Russia (or Russian Federation) is a transcontinental country existing in Europe and Asia. It is one of the permanent five members of the United Nations Security Council. Russia is generally regarded as the successor state to the Soviet Union, which was dissolved in 1991. With the fall of the U.S.S.R. the country stopped being a world superpower, and today Russia is either weak or not very important in many aspects, such as economical, political, and military power; compared to the former Soviet Union.
Some of the first inhabitants of Russia were nomadic people of the steppes, who migrated there thousands of years ago. The first powerful Russian state was Kievan Rus', which was founded by Vikings in the 9th century. By the 13th century, Kievan Rus' had been succeeded by the Grand Duchy of Moscow in Russia. In 1547, the Grand Duchy of Moscow formed the Tsardom of Russia, with Ivan IV as its first Tsar, or Emperor. By the late 1600s Russia was one of Europe's great powers.
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In 1721, the Tsardom of Russia became the Russian Empire under Peter the Great. In 1861, serfdom was abolished, but this did not end dissent in the empire. When Tsar Nicholas II took the reins in 1894, the Russian Empire was doomed.
At the beginning of World War I, the Russian army suffered massive defeats from the German Empire and in 1917 a communist revolution ended its participation in the war. The revolution led to the establishment of the Soviet Union, the first socialist state in the world.
After defeating Nazi Germany in World War II, the Soviet Union became one of the world's two superpowers, with the United States. The two nations then entered a period of proxy wars and threat of nuclear war dubbed the Cold War, which partly resulted from the invention of nuclear weapons.
In 1957 the Soviet Union launched the world's first artificial satellite, Sputnik 1, thus starting the Space Age. Russian cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin became the first human to orbit the Earth aboard Vostok 1 manned spacecraft on 12 April 1961.
During and after the Soviet disintegration, wide-ranging reforms including privatisation and market and trade liberalization were being undertaken, including the radical changes along the lines of "shock therapy" as recommended by the United States and International Monetary Fund. All this resulted in a major economy crisis, characterized by 50% decline of both GDP and industrial output between 1990-95.
The privatization largely shifted control of enterprises from state agencies to individuals with inside connections in the government system. Many of the newly rich businesspeople took billions in cash and assets outside of the country in an enormous capital flight. The depression of state and economy led to the collapse of social services; the birth rate plummeted while the death rate skyrocketed. Millions plunged into poverty, from 1.5% level of poverty in the late Soviet era, to 39–49% by mid-1993. The 1990s saw extreme corruption and lawlessness, rise of criminal gangs and violent crime.
According to the Constitution of Russia, the country is a federation and semi-presidential republic, wherein the President is the head of state and the Prime Minister is the head of government. The Russian Federation is fundamentally structured as a bourgeoisie democracy, with the federal government composed of three branches:
- Legislative: The bicameral Federal Assembly, made up of the State Duma and the Federation Council.
- Executive: The President of Russia.
- Judiciary: The Constitutional Court, Supreme Court, Supreme Court of Arbitration and lower federal courts.
The Communist Party of the Russian Federation is the second largest political party in Russia, and it is growing as a political movement. However, some characterize the dominating Zyuganov wing as nationalist or 'popular-patriotic' (which is often used by the party militants themselves), rather than orthodox Marxist-Leninist. Some observers consider only Richard Kosolapov's minority faction of the CPRF as ideologically communist per se.
The Russian Federation is recognized as successor state of the former Soviet Union. Russia continues to implement the international commitments of the USSR, and has assumed the USSR's permanent seat in the UN Security Council, membership in other international organisations, the rights and obligations under international treaties, and property and debts.
Russia usually takes a leading role in regional organisations such as the CIS, EurAsEC, CSTO, and the SCO. Since the dissolution of the Soviet Union, Russia has developed a friendlier, albeit volatile relationship with NATO.
Russia maintains strong and positive relations with other BRIC countries.
The Russian military is divided into the Ground Forces, Navy, and Air Force. In 2006, the military had 1.037 million personnel on active duty.
Russia has the largest stockpile of nuclear weapons in the world. It has the second largest fleet of ballistic missile submarines and is the only country apart from the U.S. with a modern strategic bomber force. Russia's tank force is the largest in the world, its surface navy and air force are among the largest ones.
