Currency unit





Central Europe











Caucasus War


  Shanghai Cooperation Organisation







Russia is a mainly Slavic speaking nation. The first known Russian states were founded by the invading Swedish Vikings known as the Rus (red headed) who founded cities like Kiev and Novgorod (=New Town). The Slavic speaking people absorbed this Scandinavian aristocracy, leaving behind some Scandinavian names. The first Russian state is considered to be the Principality of Kiev (now in Ukraine).

They were converted to Eastern Christianity from Byzantium. Probably at that time the northern and southern Slavs - Byelorussians, Great Russians and Ukrainians and Yugoslavs - were linguistically closer than they now are. The language of the Church, Old Slavonic, was in use in the other Slavic areas: Bulgaria and Serbia, which also adopted the Cyrillic script, derived from the Greek alphabet and named after St Cyril the first Greek missionary to the Slavs. (The western Slavs: Poles, Czechs, Slovaks, Slovenes and Croats were converted from Rome and adopted the Roman script with modifications.)

In the 12th century the Russians were conquered and occupied by the Mongols, a central Asian people who had become Muslims and named by the Russians as Tatars. Thus the early history of the Russians was preoccupied with the struggle against these Tatar Khans, the Khanate of the Golden Horde. The Russians were for a long time cut off from western Europe and developed along separate lines. The King of Moskva became the most important Russian ruler and was the ancestor of the modern Russian state.

On the fall of Constantinople in 1453 the Tsar (=king from Latin Caesar) of Moskva announced that Moskva was henceforth the Third Rome - the chief city and heir of Orthodox Christian civilization. This indicates the Russian feeling of being a special, chosen, religious people and in the 19th century developed into a policy of support for other Orthodox peoples, especially the Slav minorities of the then Ottoman Empire (but including the Greeks as well as Bulgarians and Serbs).

In the 16th century the English Muscovy Company was formed to trade with the kingdom of Muscovy, as Moskva was known then in England. This was one of the first contacts with western Europe.

Russia began to emerge from what in the rest of Europe was regarded as a backward condition with the kingship of Ivan the Terrible (1533-1584), sometimes compared in brutality to Stalin. But it was Peter Romanov - Peter the Great (in power from 1682 crowned in 1689, died in 1725) - who began the contact with western Europe and made an effort to transform Russia with European methods. He tried to remove the power of the traditional aristocracy, the Boyars, who corresponded to the feudal barons of 11th century England in their independent power. He also built a new capital, Sankt Peterburg (from 1924-91 Leningrad) on the Baltic which used the latest European, mainly Dutch and Italian, architecture.

From his time Russia became recognized as a European Great Power and gradually became the biggest of them all. He and his successors encouraged the expansion of Russia to the east, conquering the remains of the Tatar Khans and the many Muslim peoples of Central Asia. Russians settled to the east and into Siberia rather as Americans somewhat later pushed the Frontier West. The Russians reached the Pacific at Okhotsk in 1649 and founded Vladivostok (ruler of the East) in 1860. They pushed on to Alaska and down the Californian coast. But the American possessions were sold to the United States, leaving only a few names and the occasional Orthodox church.

However, St Petersburg is on the western edge of Russia and the aristocracy living there spoke French among themselves and became ever more ignorant of the life of the mass of the Russian people. Thus western European culture did not spread much beyond the urban aristocracy.

Russia also expanded to the south and absorbed the Muslim Emirates of central Asia and the Caucasian peoples: Armenians, Georgians, Chechens and others. These were separated off again when the Soviet Union was formed, but were until 1992 essentially colonies of Russia.

Russian writers recognize two main streams of Russian political thought represented by the Westernizers and the Slavophiles. The Westernizers are those like Peter the Great who wish to imitate the economic and political forms of western Europe. Included in these were the Liberal Tsars of the 19th century (alternating with autocrats). The Slavophiles emphasize the differentness of Russia and its Orthodox culture which looks to the autocracy of Byzantium rather than to the constitutional regimes of the west - the writer Dostoyevsky is often thought to belong to this stream. Thus Lenin can be considered to have some of the features of a westernizer, as did Gorbachov, whereas Stalin behaved like a Slavophile (though he was not a Slav, being from Georgia) . The liberal Tsars in the 19th century were always followed by autocratic absolutists who recognized no popular restraint to their power. These included Nicholas the second who was in power at the time of the first world war. His resistance to any form of elected representation helped provoke two revolutions.

