Russia

Consolidated Authoritarian Regime
5
100
DEMOCRACY-PERCENTAGE Democracy Percentage 5.36 100
DEMOCRACY-SCORE Democracy Score 1.32 7
Last Year's Democracy Percentage & Status
7 100 Consolidated Authoritarian Regime
The ratings are based on a scale of 1 to 7, with 7 representing the highest level of democratic progress and 1 the lowest. The Democracy Score is an average of ratings for the categories tracked in a given year. The Democracy Percentage, introduced in 2020, is a translation of the Democracy Score to the 0-100 scale, where 0 equals least democratic and 100 equals most democratic.

header1 Score changes in 2022

  • Civil Society rating declined from 2.00 to 1.75 due to increased political pressure on NGOs, the academic community, and civic groups in general.
  • Independent Media rating declined from 1.50 to 1.25 due to the introduction of repressive legislation on media outlets to prevent the free flow of information, as well as increased harassment of journalists.

As a result, Russia’s Democracy Score declined from 1.39 to 1.32.

header2 Executive Summary

In 2021, the government of Russia moved ever closer to personalist authoritarian rule. President Vladimir Putin and his administration set the ground for the September elections to the State Duma in ways that would ensure desired outcomes. The Kremlin worked to hedge any potential risks stemming from opposition mobilization, international pressure, and growing public discontent. Russia was one of the countries hardest hit by the COVID-19 pandemic, especially in fall 2021 when the official mortality rate was 180 per 100,000, resulting in 259,107 deaths.1 The exponential growth of confirmed cases led to the introduction of non-working days and tighter restrictions at the regional level.2 Given the looming public health crisis and stagnating economy, Russian authorities made their bet on security services, repression, and coercion coupled with the rhetoric of “a besieged fortress” surrounded by enemies. To survive these hard times, the government initiated a series of legislative amendments and preventive repressions of the most prominent opponents of the regime—namely, activist and opposition leader Alexei Navalny, his nonprofit Anti-Corruption Foundation (FBK), and its regional network.3

The government failed to capitalize on “rallying” at the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic and development of the Sputnik V vaccine. Overall trust in political institutions remained low; meanwhile, Putin’s favorability rating continued to oscillate at 60–64 percent.4 The government engaged in “vaccine diplomacy,” which also contributed to the lower vaccine rollout. More than half of Russian citizens expressed unwillingness to get the vaccine due to unknown side effects, distrust in its effectiveness, poor healthcare infrastructure, or beliefs that COVID-19 is a hoax.5 6 At the same time, pandemic regulations were selectively deployed to marginalize opposition rallies that took place in January, February, and April, with arrests of the most prominent politicians involved.7 These restrictions are likely to remain in place even after the health emergency is finally resolved.

Russian authorities tightened their grip on independent actors and restricted freedom of assembly. State law-enforcement agencies and other authorities actively implemented amended legislation on “foreign agents” and “undesirable organizations” to exclude independent actors from politics, and the label of “foreign agent” can now be applied to nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) and individuals.8 Additionally, the criteria became more vague and thereby easier to implement in targeting specific individuals for posting or sharing online and/or obtaining assistance from abroad. Consequently, dozens of activists, journalists, and ordinary citizens were labeled as foreign agents, and the registry is continually being replenished with new names. The list of “undesirable organizations,” whose activities are banned on Russian territory, was appended with groups affiliated with exiled businessman Mikhail Khodorkovsky, once considered the wealthiest Russian.9 Lastly, FBK obtained the status of “extremist organization,” which effectively prevented hundreds of candidates from running in the September legislative elections. Despite crackdowns on the opposition, independent media, and NGOs, the Russian civic sector remained resistant. Socially oriented NGOs and volunteer and charity organizations benefited from citizen donations and managed during the year to support vulnerable groups and provide services.

