and foodstuffs from consumers place a heavy burden on the transport system. One result has been the continuing dominance of the railways, which account for about nine-tenths of the country’s freight turnover (three-fifths if pipelines are included) and half of all passenger movement. Nevertheless, the rail network is a very open one, and its density varies regionally: it is highest in the Northwest, Central, and Central Black Earth regions and lowest in East and West Siberia and the Far East. Some two-thirds of the railway network lies along the main belt of settlements. The railway network of European Russia is nearly seven times as dense as that found in the Asian portion of the country. Indeed, east of the Urals the term network is a misnomer, since the system consists of only a few major trunk routes (e.g., the Trans-Siberian Railroad and Baikal-Amur Mainline) with feeder branches to sites of economic importance. Russian railways are among the world’s leading freight carriers, the line from the Kuznetsk Basin to the Urals being especially prominent. The railways are owned and run by a joint-stock company controlled by the state. Much of the country’s rolling stock is obsolete.

Apart from highways linking the major cities of European Russia, the road system is underdeveloped and carries only a tiny fraction of all freight. The private automobile became a symbol of middle-class status in the post-Soviet years, but the percentage of people owning vehicles is still quite small. Inland waterways carry a much larger volume. Although the greatest volume is carried on the Volga system, river transport is most vital in areas devoid of railways. In addition to its vital role in foreign trade, maritime transport also has some importance in linking the various regions of Russia, particularly those that face the Arctic seaboard. Traffic on the Arctic Ocean route is seasonal.

Air transport plays an increasingly important role. Russian airlines carry only a minute fraction of all freight, chiefly high-value items to and from the remote parts of Siberia, where aircraft are sometimes the only means of transport. Airlines are responsible for nearly one-fifth of all passenger movement. Aeroflot (renamed Aeroflot-Russian Airlines in June 2000), formerly the state airline of the Soviet Union, is the country’s largest air carrier; the Russian government maintains majority ownership of Aeroflot. Sheremetyevo and Domodedovo in Moscow and Pulkovo in St. Petersburg are the country’s major airports, with the older Sheremetyevo airport losing tenants to the more modern Domodedovo. Most major cities have service to international or domestic locations.

The Russian telecommunications sector is inferior to those of other industrialized countries. For example, in the early 1990s only about one-third of the country’s households had a telephone. Largely through foreign investment, however, the country’s telecommunications infrastructure has been greatly improved. In 1997 the State Committee on Communications and Informatics was formed from the Ministry of Communications and the State Committee on Information Technology to regulate telecommunications policies, oversee the liberalization of the sector, and encourage competition; by the beginning of the 21st century, there were more than 1,000 telecommunications companies. Nevertheless, several large companies, such as Svyazinvest and Rostelkom, control much of Russia’s telecommunications industry. In addition, Internet use in Russia grew very slowly in the 1990s, particularly outside the major urban areas, but it has since grown fairly steadily.

Government and society

During the Soviet era the Russian Soviet Federated Socialist Republic (the R.S.F.S.R.) was subject to a series of Soviet constitutions (1918, 1924, 1936, 1977), under which it nominally was a sovereign socialist state within (after 1936) a federal structure. Until the late 1980s, however, the government was dominated at all levels by the Communist Party of the Soviet Union, which was all-powerful and whose head was the country’s de facto leader. Indeed, in the elections that were held, there was only a single slate of candidates, the great majority of whom were in effect chosen by the Communist Party.

From the late 1980s through 1991—the period of Mikhail Gorbachev’s perestroika (“restructuring”), glasnost (“openness”), and demokratizatsiya (“democratization”) reform policies—fundamental changes took place in the political system and government structures of the Soviet Union that altered both the nature of the Soviet federal state and the status and powers of the individual republics. In 1988 the Soviet Congress of People’s Deputies was created, and a Congress of People’s Deputies was established in each republic. For the first time, elections to these bodies presented voters with a choice of candidates, including noncommunists, though the Communist Party continued to dominate the system.

Thereafter, the pace of change accelerated. In June 1990 the Congress of the Russian republic proclaimed that Russian laws took precedence over Soviet laws, and the following year Boris Yeltsin became the republic’s first democratically elected president. An abortive coup in August 1991 by hard-liners opposed to Gorbachev’s reforms led to the collapse of most Soviet government organizations, the abolition of the Communist Party’s leading role in government, and the dissolution of the party itself. Republic after republic declared its “sovereignty,” and in December, when the Soviet Union was formally dissolved, Russia was established as an independent country.