Democracy (lack of)
There has been no period of autonomous political institutions. Many feared that the regime of 19-21 August 1991 might have proved to be a renewal of the Slavophile anti-western tradition. The late Alexandr Solzhenitsyn represents another literary expression of the Slavophile tradition and seems to advocate a restoration of the Orthodox autocracy. The old Tsarist regime was notably hostile to the Jews who lived within its borders. State sponsored pogroms (lynchings, or mass killings of Jews) were common and caused many to emigrate to Britain and the United States in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Although there are fewer Jews now there are still many expressions of antisemitism.

The large community of Jews in Tsarist Russia and Russian-controlled Poland were subjected to restrictions on their occupation and on where they could live. They may be the descendants of the Khazars, a Turkish people who converted to Judaism, and at one time controlled an important empire north of the Black Sea.

One indication of the differentness of Russia from western Europe was the persistence of serfdom in Russia until 1861, whereas it had been abolished in France in 1789 and in England during the 15th century. The collective farms set up by Stalin had some similarities with serfdom: peasants could not leave the farm without permission; the peasants did not own the produce, nor gain the full value of the produce. Thus even as late as 1993 the traits of serfdom and feudalism had not come to an end.

First Revolution
There was an attempted revolution in 1905 following the defeat of the Russian Empire by Japan. The revolutionaries demanded an assembly and a government amounting to a constitutional monarchy of the British kind. Nicholas the second conceded a constitution but spent his remaining years avoiding implementing it.

The Russian Empire entered the first world war in support of the Slavic and Orthodox Serbs. Some of the Tsar's advisors (including the Russian religious figure Rasputin) had warned him that Russia was not ready for a war - it had vast manpower but not enough industry to match Germany, the most technically advanced power in Europe. It was like Iraq taking on the power of the United States. Russia's allies, Britain and France, could not send help because the main routes into Russia were blocked by Germany, Austria and Turkey and the ice of the Arctic.

Second revolution
By 1917 Russia had been defeated by Germany in the sense that supplies for the armies failed and the will to fight was lost. A revolution broke out which was a continuation of the 1905 action. However, this time the revolutionaries were joined by deserting soldiers. Conditions were much worse in the country because many of the peasants had been sent to the war so that there were not enough people to get in the harvest. There was shortage of food. The Tsar seemed to be unaware of the suffering of the people.

(a) February Revolution
Two revolutions occurred. The first was in March 1917 (February in the Julian Calendar) when the Tsar was forced to abdicate and a moderate provisional government took office with the intention of creating a modern European type of government. But they could not stop the war and the people demanded peace. The second revolution was initiated by a Putsch led by Lenin and the Bolshevik Party in November (October in the Julian Calender) 1917. This Putsch was called by the Communists the (b) October Revolution.

The country then split into several parts temporarily with civil war between the Bolshevik revolutionaries on the one side, and supporters of the Tsar and the moderate democrats on the other. When the Bolsheviks had won the civil war they created the Soviet Union, in form the democratization of the Russian Empire, in practice a dictatorship. The capital was removed to Moskva, which some have interpreted as a reversal of Peter's window to the west, a turning back to the isolation of medieval Russia (but it is more convenient to be further east to be nearer the rest of the country).

Soviet period
A subordinate state called Russia was the core of the Soviet Union which was ruled largely by Russians. The Russia of the Tsars had included many other nationalities. It was only during the Gorbachov period that Russia declared itself sovereign. Russia contains many of the mineral and industrial resources of the former Soviet Union, which could not have existed without Russia. Can Russia exist without the Soviet Union? Many Russians argue that under communism and as members of the Soviet Union they were poorer than many of the other nationalities, who perhaps retained some of the skills of enterprise.

The future of Russia is exceptionally uncertain now that the Soviet Union has disappeared.

Post Soviet
The large numbers of Russians (60 million) in other republics, especially in Central Asia, the Caucasus and the Baltic may become refugees and flee back to Russia or the military may demand they be "protected" with Russian troops. But Russia is itself nominally a federation.

