Written by Martin Russell
Russia’s ‘managed democracy’
On paper at least, Russia is a multi-party democracy — three opposition parties are represented in the federal parliament, and dozens more were able to take part in last year’s regional elections. However, opposition to Putin remains weak and divided: none of the official opposition parties — such as the Communist Party, which advocates turning the clock back to the Soviet planned economy, or the extreme right-wing Liberal Democratic Party of Russia — represents a credible alternative to Putin’s United Russia. Biased political reporting in State-controlled media and politically motivated criminal charges against opponents such as blogger and activist Aleksei Navalny tip the balance still further in favour of Putin’s regime.
For more on Russian political parties, see our document on political parties in a ‘managed democracy’.
Russia and the ‘near abroad’
Ever since the break-up of the Soviet Union, Russia has seen the ‘near abroad’ — ex-Soviet republics in Eastern Europe and Central Asia —as its legitimate sphere of influence, and it has sought to maintain closer ties with those countries.
For example, the recently launched Eurasian Economic Union (EEU) is envisaged as a common market resembling the European Economic Community. The economic rationale for this is greatly diminished, now that Ukraine, the region’s second largest economy, has decided to develop closer ties with the EU instead. However, closer economic ties should help to consolidate Russian political influence in the region.
Russia also belongs to the Collective Security Treaty Organisation, a NATO-style military alliance, and to the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation through which it cooperates with China and four Central Asian countries, e.g. on energy and security matters.
For more on Russia and the Near Abroad, see our document on Regional organisations in the post-Soviet space.
Russia and the rest of the world
Despite tense relations with the West, Russia remains an influential player. It continues to play a prominent role in the UN thanks to its permanent seat on the UN Security Council. It also maintains close ties with fellow-members of the BRICS group of emerging economies. Finally, after years of receiving development aid in the 1990s, Russia has now become a donor itself. In 2013 Russia donated a relatively limited US$543 million, mostly to ex-Soviet states such as Kyrgyzstan and African countries where it has strategic or economic interests.
For more on Russia’s relations with the wider world, see our document on Russia as an international player.