For current reports go to EASY FINDER




Key Economic Data 
  2003 2002 2001 Ranking(2003)
Millions of US $ 433,491 346,520 310,000 16
GNI per capita
 US $ 2,610 2,140 1,750 97
Ranking is given out of 208 nations - (data from the World Bank)

Books on Russia


Update No: 372  (26/01/12)

Protests against the outcome of December's election and Prime Minister Vladimir Putin's lacklustre attitude to reform is giving rise to instability that threatens Russia's economy and the shaky peace in frozen conflicts on its various borders.

On 4 December, Putin's United Russia party won parliamentary elections in a poll that international observers said was flawed, and campaign groups within Russia say was rigged.

United Russia gained just under 50 per cent of the vote, down from 64 per cent in 2007 and the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) said that ballot boxes had been stuffed. In Moscow, buses from the Youth wing of United Russia were reported as openly touring the polling stations and stuffing the ballot boxes in each one.

The following night, several thousand of enraged people protested in central Moscow against Putin, demanding fair elections. They denounced the vote as shameful, and shouted "Russia without Putin!" and "Revolution!"

The discontent escalated and on December 24 as many as 80,000 people rallied in the capital, vowing "not to give a single vote to Vladimir Putin" at presidential elections scheduled for 4 March. Protest leader Alexei Navalny told the crowd to loud applause that Russians would no longer tolerate corruption.

"I see enough people here to take the Kremlin and [Government House] right now but we are peaceful people and won't do that just yet," he said.

That was the largest demonstration seen in Russia since the fall of the USSR and the Western press saw it as a sign that Russia is “waking up”. Protests are still being organised in Moscow and St Petersburg and are likely to pick up pace as the presidential election draws closer.

Putin and President Dmitry Medvedev have fuelled the fire by refusing to hold the Parliamentary election again, instead making empty promises of reform and vague statements about “evolution not revolution”

Two days before the large demonstration on 24 December, Medvedev proposed a series of liberal reforms, calling for political party registration rules to be relaxed and suggesting that the Kremlin's grip on television could be loosened. In his final state of the union address he also said he was proposing "a comprehensive reform of our political system", starting with an initiative first proposed by Putin: for regional governors to stop being appointed by the President and instead being elected directly.

But many of those who protested were not swayed by Medvedev's gestures as he has spoken of reform for years, but not produced the goods. His word is also of little consequence now as he is stepping down in May and is not running in the polls.

In a televised question and answer session on 15 December, Putin entertained the possibility of returning the direct vote of regional governors, but repeatedly said that the process would be controlled by a "presidential filter", meaning the Kremlin would still have to approve candidates.

His words gave no hope to those incensed by corruption in Russia and there seems little chance that Putin will meet a true challenger on 4 March. While Presidential candidate Mikhail Prokhorov wrote in the Guardian newspaper that “Russia is “undergoing a true awakening” and the era of Putin's “managed democracy” is dead, the metals tycoon's candidacy is widely seen as a Kremlin-directed strategy to divert votes from tougher opponents, thereby giving Putin a majority. Political observers largely agree that the protests in December prompted Putin's allies to create the illusion of choice by allowing bland figures like Prokhorov to run for the presidency.

Allegations of fraud in the election run-up have already begun. The campaign organisers of Dmitry Mezentsev, a Russian presidential candidate with close links to the Kremlin, have been accused of hiring students to fill in fake lists of supporters.

To enter the presidential election, independent candidates need to collect two million signatures and activists from campaign group Democratic Choice filmed three videos of students at a University in Moscow writing down the personal details of a large number of individuals, including passport numbers. Menzentsev's people said the students were undergoing training on how to collect signatures but the films indicate otherwise.

Mr Mezentsev told the Ekho Moskvy radio station that he had looked into the allegations and "There are no breaches in that video material."

He said: "At the request of activists from the railway trade unions, training for volunteers and instructors on how to collect signatures was organised on the premises of the Moscow State Railways University. Anything else is just speculation and invention."

Igor Drandin, one of the campaigners who filmed the videos, said he is in no doubt that the students at the university were creating a false register of supporters.

"The passport information, the names, the patronymics, the addresses, the places where people were registered. This is confidential personal data," he said.

Putin is directly involved in a great number of Russia's biggest businesses and the rising dissatisfaction with him is having a negative effect on the country's economy. Nervous about Putin's future, investors have started to pull their stakes in companies with the closest ties to the Kremlin such as gas giant Gazprom, and oil firms Surgutneft and Transneft.

Gas company Novatek, which is partially owned by the Prime Minister's close friend, Gennady Timchenko, is among those that have suffered the most, losing 10 per cent of its value since the elections in December.

Igor Nikolaev, director of the strategic analysis department for the consultancy firm FBK, says, “Investors took it as an extremely negative signal when they saw that people do not agree with the falsification of elections on that scale," Nikolaev said.

Many investors are frightened that infighting could break out among the political elite and are trying to safeguard their capital. As a result, the ruble-based MICEX stock index has fallen by more than 10 per cent and the dollar-based MSCI Russia Index has fallen by 13 per cent since the election.