Russian Federation
Included in the federation are a number of non-Russian peoples, mostly speaking Turkic or Finno-Ugrian languages. In Soviet times they were made into autonomous republics, federated with Russia. There are 20 of these. Yakutia in Siberia is the largest. Karelia inhabited partly by Finns was historically part of Finland (until conquered in 1940). The Karelians may wish to join Finland, but there are many Russians now living there. Tatarstan based in Kazan declared itself independent but has not yet been recognized by the international community. Chechnya, Ingushetia, North Ossetia, and others in the Caucasus are in a state of insurgency, which might lead to independence. The war in Chechnya has been especially brutal.

There are disputes about the sovereignty of these groups. They have had more cultural autonomy than most Native American reservations (and are much larger) but until recently no political autonomy, being controlled by the Communist Party rather than their nominal governments.

Before the break up of the Soviet Union some of them said they would have preferred to be federated directly with the Soviet Union than with Russia. One of the most important of these is Yakutia, based on Yakutsk and occupying about a quarter of Siberia. As it controls diamonds and oil its loss to Russia would be serious. Chechenya a small republic in the Caucasus has declared independence, though they probably can't maintain it. (With the Ingush they had been deported by Stalin to Kazakhstan and hate the Russians). Numerous other Caucasian groups are joining together and fighting in Abkhazia (part of Georgia) and threatening to fight for independence of Russia. This has created an area of extreme instability. There is not enough information about these ethnic constituents to predict what may happen to them. As the Soviet Union no longer exists the option of direct federation to it is no longer feasible. Nor is independence, as they would be like Lesotho, entirely surrounded by another state.

Oblasts (regions)
These may gain the status of states within the federation but so far are in an indeterminate condition. The Russian President appoints an administrator but they also have a Soviet (assembly) and executive answerable to it. The powers of each are not defined. The 1993 constitutional discussions seemed to be moving towards statehood for the Oblasts.

Russian state
During the period of the Soviet Union the Russian state, although it covered most of northern Eurasia, did not control an army and had the powers only of a local government. After the August 1991 coup Boris Yeltsin Russia declared sovereignty and gradually received most of the powers of the former Soviet Union, including most of the estimated 30,000 nuclear weapons.

Until 1917 it had been ruled by a more or less absolute monarchy. Only after the 1905 attempted revolution did the Tsar allow a limited amount of democracy and he tried to keep the elected institutions - State Duma and Zemstvo (County) Councils - weak and ignored them whenever possible. Some say that autocracy, or the willingness to accept dictatorship, is a part of the psychology and culture of Russians. This depressing idea is said to account for the fact that democracy has never succeeded so far. But perhaps it is just that the conditions have never been right. Modern communications may make democracy possible now.

The August 1991 coup is encouraging because it failed partly because modern communications cannot be controlled by the old kind of autocratic secret police. It also failed because enough of the people lost their traditional apathy and turned out to defend the Russian Parliament from the armed forces. (But Yeltsin got away with destroying Parliament in 1993).

Russia now has complete sovereignty and has received the Soviet Union's Security Council seat. If its economy can be reconstructed Russia may become again a Great Power, based on its oil and gas exports - 20% of the world's total. But if civil war breaks out it could become a major world problem, especially as it controls nuclear weapons and many, poorly shielded, nuclear power stations. Its chief problem on independence was the collapse of the economy.

The status of Siberia is a potential problem. It is a thinly populated area rich in resources not far from China whose population continues to increase. In the medium term Chinese immigration into the area seems likely. Climate change would make this much more likely. If this results in a war there could be a catastrophe as both powers have nuclear weapons. The economic collapse of the whole area may, in any case, increase the possibility of the break up of Russia into smaller units. As this might be accompanied by armed conflict the situation is dangerous.

Could Siberia break away in alliance with the money of Japan? The fate of the Chechens suggests they had better not. Until Putin came to power it was not clear that the government in Moskva was able to influence the Far East.

