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Politics of Russia

In the political system established in Russia by the 1993 constitution[?], the president wields considerable executive power. There is no vice president, and the legislative is far weaker than the executive. The president nominates the highest state officials, including the prime minister, who must be approved by the Duma. The president can pass decrees[?] without consent from the Duma. He also is head of the armed forces and of the national security council.

Duma elections were on December 19, 1999 and presidential elections March 26, 2000. While the Communist Party won a narrow plurality of seats in the Duma, the pro-government party Unity[?] and the centrist Fatherland-All Russia[?] also won substantial numbers of seats in the legislature. In April 2002, the Communist Party lost eight top posts when the State Duma voted to reassign the chairmanships[?] of nearly one-third of its committees, leaving greater power in the hands of centrist and liberal factions. In the presidential election of March 2000, Vladimir Putin, named Acting President following the December 31 resignation of Boris Yeltsin, was elected in the first round with 53% of the vote. Both the presidential and parliamentary elections were judged generally free and fair by international observers.

Russia is a federation, but the precise distribution of powers between the Central Government[?] and the regional and local authorities is still evolving. The Russian Federation consists of 89 components, including two federal cities, Moscow and St. Petersburg. The constitution explicitly defines the federal government's exclusive powers, but it also describes most key regional issues as the joint responsibility of the federal government and the Federation components.

Judicial System Russia's justice and judicial power are weak. Numerous matters which are dealt with by administrative authority in European countries remain subject to political influence in Russia. The Russian Federation Constitutional Court[?] was reconvened in March 1995 following its suspension by President Yeltsin in October 1993. The 1993 constitution empowers the court to arbitrate disputes between the executive and legislative branches and between Moscow and the regional and local governments. The court also is authorized to rule on violations of constitutional rights[?], to examine appeals from various bodies, and to participate in impeachment proceedings against the president. The July 1994 Law on the Constitutional Court prohibits the court from examining cases on its own initiative and limits the scope of issues the court can hear.

In the past few years, the Russian Government has begun to reform the criminal justice system and judicial institutions, including the reintroduction of jury trials in certain criminal cases. Despite these efforts, judges are only beginning to assert their constitutionally mandated independence from other branches of government.

The Duma passed a Criminal Procedure Code and other judicial reforms during its 2001 session. These reforms help make the Russian judicial system more compatible with its Western counterparts and are seen by most as an accomplishment in human rights.

The constitution guarantees citizens the right to choose their place of residence and to travel abroad. Some big-city governments, however, have restricted this right through residential registration rules that closely resemble the Soviet-era "propiska[?]" regulations. Although the rules were touted as a notification device rather than a control system, their implementation has produced many of the same results as the propiska system. The freedom to travel abroad and emigrate is respected although restrictions may apply to those who have had access to state secrets.

Human rights Russia's human rights record remains uneven and worsened in some areas. Despite significant improvements in conditions following the end of the Soviet Union, problem areas remain. In particular, the Russian Government's military policy in Chechnya is a cause for international concern. Government forces have killed numerous civilians through the use of indiscriminate force in Chechnya. There have been credible allegations of violations of international human rights and humanitarian law by Russian forces. Chechen groups also have committed abuses.

Although the government has made progress in recognizing the legitimacy of international human rights standards, the institutionalization of procedures to safeguard these rights has lagged. Implementation of the constitutional provisions for due process and timely trials, for example, has made little progress. There are indications that the law is becoming an increasingly important tool for those seeking to protect human rights; after a lengthy trial and eight separate indictments, environmental whistleblower Alexander Nikitin was acquitted of espionage charges relating to publication of material exposing hazards posed by the Russian Navy's aging nuclear fleet. On September 13, 2001, the Presidium of the Supreme Court dismissed the prosecution's last appeal against the December 29, 1999 acquittal of Nikitin. Nonetheless, serious problems remain.

The judiciary is often subject to manipulation by political authorities and is plagued by large case backlogs and trial delays. Lengthy pretrial detention remains a serious problem. Russia has the highest prison population rate in the world, at 685 per 100,000. There are credible reports of beating and torturing of inmates and detainees by law enforcement and correctional officials. Prison conditions fall well below international standards. In 2000, human rights Ombudsman Oleg Mironov[?] estimated that 50% of prisoners with whom he spoke claimed to have been tortured. Human rights groups estimate that about 11,000 inmates and prison detainees die annually, most because of overcrowding, disease, and lack of medical care. In 2001, President Putin pronounced a moratorium[?] on the death penalty. However, there are reports that the Russian Government might still be violating promises they made upon entering the European Council, especially in terms of prison control and conditions.