Constitutional framework

The structure of the new Russian government differed significantly from that of the former Soviet republic. It was characterized by a power struggle between the executive and legislative branches, primarily over issues of constitutional authority and the pace and direction of democratic and economic reform. Conflicts came to a head in September 1993 when President Yeltsin dissolved the Russian parliament (the Congress of People’s Deputies and the Supreme Soviet); some deputies and their allies revolted and were suppressed only through military intervention.

On December 12, 1993, three-fifths of Russian voters ratified a new constitution proposed by Yeltsin, and representatives were elected to a new legislature. Under the new constitution the president, who is elected in a national vote, is vested with significant powers. As Russia’s head of state, the president is empowered to appoint the chairman of the government (prime minister), key judges, and cabinet members. The president is also commander in chief of the armed forces and can declare martial law or a state of emergency. When the legislature fails to pass the president’s legislative initiatives, he may issue decrees that have the force of law. In 2008 an amendment to the constitution, which took effect with the 2012 election, extended the presidential term from four to six years. Prior to 2020 the president could not serve more than two consecutive terms, but constitutional changes enacted that year abolished term limits for the office.

Under the new constitution the Federal Assembly became the country’s legislature. It consists of the Federation Council (an upper house comprising appointed representatives from each of Russia’s administrative divisions) and the State Duma (a 450-member popularly elected lower house). The president’s nominee for chairman of the government is subject to approval by the State Duma; if it rejects a nominee three times or passes a vote of no confidence twice in three months, the president may dissolve the State Duma and call for new elections. All legislation must first pass the State Duma before being considered by the Federation Council. A presidential veto of a bill can be overridden by the legislature with a two-thirds majority, or a bill may be altered to incorporate presidential reservations and pass with a majority vote. With a two-thirds majority (and approval by the Russian Constitutional Court), the legislature may remove the president from office for treason or other serious criminal offenses. The Federation Council must approve all presidential appointments to the country’s highest judicial bodies (Supreme Court and Constitutional Court).

The constitution provides for welfare protection, access to social security, pensions, free health care, and affordable housing; it also guarantees local self-governance. Nevertheless, national law takes precedence over regional and local laws, and the constitution enumerates many areas that either are administered jointly by the regions and the central government or are the exclusive preserve of the central government. In the years after the constitution’s enactment, the central government implemented several measures to reduce the power and influence of regional governments and governors. In 2000 Pres. Vladimir Putin created seven federal districts above the regional level to increase the central government’s power over the regions (see discussion below). His successor, Dmitry Medvedev, continued this policy: as a part of Moscow’s ongoing efforts to quell separatism and Islamic militancy in the Caucasus, he created an eighth federal district there in 2010.

Regional and local government

Under the Russian constitution the central government retains significant authority, but regional and local governments have been given an array of powers. For example, they exercise authority over municipal property and policing, and they can impose regional taxes. Owing to a lack of assertiveness by the central government, Russia’s administrative divisions—oblasti (regions), minority republics, okruga (autonomous districts), kraya (territories), federal cities (Moscow and St. Petersburg), and the one autonomous oblast—exerted considerable power in the initial years after the passage of the 1993 constitution. The constitution gives equal power to each of the country’s administrative divisions in the Federal Assembly. However, the power of the divisions was diluted in 2000 when seven federal districts (Central, Far East, Northwest, Siberia, Southern, Urals, and Volga), each with its own presidential envoy, were established by the central government. In 2010 the southeastern portion of the Southern district was reorganized as an eighth federal district, North Caucasus. Russia’s ninth federal district was created in 2014, after it annexed the Ukrainian autonomous republic of Crimea; this territorial claim was not recognized by Ukraine or most other countries, but Russia exercised de facto control of the region. The districts’ presidential envoys were given the power to implement federal law and to coordinate communication between the president and the regional governors. Legally, the envoys in federal districts had solely the power of communicating the executive guidance of the federal president. In practice, however, the guidance served more as a directive, as the president was able to use the envoys to enforce presidential authority over the regional governments.

In comparison to the federal government, regional governments generally have inadequate tax revenue to support mandatory items in their budgets, which have barely been able to cover wages for teachers and police. The budgets of regional governments also are overburdened by pensions.