Russians in the CIS
There are many groups of ethnic Russians in other states of the former USSR. These include: Moldova (Trans Dnestria), Ukraine (Crimea), as well as settlers in Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Georgia, Kazakhstan and the other Central Asian republics. If the "liberals" in power lose out to the extreme nationalists there are fears that military force might be used to "protect" these, amounting to an attempted reconquest (on the analogy of the policy of the Serbs). The result might be a renewal of the Cold War. But reconquest is probably not possible so that endless guerrilla wars might result.

Will the newly independent states be forced towards closer association? This is quite possible as Russia is the only one with a serious army able to put down the various civil wars in Georgia, Azerbaijan and Tadjikistan. A military coup looked much less likely after the August 1991 failed coup in the USSR. But if the army is not demobilized in an orderly fashion there may be considerable dangers. In Germany of the 1920s and 1930s much of the trouble came from unemployed ex-soldiers who formed armed militias. At one time there was the danger the same might happen in Russia. This no longer seems a danger.

The Chechen war suggests military influence in the government.



Numerous minority languages including:

Tatar, Greek, Karelian (Finnish), German, various Turkic languages, Caucasian langs. (Ossetian etc.)







In 1990 the president of the Russian Parliament, Boris Yeltsin, resigned from the Communist Party. The Parliament had a number of non-communist deputies and had moved away from control by the Communist Party.

By March 1991 the Soviet government was apparently returning to dictatorship while the Russian government and its local governments, especially Moskva and Leningrad, appeared unable to exert power. A referendum voted that the people of Russia should elect its own president. Presidential Elections in June 1991 resulted in Boris Yeltsin being elected executive President, giving him a democratic legitimacy not possessed by Gorbachov (nor by the Parliament).

Some of the cities including the two largest - Moskva and Sankt Peterburg (Leningrad) - were soon controlled by non-communist city councils and mayors. But there were many signs that the administrations were not effective in providing food and services to the people. Opponents of democracy claimed that this showed that Russians could not operate a democratic system. The truth may be that they have had no experience and that the problems of the Soviet Union as a whole were so bad that no method of government could solve the problems quickly.

Some criticized Yeltsin as a potential dictator. It may be that like some other democratically elected leaders (such as Britain's Mrs. Thatcher) he had an authoritarian personality. The real test would have been whether he could be displaced by an election or other constitutional procedure should the people wish to remove him. He was accused of alcoholism. Yeltsin's real problem may have been that he did not have a parliamentary party to give him authority in the legislature. His associates founded "Russia's Choice" to be a support but it did badly in the elections.

By December 1991 large numbers of political parties had been formed, none of them with significant memberships and coherent programs. Some of them seem to have vehicles for criminal gangsters. In a situation of economic failure it may even be that people will long for a dictator and in such a situation a benign dictator might actually be preferred by people if he can bring about a functioning economic system.

There are Nazi-style groups, whose doctrine is hatred of Jews and non-Russians. Could they become important? No-one can tell but economic collapse assisted the rise of Adolf Hitler in Germany. Putin seems to be sponsoring a sinister youth group called Nashi.

President v. Congress
The 1991 Russian Congress of People's Deputies and the Supreme Soviet elected from it had been chosen while the Communist Party was still dominant. Many of the members were elected as Communists. These bodies had little authority or democratic respectability. But the Congress tried to gain power from the president.

In December 1992 the Congress of People's Deputies forced the resignation of the reforming Prime Minister Gaidar and appointed a "conservative" former communist, who was expected to slow down reform of the economic institutions.

In March 1993 Yeltsin attempted to suspend the constitution - declaring Presidential rule - pending a referendum on a new, post-Communist constitution.

A referendum in April 1993 purported to define the role of the President against the Congress. The result seemed to favor the President. President Yeltsin proposed to create a new constitution but it was not clear that he had the power to enforce it. Ominously, he seemed to be favoring a constitution which would give most of the power to the President and very little to the new assembly. This seems to be a recreation of the former autocratic tendencies of Tsarism and Communism. The present President Vladimir Putin has inherited these powers - and used them.