The furore over the disputed poll has also given separatists more confidence in demanding greater sovereignty, over historically disputed regions of Russia. In late December, a prominent parliament member in Kazan said that Tatarstan should take advantage of the current political climate to strengthen its position.

Rafail Khakimov, a Tatar MP and former adviser to ex-Tatar President Mintimer Shaimiyev said that the demonstrations had presented a "good opportunity to try to strengthen the sovereignty of the republic of Tatarstan."

Russia's ongoing conflicts are also piling pressure on the Kremlin. Russia has been fighting insurgents in the North Caucasus since the 1991 collapse of the Soviet Union and on 9 January the Interior Ministry said that Islamic militants had killed four Russian troops and wounded 16 as federal forces attempted to flush out a rebel hideout in Chechnya.

Nearby, the political situation in South Ossetia, the breakaway region of Georgia that Tbilisi and Moscow fought a brief war over in 2008, has become fraught. In Late November, South Ossetia held presidential elections in which preliminary results showed that former education minister and opposition candidate Alla Dzhioyeva was defeating her Kremlin-backed opponent Anatoly Bibilov. The Supreme Court ruled the election invalid and the parliament disqualified Dzhioyeva, sparking protests from her supporters. On 9 February, Dzhioyevad outgoing de facto leader Eduard Kokoity reached a deal by which Kokoity would step down from office, but while Kokoity did so, Dzhioyeva said, that just before departing from office he "created a Constitutional Court... and made dozens of appointments in nine minutes."

Further west, Moldova, too, is seeking development in its frozen conflict with Russia over Transdniester, a strip of land along Moldova's eastern border with Ukraine. The former Soviet arsenal there has long been popular with the Russian armed forces, elements of which have used it, together with Ukrainian privately owned air freighters, for large scale corrupt arms trading. (See the movie, “Lord of War,” for indications). The region declared independence from what was then one of the Soviet SSR’s : the Moldovan Soviet Socialist Republic in 1990, and from 1991-1992 Russia and Moldova engaged in fierce fighting with around 700 people as casualties. Ever since, the Transdniester boundary has been patrolled by Moldovan, Russian and Transdniestrian troops as part of a cease-fire treaty signed between the two countries.

On 1st January, an 18-year old Moldovan was shot dead by a Russian officer at the Vadul lui Voda checkpoint at the bridge over the Dniester River, which marks the boundary between Moldova and Transdniester. The Moldovan Foreign Ministry summoned the Russian ambassador the next day to lodge a formal protest, demanding that the peacekeeping mission to the region be demilitarised with an international mandate.

Moldovan Deputy Prime Minister for European Reintegration, Eugen Carpov, said that such tragic incidents could be avoided if the operational current peacekeeping mission were changed.

"Military ammunition is not necessary anymore,” he said. We need a civil peacekeeping mission which would help bring together the banks of the Dniester River."

About 60 percent of the more than 500,000 people living in Transdniester are ethnic Russians or Ukrainians, and Russia has been rejecting the Moldovan government's demands for change for years.

In keeping hold of regions disputed after the collapse of the Soviet Union and refusing to negotiate new terms of sovereignty or progression towards a peaceful resolution, Putin is pursuing an imperialist agenda that leaves any challenger to his power with a complicated web of potential disasters. The foreign policy that Putin is advocating in the run-up to the Russian presidential election (see New Nations, Russia, December 2011) also looks set to make matters worse.

In preparation for NATO's withdrawal from Afghanistan in 2014,or sooner, the Kremlin appears understandably to be trying to make sure that Central Asia becomes a ‘’Western-military-free zone’. On 20 December, Members of the CIS Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO) reached a tentative agreement that would require the say-so of all seven member states if any one of them wants to host foreign military forces. Everybody is aware of the one-time US plan to girdle the earth with its military bases, which, where central Asia is concerned, was the origin of the Shanghai Treaty.

Three of the seven CSTO members – Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan – currently have foreign troops based on their territories as part of the military operation in Afghanistan. The armed Islamists are gaining strength along their borders, and these countries will become more vulnerable after NATO's withdrawal from the region. Poverty, a lack of democracy in the case of Uzbekistan and Tajikistan, and the ongoing financial crisis, will likely put the squeeze on ordinary people. A rise in Islamic insurgency in the region is likely and, as America and Europe reduce aid and development programmes in the region, as part of cost-cutting measures, Russia may find that a currently small-scale incidence of political instability and insurgencies on their southern borders, turns into a major threat, once the armed Islamists’ plans to move up through Afghanistan, deeper into central Asia, takes on a real momentum to join up with the semi-permanent insurgency in Russia’s northern Caucasus. So vast is the area, perhaps it could not contain, let alone defeat this threat with the help of its former Soviet partners alone.

« Back


Published by 
Newnations (a not-for-profit company)
PO Box 12 Monmouth 
United Kingdom NP25 3UW 
Fax: UK +44 (0)1600 890774