The Kremlin has expanded its toolkit of electoral manipulations. The constitutional plebiscite held in July 2020 tested two technological innovations that were later implemented in the 2021 State Duma elections: electronic voting and three-day polling. The latter allowed the Central Election Commission and presidential administration to preempt unexpected outcomes, provide leeway to introduce necessary adjustments to the protocols, and render manipulations less visible to observers and citizens. In Moscow, the e-voting count differed drastically from the offline results and favored Kremlin-backed candidates. In 9 out of 15 single-member districts in Moscow, the outcomes were reversed following the addition of votes cast online.10 This led to a major scandal and outrage over the results, and overall distrust in elections has risen among Russian citizens.11

Independent media fell victim to the Kremlin’s desire to shut down uncontrolled flows of information that would potentially cast a shadow on its reputation. Investigative and data-driven journalism were intentionally targeted to prevent any unauthorized leaks about the financial assets of high-profile politicians and public employees. Restrictions on freedom of speech unfolded under the guise of protecting sovereignty from malicious foreign interventions. The image of “a besieged fortress” and fearmongering around concepts of “the West”—a trend since 2014—has been maintained by state-controlled media. “Foreign agent” status now prevents independent media outlets from sustaining themselves financially and imposes additional obligations to report to the authorities.

Local and regional governments remained highly dependent on the federal authorities in 2021 and are expected to maintain political control over given territories. Selective criminal prosecution of governors and mayors became a usual practice in solving intra-elite conflicts. During the pandemic, regions were delegated the task of handling the COVID crisis, thereby allowing federal authorities to avoid responsibility for imposing lockdowns and other unpopular measures.12

Looking ahead, any radical change in Russia’s trend towards autocratization seems highly unlikely. Alexei Navalny’s return provoked a new spiral of political repression and brought targeted sanctioning to a new level. However, reliance on coercion adds little to the regime’s political legitimacy and comes at a high cost, both in terms of reputation and governmental resources. Russia’s vaccination campaign, including compulsory workplace vaccinations,13 has contributed to the decline of political support, and those who intentionally avoid vaccination or who trust in conspiracy theories tend to demonstrate lower confidence in political institutions.14 The country’s growing inflation rate and decline of wages15 provide additional grounds for pessimistic economic expectations among the population. Overall, support for Putin’s regime is in decline and relies on a reluctant consensus and fear of uncertainty.

header3 At a Glance

In Russia, national governance represents a personalist authoritarian regime that increasingly relies on coercion. Elections fall short of international standards and are marred by fraud, workplace mobilization, systematic exclusion of the opposition, and other irregularities. The civic sector remains vibrant despite restrictive regulations and state pressure, but it lacks independent funding sources. During the year, independent media suffered from a major crackdown by state authorities, harassment of journalists, and censorship. The court system lacks autonomy from the executive and security services, and is often utilized as an instrument of political oppression. Corruption among the elites remains omnipresent; moreover, newly introduced legislation protects personal data of high-profile public employees, making oversight more complicated.