21 September 1993 Yeltsin declared the dissolution of the Parliament and called elections for December 1993 for a new assembly (Duma). But his act was contrary to the constitution and might be classifiable as an autogolpe. Parliament declared his Vice President Rutskoi to be the legitimate president. 4 October 1993 there appeared to have been an attempted coup by the Communists and Nationalists against Yeltsin. However, as he had the control of the army the plotters were attacked and arrested, leaving Yeltsin as the sole power, but indebted to the military.

Elections in December 1993 approved the constitution giving very large power to the President. But the pro-western reformers (marketizers) did badly. 25% of the votes for the assembly went to a quasi-fascist nationalist party with a policy of reconquering the Russian Empire (former Soviet Union plus Finland, Alaska and Poland). Its leader Vladimir Zhirinovsky threatened to run for president at the next elections. If he had won, the Cold War might have begun again with renewed need for military expenditure throughout the world. The powers of the president would then be in his hands and he could act almost as a dictator. The western powers did not criticize Yeltsin's powers as undemocratic but they might regret it now. In March 1995 the government seemed to be increasingly ineffective and undemocratic, pursuing an unpopular war in Chechnya.

Yeltsin was re-elected in July 1996. But he did not seem healthy and there were doubts about whether he was actually in control. The evidence of the Chechen war suggested that orders were being issued by others.

In September 1998 a financial and economic collapse resulted in the appointment of Yevgeny Primakov, former foreign minister, former head of the KGB, with some communist support. Yeltsin continued to change his prime minister at intervals and replaced him with Vladimir Putin. By the end of 1999 the main political activity was the war against the Chechens.

See this obituary of Boris Yeltsin for a useful summary of the Yeltsin years.

Yeltsin resigned suddenly at the end of 1999 and Vladimir Putin, a former KGB colonel became acting president. In March 2000 Putin was elected president. He was responsible for the war in Chechnya. At the time there was the question: "Is he the tool of oligarchs, or will he bring them under control?" No-one knew. At first it was not clear whether Putin is a democrat beset by problems or a would-be autocrat. By early 2002 it still wasn't clear, though he had arrested some of the oligarchs and was making some progress in getting businesses to pay their taxes.

By 2003 it seemed he was moving towards strong centralised control. If this was not quite a dictatorship neither could it be described as democracy. Does public opinion have any influence over the government? Could the people change the government? In neither case does it seem likely.

Not a democracy
Elections for the State Duma (Parliament) in December 2003 show how the President was able to manipulate the result. Many opposition candidates were simply prevented from standing by use of administrative measures (small print) or other methods. This suggests the methods used in such countries as Kenya and Zambia. Governors of provinces had been elected; Putin has ended that.

As revolutions against authoritarian regimes occur in the former Soviet Republics (Georgia, Ukraine, Kyrgyzstan already) there arises the question as to whether one day Putin himself may experience such a revolution. He clearly intends this not to happen.

Russia's political system seems to resemble to some extent that of Mexico until recently where there was a single term president who nominated his successor and acted like an elected king.

A government sponsored Youth Movement (Nashi) has some similarities to fascist organisations like the Hitler Youth and ruling party bully boys found in third world countries. Its members threaten anti-government dissidents.

It has been claimed that examining the careers of people prominent in business and government throughout Russia shows that most of them are former members of the KGB or its successor FSB. BBC reports

On 1 October 2007 he announced that he was going to stand for election to the Duma and hinted that he intended to become Prime Minister if his party United Russia were to win (no doubt at all of that).

Putin was obliged by the constitution to step down in 2008, but did not behave like a man preparing to do so. In December 2007 he stood for election as a member of the Duma of the United Russia party (the only serious party) - which to no-one's surprise won an overwhelming majority. While he is probably popular as a comforting "Tsar" or Stalin figure, opposition parties were prevented from standing and given no time on tv. It is presumed that Putin will become Prime Minister when he ceases to be president.

(But why not declare himself Regent and restore the Monarchy in theory - as Franco did in Spain?)

10 December 2007 - Putin announces that "he will back" Dmitri Medvedyev, the current head of Gazprom, for President. "If" he is elected, what will his relation be to Putin, perhaps as Prime Minister? Who would be boss? The very next day we had our answer: Medvedyev said he would be happy to appoint Putin as PM.

In the "election" Medvedyev was indeed elected. The handover was in May 2008.

