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Russian Politics

President

Boris Nikolaevich
Yeltsin
12 June 1991 31 December 1999 Independent
Vladimir Vladimirovich
Putin
31 December 1999 7 May 2008 Indepedendent
Dmitry Anatoliyevich
Medvedev
07 May 2008 04 March 2012 United Russia
Vladimir Vladimirovich
Putin
04 March 2012 xx xxx 2024 + United Russia

Prime Minister

Yegor Timurovich
Gaidar
15 June 1992 14 December 1992 Independent
Viktor Stepanovich
Chernomyrdin
14 December 1992 April 1995 Communist (RSFSR)
April 1995 23 March 1998 Our Home is Russia
Sergei Vladilenovich
Kiriyenko
23 March 1998 23 August 1998 Independent
Viktor Stepanovich
Chernomyrdin
23 August 1998 11 September 1998 Our Home is Russia
Yevgeny Maksimovich
Primakov
11 September 1998 12 May 1999 Independent
Sergei Vadimovich
Stepashin
12 May 1999 9 August 1999 Independent
Vladimir Vladimirovich
Putin
9 August 1999 7 May 2000 Independent
Mikhail Mikhailovich
Kasyanov
7 May 2000 24 February 2004 Independent
Viktor Borisovich
Khristenko
24 February 2004 5 March 2004 Independent
Mikhail Yefimovich
Fradkov
5 March 2004 14 September 2007 Independent
Viktor Alekseyevich
Zubkov
14 September 2007 8 May 2008 Independent
Vladimir Vladimirovich
Putin
8 May 2008 7 May 2012 United Russia
Dmitry Anatolyevich
Medvedev
8 May 2012 United Russia

In all public opinion polling, question wording and practical difficulties in conducting surveys can introduce error or bias into the findings of public opinion polls. In Russia, the sheer volume of propaganda in Russian media and the fact that 90% of Russians get their news from state television, ensure the selection of the "politically correct" answer to polling questions. When a Russian living in a dictatorship gets an anonymous phone call that claims to be a public opinion poll and is asked "Do you approve of Putin’s activities as President of Russia" - the average Russian watches what he or she says. The bias reinforces the impression of popular support for the government, and minimizes public discontent with the government's policies.

Russia has no efficient parliamentary system, no independent judicial system. Political parties are imitations. Corruption is out of control. Russia’s net capital flight hit $70 billion in 2011. And a brain drain may follow the money drain. Russia is like Alaska — residents are paid to live there. With Russia’s flat 13 percent income tax, the Kremlin gets the bulk of funding from 15 companies – mainly the oil and gas producers.

In the midst of a growing economy and the state's control over the political system, space for public criticism of the government is contracting. Echo of Moscow radio station, which is seen by many as an opposition media outlet and is known for its long-standing criticism of the Kremlin, is owned by Gazprom-Media, a company that has close ties to the Kremlin. However, as its Editor-in-Chief Alexei Venediktov argues, the radio station pursues an independent editorial policy.

While civil society and state-sponsored watchdog organizations are generally able to operate, monitor developments, and speak out, there are notable exceptions, and the government restricted some NGOs through selective application of laws, tax auditing, and regulations that increased the administrative burden.

Russia has especially tightened its internet crime legislation since the annexation of Crimea. In June 2014, President Vladimir Putin signed a law that allows prison sentences of up to five years for inciting extremism on the internet. Hate speech or violation of human dignity can lead to a fine of up to 300,000 rubles (4,200 euros/$4,800) or a prison sentence of up to four years. Moscow's SOVA Center for human rights reported that the number of such convictions had nearly doubled in the past two years. In 2013, almost 100 verdicts were handed down on internet comments. The number increased to 194 in 2015. Almost every fifth person convicted received a prison term; most defendants had to pay fines or do social work.

In December 2015, the blogger Vadim Tyumentsev from the Siberian city of Tomsk had to bear the full brunt of the law. He was sentenced to five years in prison. In his posts, he had accused local politicians of corruption and called for protests. The court classified his comments as extremist. Also, Tyumentsev comments on pro-Russian separatists and refugees in the Ukraine were seen as hate speech. Social media user Andrey Bubeyev must spend two years and three months in a labor camp. A court in the central Russian city of Tver convicted the 40-year-old engineer of "promoting extremism." Bubeyev had made the fatal error of sharing an article titled "Crimea Belongs to Ukraine" on VKontakte (VK), Russia's version of Facebook.