National Democratic Governance 1.00-7.00 pts0-7 pts
Considers the democratic character of the governmental system; and the independence, effectiveness, and accountability of the legislative and executive branches. 1.001 7.007
  • Russia remains a consolidated authoritarian regime that nevertheless holds regular elections on federal, regional, and local levels and maintains other democratically designed political institutions, if only nominally so. Political decision-making operates via formal institutions, such as the government and the State Duma, as well as through informal alignment of interests with the presidential administration and security services (primarily the Security Council1 ). Yet the extent of personalism looms larger, and political institutions remain weak and unstable. Political power is concentrated in the hands of the executive, while the legislative and the judicial authority are fully dependent upon the executive branch. The national economy is in a state of crippling recession and increasing inflation rates, while the state expands its protectionist measures and control over exports. Despite the state’s unwillingness to provide tangible support to the private sector during the pandemic, its grip on economic relations is still tight and takes the form of excessive regulation.
  • The COVID-19 emergency has taken a toll on public support for the national executive.2 3 According to the independent pollster Levada, overall support for the government is around 50 percent, while the presidential rating oscillates at 61–64 percent.4 The ongoing public health crisis and ambiguities around the vaccination campaign (especially mandatory vaccination in public-sector organizations) exacerbated overall distrust in political institutions. The federal government delegated the task of handling the pandemic to the regional level, while the presidential administration avoided associating the vaccination campaign with the president, declaring the topic “divisive.”5 The expert community alleged fraud in the official reporting of statistics on registered COVID cases and deaths.6 In November 2021, the government announced “non-working days” due to the exponential growth of COVID cases. Overall, COVID mortality rates have remained high, and the government’s vaccination media campaign has been inconsistent.
  • On January 17, the country’s top opposition figure, Alexei Navalny, returned from Germany to Moscow after recovering from a poisoning in August 2020 and was immediately arrested and sentenced to three and a half years in prison. Navalny’s confinement turned out to be a major blow for the opposition network. Prominent opposition leaders left the country, including Lyubov Sobol, Ivan Zhdanov, Vladimir Milov, and many others. Lilia Chanysheva, former head of the Navalny headquarters in Ufa, was arrested on extremism charges and is facing a 10-year prison sentence.7
  • The State Duma enjoys little autonomy from the executive. After the national legislative elections in September, the Kremlin-operated United Russia party, despite its declining support, succeeded in maintaining a constitutional majority, which allows the ruling regime to push through any legislation it deems necessary. Election outcomes neither improved political representation nor boosted accountability and transparency despite wins by the New People party, which joined the State Duma ranks in the fall. The new convocation hosts five parties: United Russia, LDPR, CPRF, Just Russia, and New People (the new incarnation of a state-controlled liberal party). The results of the State Duma elections raised the usual concerns over massive fraud, mobilization in the workplace, and, especially, abuse of electronic voting in seven Russian regions, which turned out to boost support for United Russia mostly at the expense of the Communist Party of the Russian Federation (CPRF).8
  • The security services—namely, the Security Council, Federal Security Service (FSB), and the Center for Combating Extremism9 —have acquired an unprecedented level of political influence in regulating the media, civil society, education, and foreign affairs. The rhetorical image of “a besieged fortress”10 is used by the government to impose additional public measures to protect Russia’s sovereignty and tighten its grip over the free flow of information, including wider use of the “foreign agent” label and negative reporting on the European Union (EU) and the United States, while at the same time limiting public oversight of the security services.11
Electoral Process 1.00-7.00 pts0-7 pts
Examines national executive and legislative elections, the electoral framework, the functioning of multiparty systems, and popular participation in the political process. 1.251 7.007
  • The main electoral event of the year was the national State Duma elections, which took place on September 17–19. In total, 450 mandates were distributed through a parallel electoral system wherein one half of seats are allocated via single-member districts and the other half via proportional representation with a 5-percent threshold. For the first time, three-day polling and a distance electronic vote (DEG) were used in the federal elections. The ruling United Russia party won the most seats, although its vote share declined since the previous elections in 2016.1
  • As in the past, the Russian regime sought to uphold its legitimacy by staging regular elections with a limited number of competitors and predefined outcomes. However, in the run-up to the elections, due in part to United Russia’s declining popularity, the presidential administration implemented additional regulations that prevented many independent and opposition candidates from running. These barriers included prohibitions on foreign citizenship or residence permit, an expanded list of criminal and administrative offenses, and engagement with extremist organizations. As a result, around 9 million Russians lost their constitutional right to run for elected office.2 This change primarily targeted the FBK-affiliated opposition candidates. However, the regulations can be utilized to effectively exclude any candidate.