In December 2009 Putin made strong hints that he would like to stand for president in the next election - though Medvedyev would be eligible to have a second term.

In December 2011 there are signs that Putin is less popular than he thinks and he has been booed in public. The BBC has shown evidence of election fraud in the voting for the Duma with ballot box stuffing. Perhaps if Putin is declared the winner in presidential elections in March 2012 there may be popular revolt of the kind seen in Arab countries.

He was declared the winner 5/3/12 but there were many reports of vote rigging. Probably he could have won honestly but didnŐt want to take the risk.

why Russia is a dictatorship?

Interesting reading

Edward Lucas - The New Cold War

The New Cold War: How the Kremlin Menaces Both Russia and the West

Der Kalte Krieg des Kreml. Wie das Putin-System Russland und den Westen bedroht

Shane O'Rourke - The Cossacks

How the Steppe nomads attacked the surrounding settled states
Yale Richmond - From Nyet to Da

From Nyet to Da: Understanding the New Russia

The New Nobility

The New Nobility: The Restoration of Russia's Security State and the Enduring Legacy of the KGB

Jacek Hugo-Bader - White Fever: a journey to the frozen heart of Siberia

Review of this book
Luke Harding - Mafia State

Mafia State

Observer review







Russia contains within its borders much of the former Soviet Union's heavy industry, coal and other mineral deposits (but not all; some was in Ukraine, Kazakhstan and the Caspian republics).

It was so long since the businesses were nationalized (1917-20) that they could not be handed back to their former owners, most of whom had been executed or died. The same is true of the farms. Many of them were in any case created by the Soviet State and never had previous owners. Shares were issued to every citizen in the form of Vouchers. However, there were very few people who had ever run a business under market conditions so that the whole knowledge of market business was absent. The politicians who advocated private business probably did not appreciate the difficulties and likely results. The vouchers have mostly been sold to speculators and their value remains very dubious.

The best businessmen within the Soviet Union were probably from Armenia and Georgia where illegal business had a stronger presence. But if people from these republics take over business in Russia they will be met with racist opposition - already seen in the street markets. Both these republics are independent and are involved in wars so are in no position to take over Russian industry.

In October 1991 President Yeltsin announced an intention to remove subsidies and institute a free price regime with general privatization. He was blocked by his opponents in Parliament. In November he decreed the takeover of the Soviet Central Bank and the right to issue the currency. This process had been announced and postponed many times. But currency issue was controlled by the parliament, which authorized the printing presses to roll without restraint.

Everyone was afraid of what would happen after prices were freed on 2 January 1992. A rise in production can only occur after a delay, and only if civil war does not break out. European Community aid was sent in the form of food in order to stabilize prices by increasing supply.

Still monopoly producers caused prices to rise so that the majority of the population were impoverished. Reporters observed that Mafia-type activity prevented any falls in prices: that is, a true market does not exist because criminals intimidate the sellers and take an illegal "tax" . Perhaps the criminal gangs are the only type of capitalism workable in the present conditions. But the mafia prevents people starting businesses because they extort so much in protection money.

The farms had still not been privatized and the 1992 harvest was as disorganized as in 1991. Western "advisers" are probably not helping by failing to understand the extent of the problems, and in any case seem more concerned with setting up western style financial markets than with reforming industry itself. It could be argued that the financial markets are a burden on western business, rather than the key to success. In Russia, where industry itself is weak, they might have proved the last straw. Actual production is estimated to decline by 20% each year. But as the previous production was often unsalable and worthless this may not matter. In the later years of Brezhnev most of the statistics seem to have been lies or fantasies, especially in the Cotton growing areas.

Perhaps the Market, as advised by followers of Milton Friedman, may also turn out to be inappropriate to Russian conditions. The situation continues to be difficult but some observers believe that useful production is increasing, while useless production falls. If true, people should see some benefit, especially if the military burden is lessened.

GNP was predicted to rise for the first time in 1996.

The recent situation has been classified as Gangster Capitalism by some observers. But this phase may be coming to an end.

The provision of "loans" from the IMF and European Development Banks are in question as the government spends money on the war in Chechnya. If the loans were refused would the whole system collapse?