Russia is the largest country in the world at 17,075,400 square kilometers (6,592,800 square miles).
Also, extending for 57,792 kilometers, the Russian border is the world's longest. Russia shares borders with Norway, Finland, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania and Poland (both via Kaliningrad Oblast), Belarus, Ukraine, Georgia, Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan, the People's Republic of China, Mongolia, and North Korea.
From north to south the East European Plain is clad sequentially in tundra, coniferous forest, mixed and broad-leaf forests, grassland (steppe), and semi-desert (fringing the Caspian Sea) as the changes in vegetation reflect the changes in climate. Siberia supports a similar sequence but is taiga.
Russia is a water-rich country. The most prominent of Russia's bodies of fresh water is Lake Baikal, the world's deepest and most capacious freshwater lake. Lake Baikal alone holds 85% of the freshwater resources of the lakes in Russia and 20% of the world's total. Numerous smaller lakes dot the northern regions of the European and Siberian plains.
Since the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, Russia has tried to develop a market economy and achieve consistent economic growth. In October 1991, Yeltsin announced that Russia would proceed with radical, market-oriented reform along the lines of "shock therapy", as recommended by the United States and IMF. However, this policy resulted in economic collapse, with millions being plunged into poverty and corruption and crime spreading rapidly. Hyperinflation resulted from the removal of Soviet price controls and again following the 1998 Russian financial crisis. When once all enterprises belonged to the state and were supposed to be equally owned amongst all citizens, they fell into the hands of a few, who became immensely rich. Stocks of the state-owned enterprises were issued, and these new publicly traded companies were quickly handed to the members of Nomenklatura or known criminal bosses. For example, the director of a factory during the Soviet regime would often become the owner of the same enterprise. During the same period, violent criminal groups often took over state enterprises, clearing the way by assassinations or extortion. Corruption of government officials became an everyday rule of life. Under the government's cover, outrageous financial manipulations were performed that enriched the narrow group of individuals at key positions of the business and government mafia.
The largest state enterprises were controversially privatized by President Boris Yeltsin to insiders for far less than they were worth. Many Russians consider these infamous "oligarchs" to be thieves. Through their immense wealth, the oligarchs wielded significant political influence.
As of 2009 real GDP increased by the highest percentage since the fall of the Soviet Union at 8.1%, the ruble remains stable, inflation has been moderate, and investment began to increase again. The FY 2002 Russian Government budget assumes payment of roughly $14 billion in official debt service payments falling due. Large current account surpluses have brought a rapid appreciation of the ruble over the past several years. This has meant that Russia has given back much of the terms-of-trade advantage that it gained when the ruble fell by 60% during the debt crisis. Oil and gas dominate Russian exports, so Russia remains highly dependent upon the price of energy. Loan and deposit rates at or below the inflation rate inhibit the growth of the banking system and make the allocation of capital and risk much less efficient than it would be otherwise.
In 2003, the debt has risen to $19 billion due to higher Ministry of Finance and Eurobond payments. However, $1 billion of this has been prepaid, and some of the private sector debt may already have been repurchased. Russia continues to explore debt swap/exchange opportunities.
The Russian economy is still commodity-driven despite its growth. Payments from the fuel and energy sector in the form of customs duties and taxes accounted for nearly half of the federal budget's revenues. The large majority of Russia's exports are made up by raw materials and fertilizers, although exports as a whole accounted for only 8.7% of the GDP in 2007, compared to 20% in 2000.
There is also a growing gap between rich and poor in Russia. Between 2000–2007 the incomes of the rich grew from approximately 14 times to 17 times larger than the incomes of the poor. Moscow now boasts the highest billionaire population, ahead of New York City. This is a clear sign of economic inequality. In adddition, a shrinking and aging population, corruption, and deficient infrastructure pose as serious challenges for the Russian economy.
Corruption centered on Putin and his business associates is endemic in Russia. Knowledge of corruption is widespread and a source of political discontent; according to Sergei Kolesnikov, a prominent whistleblower, “Today, it’s impossible to hide anything. It’s getting harder and harder for politicians to lie,"
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