Human rights groups are very critical of cases of Chechens disappearing in the custody of Russian officials. Russian authorities have introduced some improvements, including better access to complaint mechanisms, the formal opening of investigations in most cases, and the introduction of two decrees requiring the presence of civilian investigators and other nonmilitary personnel during all large scale military operations and targeted search and seizure operations. Human rights groups welcome these changes, but claim that most abuses remain uninvestigated and unpunished.

Efforts to institutionalize official human rights bodies have been mixed. In 1996, human rights activist Sergey Kovalev resigned as chairman of the Presidential Human Rights Commission to protest the government's record, particularly the war in Chechnya. Parliament in 1997 passed a law establishing a "human rights ombudsman," a position that is provided for in Russia's constitution and is required of members of the Council of Europe, to which Russia was admitted in February 1996. The Duma finally selected Duma deputy Oleg Mironov in May 1998. A member of the Communist Party, Mironov resigned from both the Party and the Duma after the vote, citing the law's stipulation that the Ombudsman be nonpartisan. Because of his party affiliation, and because Mironov had no evident expertise in the field of human rights, his appointment was widely criticized at the time by human rights activists. International human rights groups operate freely in Russia, although the government has hindered the movements and access to information of some individuals investigating the war in Chechnya.

The Russian Constitution[?] provides for freedom of religion and the equality of all religions before the law as well as the separation of church and state. Although Jews and Muslims continue to encounter prejudice and societal discrimination, they have not been inhibited by the government in the free practice of their religion. High-ranking federal officials have condemned anti-Semitic hate crimes, but law enforcement bodies have not effectively prosecuted those responsible. The influx of missionaries over the past several years has led to pressure by groups in Russia, specifically nationalists and the Russian Orthodox Church, to limit the activities of these "nontraditional" religious groups. In response, the Duma passed a new, restrictive, and potentially discriminatory law in October 1997. The law is very complex, with many ambiguous and contradictory provisions. The law's most controversial provisions separates religious "groups" and "organizations" and introduce a 15-year rule, which allows groups that have been in existence for 15 years or longer to obtain accredited status. Senior Russian officials have pledged to implement the 1997 law on religion in a manner that is not in conflict with Russia's international human rights obligations. Some local officials, however, have used the law as a pretext to restrict religious liberty.

Country name:
conventional long form: Russian Federation
conventional short form: Russia
local long form: Rossiyskaya Federatsiya (Russian: Российская Фэдэрация)
local short form: Rossiya (Russian: Россия)
former: Russian Soviet Federative Socialist Republic

Data code: RS

Government type: federation

Capital: Moscow (Russian: Москва, Transliteration: Moskva)

Administrative divisions: Russia is divided into 89 administrative units with varying degrees of autonomy. (See Subdivisions of Russia)

Independence: 24 August 1991 (from Soviet Union)

National holiday: Independence Day, 12 June (1990)

Constitution: adopted 12 December 1993

Legal system: based on civil law system; judicial review of legislative acts

Suffrage: 18 years of age; universal

Executive branch:
chief of state: President Vladimir Vladimirovich Putin (since 7 May 2000).
Note: President Yeltsin resigned on 31 December 1999, naming Vladimir Putin as Acting President until new elections were held on 26 March 2000.
head of government: Acting Premier Mikhail Mikhaylovich KASYANOV (since 7 May 2000); Deputy Premiers Viktor Borisovich KHRISTENKO (since 31 May 1999), Ilya Iosifovich KLEBANOV (since 31 May 1999), Nikolay Pavlovich KOSHMAN (since 15 October 1999), Valentina Ivanovna MATVIYENKO (since 22 September 1998), Valdimir Nikolayevich SHCHERBAK (since 25 May 1999), Sergey Kuzhugetovich SHOYGU (since 10 January 2000)
cabinet: Ministries of the Government or "Government" composed of the premier and his deputies, ministers, and other agency heads; all are appointed by the president
note: there is also a Presidential Administration (PA) that provides staff and policy support to the president, drafts presidential decrees, and coordinates policy among government agencies; a Security Council also reports directly to the president
elections: president elected by popular vote for a four-year term; election last held 26 March 2000 (next to be held NA 2004); note - no vice president; if the president dies in office, cannot exercise his powers because of ill health, is impeached, or resigns, the premier succeeds him; the premier serves as acting president until a new presidential election is held, which must be within three months; premier appointed by the president with the approval of the Duma
election results: Vladimir Vladimirovich PUTIN elected president; percent of vote - PUTIN 52.9%, Gennadiy Aadreyevich ZYUGANOV 29.2%, Grigoriy Alekseyevich YAVLINSKIY 5.8%