Legislation has further affirmed the power of the federal government over the regions. For example, the regional governors and their deputies were prohibited from representing their region in the Federation Council on the grounds that their sitting in the Federation Council violated the principle of the separation of powers; however, under a compromise, both the legislative and executive branch of each region sent a member to the Federation Council. Legislation enacted in 2004 permitted the president to appoint the regional governors, who earlier were elected. In the first decade of the 21st century, the country began to undergo administrative change aimed at subordinating smaller okruga to neighbouring members of the federation.

Following these reforms in regional government, the new federal districts began to replace the 11 traditional economic regions, particularly for statistical purposes. The Central district unites the city of Moscow with all administrative divisions within the Central and Central Black Earth economic regions. The Northwest district combines the city of St. Petersburg with all areas in the North and Northwest regions, including Kaliningrad oblast. The Southern district includes portions of the Volga and North Caucasus economic regions; the North Caucasus district encompasses the remaining units of the latter economic region. The Volga district merges units of the Volga, Volga-Vyatka, and Ural economic regions. The Urals district consists of the remaining administrative divisions of the Ural economic region along with several from the West Siberia economic region. The Siberia district unites the remainder of the West Siberia economic region and all of East Siberia. Finally, the Far East district is congruent with the Far East economic region. The Crimean district, created in 2014 following Russia’s annexation of Ukrainian territory, included the federal city of Sevastopol.

Several of the administrative divisions established constitutions that devolved power to local jurisdictions, and, though the 1993 constitution guaranteed local self-governance, the powers of local governments vary considerably. Some local authorities, particularly in urban centres, exercise significant power and are responsible for taxation and the licensing of businesses. Moscow and St. Petersburg have particularly strong local governments, with both possessing a tax base and government structure that dwarf the country’s other regions. Local councils in smaller communities are commonly rubber-stamp agencies, accountable to the city administrator, who is appointed by the regional governor. In the mid-1990s municipal government was restructured. City councils (dumas), city mayors, and city administrators replaced former city soviets.

Justice of Russia

Russia’s highest judicial body is the Supreme Court, which supervises the activities of all other judicial bodies and serves as the final court of appeal. The Supreme Court has been supplemented since 1991 by a Constitutional Court, established to review Russian laws and treaties. The Constitutional Court is presided over by 19 judges, who are nominated by the president and approved by the Federation Council. Appointed to life terms, judges for both the Supreme Court and the Constitutional Court must be at least 25 years of age and hold a law degree. The Constitutional Court has the power of judicial review, which enables it to rule on the constitutionality of laws. The Russian legal system has attempted to overcome the repression practiced during the Soviet era by requiring public trials and guaranteeing a defense for the accused. Historically, the Supreme Arbitration Court of the Russian Federation had ruled on commercial disputes, but it was abolished in 2014, and its powers were absorbed by the Supreme Court. (For discussion of the legal system during the Soviet period, see Soviet law.)

Political process

Soviet-era politics was authoritarian and predictable. The Communist Party of the Soviet Union dominated the political process, and elections were merely ritualistic, with voters not allowed a choice between freely competing political parties. Political reform in the 1980s and ’90s brought greater freedom, but it also spawned the formation of hundreds of political organizations and parties. With so many parties and with wide disagreement over the pace and direction of reforms, Russian elections have been characterized by instability. Although reform-oriented parties won victories in the early 1990s, institutions such as the army and the intelligence services continued to exert considerable influence, and many bureaucrats were highly resistant to change. Some political parties that attracted wide support at the time of Russia’s independence were moribund by the beginning of the 21st century, and some coalitions were formed solely around the appeal of an individual charismatic leader. In contrast to 1995, when 43 political parties competed, only 26 contested the 1999 election. Legislation enacted under the Putin regime attempted to further reduce the number of political parties by mandating that they have at least 10,000 members and registered offices in at least half of Russia’s regions to compete in national elections. In the 2011 legislative elections, only four parties gained enough votes to be represented in the State Duma.

All citizens at least age 18 are eligible to vote. Presidential elections are contested in two rounds; if no candidate receives a majority in the first round, there is a runoff between the top two candidates. For elections to the State Duma, voters cast separate ballots for a party and for a representative from a single-member district. Half the seats in the State Duma are allocated on the basis of the party vote, with all parties winning at least 5 percent of the national vote guaranteed representation on a proportional basis, and half through the single-member-district contests. Each regional governor and the head of each regional assembly appoint one member to serve in the Federation Council.

Originally published on Britannica