The Putin regime seems to be tackling some of the problems. Possibly things are beginning to improve. By October 2002 commentators are saying that the government is successfully collecting taxes and the economy is showing signs of revival. However, the arrest of the head of the Yukos oil company in November 2003 suggested a desire to renationalise at least the oil industry. Is it the end of the 'gangster capitalism' phase of Russian economic history? Yukos was dismembered on the grounds that it had not paid its taxes. The largest part seems to have ended up in state ownership.

Putin's economic policy seems to be to renationalise the oil and gas industry which are Russia's main source of strength in the world. As Western Europe gets 25% of its gas from Russia this is a potential leverage on those governments. This is illustrated by the demand to Ukraine in December 2005 to increase the price of gas 4 times and a threat to cut it off suddenly. This has been interpreted as a punishment for electing a pro-western leader who was trying to take Ukraine out of the Russian world and into western Europe. The threat alone will make western European governments question the wisdom of allowing their gas supplies to be dominated by Russia. Gas could be a bigger threat to sovereignty than nuclear weapons ever were.

With Oil at nearly $100 a barrel the government was once again wealthy. The whole country is responding to this high price. Probably the non-oil economy is no better now than it was before. With the subsequent fall in oil prices the economy suffered and demonstrations against the government took place in many areas. (See democracy and the association of oil economies with lack of democracy.)







There are many ecological disasters within Russia, including nuclear dumps at Archangel, in the Urals and other places. The heavy industry has no pollution controls. Energy has been cheap and inefficiently used. The oil fields leak oil and poison the tundra of Siberia. Lake Baikal is being polluted. Only a successful economy could generate the money to deal with these problems. If it does not revive they will get worse.

There are numerous badly designed nuclear power stations with lack of containment vessels. There are large areas of radioactive contamination, including marine areas where reactors and wastes have been dumped. Length of human life is declining.

The Forests of the Taiga are threatened by clear cutting from international timber companies (often very wastefully).

HIV infection rate is said to be 1% (October 2009), mainly from drug injection.

Population is decreasing due to low birth rate and short life span, especially from alcoholism.






Human Rights

The last Soviet political prisoners were released only in February 1992. The long period of systematic abuse of rights during the Soviet regime cannot be changed overnight. There are reports that the abuse of psychiatric hospitals to punish dissidents remains.

There are few lawyers trained in democratic procedures. In the past all persons brought to court were assumed to be guilty. It is not easy to abandon this habit.

After Yeltsin suppressed the Russian Congress, he also suppressed opposition newspapers. The Putin regime continues to suppress non-government media by buying up newspapers and tv channels and placing them under the control of the main companies such as Gazprom and Rosneft. Human rights continue to be precarious and hard to assert. There are reports that police torture is again routine, and perhaps civil rights are returning to the Russian norm.

The trial of Khodorkovsky and the break up of Yukos Oil company shows that Putin has decided to renationalise Russian resources, at the cost of the rule of law. Assassinations of critics and opponents of Putin suggest extra-judicial methods being used. The poisoning by Polonium of a dissident living in London (with British citizenship) has raised (November 2006) the question of whether Putin is using state terrorism.

This article suggests that the author is liable to arrest in Russia for stating that in 1939 Soviet troops invaded eastern Poland and the Baltic states. Of course they did do these things (see Second World War).

"Under planned legislation, backed by Mr Medvedev, any Russian or foreigner who claims that the Soviet Union occupied Poland or the Baltic States could face up to five years in prison." Clearly academic freedom and freedom of the press do not exist in Russia.

Climate effects

Climate change is likely to benefit Russia in some respects - in the medium term. Some parts may gain a longer growing season. Rainfall may improve in some arid areas.

However, melting of the permafrost will damage all installations built on it, including important rail routes.

Russian government has allied with Saudi Arabia at climate conferences to deny human effects on climate. As its economy is dependent on sales of oil and gas Russia is opposed to any restrictions on the use of these.

Summer of 2010 saw catastrophic droughts in the main grain growing areas of Russia. In addition there were serious bush fires. This was simultaneous with the excessively wet monsoon in Pakistan and China.

Last revised 5/03/12


World Info


Return to the top

Since 19/04/11

eXTReMe Tracker