Among specific areas of concern, security forces were alleged to have engaged with impunity in torture, abuse, unlawful killings, abductions, and disappearances. Prison conditions were often harsh and frequently life threatening; law enforcement was often corrupt; and the executive branch allegedly exerted influence over judicial decisions in some high-profile cases. Media freedoms were weakened by government ownership and pressure, and unresolved killings of journalists and other violence promoted self-censorship among the media. Access to the internet is largely unfettered, but internet traffic is reportedly monitored by the government. Television, which remains the primary source of information for most Russians, is mostly controlled or strongly influenced by the state. Local governments tried to limit freedom of assembly, and police sometimes used violence to prevent groups from engaging in peaceful protest.

Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin was widely expected to return to the job for a third term after President Dmitry Medvedev in September 2011 agreed to step aside, in a job swap with Putin. The Putin-Medvedev job swap plan was unveiled 24 September 2011 at a congress of Russia’s ruling United Party. The congress immediately rubber stamped it. Alexei Kudrin, Russia’s finance minister for 11 years, was evidently so miffed about being passed over for the prime minister job, that he announced he would not work for the new government. In an unexpected display of force, President Medvedev told him on that he had until sundown to quit or stay on. By the end of the day, Kudrin, the pillar of Russian financial planning since 2000, was gone.

Vladimir Putin favored choreographed politics, like the nominating convention on November 27, 2011 of the ruling United Russia party, where he won 614 of 614 votes cast for the nomination to return to the presidency. Russia’s upper house of parliament formally set 04 March 2012 as the date for the country’s presidential election. Once Putin was elected president again, the 59-year-old could serve another two terms. Russia’s constitution was changed so the President can serve six years. Putin could remain in power until 2024, with four terms for a total of 20 years, making him the longest-serving leader since dictator Joseph Stalin, who ruled Russia for 30 years until he died in bed [Leonid Brezhnev ruled a mere 18 years].

Since the global economic crisis of late 2008, the economic situation has stabilized. However, another steep economic downturn could lead to future political instability. There were record protests at the end of 2011 and beginning of 2012 due to allegations of election fraud. In late 2011 and into 2012, there were several large-scale protests in Moscow against this perceived widespread election fraud. Similar protests in St. Petersburg tended to attract far less demonstrators and remained mostly peaceful compared to some of the initial confrontations between police and protestors in Moscow.

Tens of thousands protested the alleged vote fraud at rallies in Moscow, denouncing it as “the party of crooks and thieves.” Police and riot troops used clubs and physical force to detain and intimidate thousands of anti-Putin protesters gathered in two central locations in the Russian capital on 05 March 2012. Speaking to journalists on March 7, the prime minister and president-elect said the police had behaved "tactfully" and "very professionally. Nobody was beaten. No special [antiriot] equipment was used. They pushed [the protesters] back after they began to break the law." The police crackdown followed a season of relatively peaceful protests against disputed parliamentary elections in December 2011. Western monitors criticized the Russian vote as unfair, saying the campaign season was marked by a dramatic pro-Putin bias and that the vote offered no genuine competition.

Opposition leader Alexei Navalny was convicted 18 July 2013 of embezzling $500,000 worth of timber from a state-owned company, while working as an adviser to a provincial governor in 2009. The 37-year-old opposition leader, who had exposed alleged government corruption, said the charges were politically motivated and intended to silence him. In 2012 Navalny angered Putin by leading mass street demonstrations in Russia's capital. Navalny also helped organize mass protests starting in 2011 against alleged electoral fraud and Putin's return to the presidency. Under Russian law, he is no longer eligible to run for any office, including the 2018 presidential election, which he also planned to contest. European Union foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton said she was concerned about Navalny's conviction and sentence, saying the charges had not been substantiated during the trial.

In Russia, most political organizations pursue their goals peacefully and legally, and the government maintains firm control over society. There are various groups that hold regular rallies or demonstrations. These are typically peaceful, but some individuals have become violent. As standard practice, the government expends a great amount of resources to control such protests, through the deployment of numerous barricades and militia officers.

Putin has maintained that foreign countries, mainly the United States, have been encouraging and funding the mass protests he has faced since Russian parliamentary elections in December 2011, a charge Washington denies. As a result, the U.S. Agency for International Development was forced to close its offices in Russia after more than 20 years of working to create a civil society there. The Kremlin claimed the organization was trying to use its money to influence politics in the country. The United States said this is not true. In addition, non-governmental organizations that receive foreign funding and participate in political activities are now required to register as foreign agents, a term that dates back to Soviet times and is synonymous with espionage.