Legislative branch: bicameral Federal Assembly or Federalnoye Sobraniye consists of the Federation Council or Sovet Federatsii (178 seats, filled ex officio by the top executive and legislative officials in each of the 89 federal administrative units - oblasts, krays, republics, autonomous okrugs and oblasts, and the federal cities of Moscow and Saint Petersburg; members serve four-year terms) and the State Duma or Gosudarstvennaya Duma (450 seats, half elected by proportional representation from party lists winning at least 5% of the vote, and half from single-member constituencies; members are elected by direct popular vote to serve four-year terms)
elections: State Duma - last held 19 December 1999 (next to be held NA December 2003)
election results: State Duma - percent of vote received by parties clearing the 5% threshold entitling them to a proportional share of the 225 party list seats - Communist Party of the Russian Federation (KPRF) 24.29%, Unity 23.32%, Fatherland-All Russia (OVR) 13.33%, Union of Right Forces 8.52%, Liberal Democratic Party (Zhirinovsky Bloc) 5.98%, Yabloko 5.93%; seats by party - Communist Party of the Russian Federation (KPRF) 90, Unity 82, People's Deputies faction 57, Fatherland-All Russia (OVR) 45, Russia's Regions 42, Agro-industrial faction 39, Union of Right Forces 32, Yabloko 21, Liberal Democratic Party of Russia 17, independents 16, repeat election required 8, vacant 1

Judicial branch: Constitutional Court, judges are appointed for life by the Federation Council on the recommendation of the president; Supreme Court, judges are appointed for life by the Federation Council on the recommendation of the president; Superior Court of Arbitration, judges are appointed for life by the Federation Council on the recommendation of the president

Political parties and leaders: Agro-industrial faction [leader NA]; Communist Party of the Russian Federation or KPRF [Gennadiy Andreyevich ZYUGANOV]; Fatherland-All Russia or OVR [Yevgeniy Maksimovich PRIMAKOV, Yuriy Mikhailovich LUZHKOV]; Liberal Democratic Party of Russia [Vladimir Volfovich ZHIRINOVSKIY]; People's Deputies faction [leader NA]; Russia's Regions [leader NA]; Union of Right Forces [Sergey Vladilenovich KIRIYENKO]; Unity [Sergey Kuzhugetovich SHOYGU]; Yabloko Bloc [Grigoriy Alekseyevich YAVLINSKIY]
note: some 150 political parties, blocs, and movements registered with the Justice Ministry as of the 19 December 1998 deadline to be eligible to participate in the 19 December 1999 Duma elections; of these, 36 political organizations actually qualified to run slates of candidates on the Duma party list ballot, 6 parties cleared the 5% threshold to win a proportional share of the 225 party seats in the Duma, 8 other organizations hold seats in the Duma: Bloc of Nikolayev and Academician Fedorov, Congress of Russian Communities, Movement in Support of the Army, Our Home Is Russia, Party of Pensioners, Russian All-People's Union, Russian Socialist Party, and Spiritual Heritage; primary political blocs include pro-market democrats - (Yabloko Bloc and Union of Right Forces), anti-market and/or ultranationalist (Communist Party of the Russian Federation and Liberal Democratic Party of Russia)

Political pressure groups and leaders: NA

International organization participation: APEC, BIS, BSEC, CBSS, CCC, CE, CERN (observer), CIS, EAPC, EBRD, ECE, ESCAP, G- 8, IAEA, IBRD, ICAO, ICRM, IDA, IFC, IFRCS, IHO, ILO, IMF, IMO, Inmarsat, Intelsat, Interpol, IOC, IOM (observer), ISO, ITU, LAIA (observer), MINURSO, MONUC, NAM (guest), NSG, OAS (observer), OPCW, OSCE, PCA, PFP, UN, UN Security Council, UNAMSIL, UNCTAD, UNESCO, UNHCR, UNIDO, UNIKOM, UNITAR, UNMIBH, UNMIK, UNMOP, UNOMIG, UNTAET, UNTSO, UPU, WFTU, WHO, WIPO, WMO, WToO, WTrO (applicant), Zangger Committee

Diplomatic representation in the US:
chief of mission: Ambassador Yuriy Viktorovich USHAKOV
chancery: 2650 Wisconsin Avenue NW, Washington, DC 20007
telephone: [1] (202) 298-5700 through 5704
FAX: [1] (202) 298-5735
consulate(s) general: New York, San Francisco, and Seattle

Diplomatic representation from the US:
chief of mission: Ambassador James F. COLLINS
embassy: Novinskiy Bul'var 19/23, Moscow
mailing address: APO AE 09721
telephone: [7] (095) 252-24-51 through 59
FAX: [7] (095) 956-42-61
consulate(s) general: Saint Petersburg, Vladivostok, Yekaterinburg

Flag description: three equal horizontal bands of white (top), blue, and red

See also: Subdivisions of Russia, Law of the Russian Federation[?]



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