Russia is a television country. The majority of Russians get their information from television, which is totally state-controlled. So in that sense, the Russian population is brainwashed. There are a couple relatively free radio stations but their audience is relatively small. The Internet is relatively free, but the number of news consumers there is relatively small. So the majority believes what they see on TV, believes Putin is doing the right thing, and the majority of them are brainwashed.

The competition is suppressed, mass media are under severe censorship, the Duma, the Russian parliament, is assessed very negatively as a body totally dependent on Putin and the government and regarded not as a parliament but as an assembly of branch lobbyists, representing the interests of influential groups. Thus, by manipulating mass opinion Putin creates an imitation of mass support.

But by late 2014 there were already signs the Kremlin's patriotic euphoria and propaganda is beginning to wear thin, as economic problems make people assess situations and prospects more realistically.

In Moscow, tens of thousands of supporters held a memorial march on 01 March 2015 for Boris Nemtsov, the Russian opposition leader who was assassinated late 27 February 2015 while walking on a bridge in view of the Kremlin. Many blamed President Vladimir Putin for the killing, saying his policies have created an atmosphere of intolerance and hate in Russia.

Since Putin returned to the Kremlin in 2012, amid massive anti-government protests, Russia has enacted tighter controls on freedom of assembly, the press, foreign organizations, and groups that receive foreign funding.

A 2014 law allows Russian authorities to hand down criminal sentences of up to five years in prison after four unsanctioned demonstrations within a six-month period. Rights groups say the tightening of restrictions on voices critical of the Kremlin is a pattern reminiscent of Soviet times. “It seems that the government wants those people who are critical toward its policies and practices to voice their criticism solely within the confines of their kitchens, just like back in the Soviet times, said Tanya Lokshina, Russia program director for Human Rights Watch in Moscow.

Two-thirds of Russian citizens said that after 2018 they would like to see Vladimir Putin or his personally proposed successor as president after the elections. Less than 20 percent of Russians say that the nation should choose someone with a different approach. According to a poll conducted by the independent agency Levada Center in late November 2015, 57 percent of respondents would prefer to see Putin reelected as president in 2018. Eleven more percent said that the incumbent president should be replaced by someone he himself proposes as his successor. Eighteen percent said that they would prefer another person as president who would suggest a different political course, while 14 percent of responders said it was too difficult for them to answer the question at the moment.

The share of Russians who think that replacement of officials is a key condition for a successful political system dropped from 60 percent to 45 percent during 2015 and the share of those who think that political leaders must appoint their successors and pass their posts to them increased from 17 to 22 percent over the same period. A total of 19 percent of Russians (against 11 percent a year ago) answered that successful politicians can occupy their posts for an indefinite period of time – the longer the better.

New restrictions and harsher penalties are making it increasingly difficult and dangerous for individuals to voice personal views and for independent civil society groups to operate. On 07 December 2015, Russian authorities sentenced activist Ildar Dadin to three years in prison under a law that criminalizes repeated violations of rules on public protests. Dadin’s conviction sent a clear signal about the price of peaceful protest in today’s Russia, and opens a worrying new chapter on Russia’s restrictions on the freedoms of expression and peaceful assembly.

On 30 December 2015, a Russian court sentenced blogger Vadim Tyumenstev to five years in prison for his alleged “extremist” activity on the Internet, which consisted of urging persons to attend a protest against rising bus fares and criticizing the government’s intervention in Ukraine. The respected non-governmental organization Memorial called his jail sentence “outrageous.”

Memorial continues to be targeted by Russian authorities for its principled and outspoken advocacy in cases such as this one. On 03 February 2016, the organization’s affiliate in Ryazan became the sixth branch of Memorial to be listed as a so-called “foreign agent.” This label, which the Russian government uses to stigmatize and impede the work of groups that it believes are not in its interest, now applies to 120 organizations – including groups that protect orphans, preserve the environment, and, as in the case of Memorial, seek to preserve the historical memory of victims of political repression.

Semen Novoprudsky noted in April 2016 that "... the Yeltsin and Putin regimes are nevertheless very different. The Russian parliament was a place for discussion under Yeltsin. It could actually blackball a prime ministerial candidate endorsed by the president, or force him to nominate his clear political opponent to the post (the premiership of Yevgeny Primakov is a case in point). But this is unthinkable under Putin. Under Yeltsin, the power elite could even lose in the federal parliamentary elections, let alone the regional and local. Under Putin, especially in recent years, even if an opposition member wins in a given locality, a criminal case is immediately fabricated against them or else they are forced to join the fake ruling party, “United Russia”. "




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