  • Electoral integrity proved again to be extremely low. Electoral fraud, workplace mobilization, manipulations with absentee ballots, and at-home voting make up the traditional toolkit that was utilized to deliver desired electoral tallies.3 Electronic voting was introduced in seven regions—Moscow, Sevastopol, Nizhny Novgorod, Rostov, Murmansk, Kursk, Yaroslavl—and was used to facilitate rigging of protocols. For instance, e-voting strongly favored Kremlin-endorsed candidates in Moscow. In 9 out of 15 districts, offline voting for opposition candidates led the vote count before the e-voting results were released.4 Negative perceptions of elections have increased. According to survey results, 45 percent of Russians believed that elections were not free and fair in 2021, up from 31 percent during the 2016 State Duma elections.5
  • Alexei Navalny’s team continued to use the Smart Voting application to consolidate the opposition vote against United Russia through selecting the second-best candidate in each district who was not affiliated with “the party of power.” The strategy proved efficient in local elections in 2018 and 2019 and helped several opposition candidates get elected to local assemblies, while damaging electoral results for the pro-Kremlin candidates.6 The government attempted to prevent citizens’ use of the app and website via cyber-attacks, blocks, and threats.7
  • Disaggregated data on votes and turnout was published by the Central Election Commission (CEC) with significant delays.8 During the year, the CEC began to bar independent analysts from automatically gathering electoral statistics from the official website.
  • Media coverage was heavily biased towards United Russia and Kremlin-backed candidates. UR dominated federal channels and was one of the parties most frequently mentioned on-air. Media news reports revolved around the quality of elections and accessibility of the vote, while CPRF was regularly attacked on the federal channels.9
  • The Kremlin deployed tactics to split and demobilize the protest vote. The most prominent was the use of spoiler parties and candidates. New People Party, a new incarnation of a liberal party, was endorsed by state television and actively promoted among urban middle-class voters10 . Additionally, two “green” parties participated in the elections but failed to win any seats. CPRF faced a spoiler competitor, Communists of Russia, as well11 .
Civil Society 1.00-7.00 pts0-7 pts
Assesses the organizational capacity and financial sustainability of the civic sector; the legal and political environment in which it operates; the functioning of trade unions; interest group participation in the policy process; and the threat posed by antidemocratic extremist groups. 1.752 7.007
  • The independent civic sector in Russia faces immense pressures from the state. The government routinely seeks to manage citizen participation through state-controlled political parties, government organized nongovernmental organizations (GONGOs), and consultative organizations (like Civic Chamber). Financial sustainability has already been undermined by the ban on foreign funding and regulation of NGOs that engage with political activities. The government further strives to tame civil society organizations (CSOs) through its distribution of state and presidential grants and by creating GONGOs.
  • The existing restrictive legislation on foreign agents was amended on December 25, 2020, so that almost any Russian citizen may be labeled a “foreign agent.” In 2021, the Ministry of Justice began maintaining two such registries of foreign agents, one for NGOs registered in Russia and another for media outlets. The statute’s definition of “political activity” is vague and allows authorities to deem a broad array of activities as political, including posting and sharing online, election monitoring, and participation in protests. Assistance from abroad now also includes “organizational and methodological assistance” that potentially exposes any international contact to liability under the foreign agent law. Furthermore, failure to register as a foreign agent risks fines and criminal prosecution.1 Throughout 2021, a record number of 97 Russian CSOs and individuals were added to the “foreign agent” list2 , forcing these organizations and individuals to refocus their energies and resources away from professional activities. Since the Soviet era, the label of “foreign agent” has carried strong negative connotations and was widely used to shame “traitors of the motherland.”3 On August 18, Golos, the independent vote-monitoring organization, was designated a foreign agent.4 The foreign agent legislation was also used to shut down Memorial, Russia’s oldest human rights watchdog, which had investigated Soviet repressions against citizens.5
  • On June 9, the State Duma approved amendments to the Law on Undesirable Organizations. According to these changes, any foreign or international NGOs that provide services or transfer money to organizations with the status of an undesirable organization will be, by extension, also designated as “undesirable.”6 As a result, the list of undesirable organizations was significantly expanded, and any cooperation with “undesirable organizations” is subject to administrative and criminal penalties.
  • Despite this growing oppression, Russian civil society is still developing, especially in the area of charitable organizations. Donations have increased for such nonpolitical activities as helping ill children, orphans,7 homeless people, women’s shelters, foster care organizations, the elderly, animal shelters, and so forth. Charitable giving is increasingly widespread, especially among urban dwellers8 . Environmental activism has also grown within Russian regions.9
  • During 2021, civil society manifested itself in a series of protest activities. The return and subsequent arrest of opposition leader Alexei Navalny after narrowly surviving a poisoning resulted in massive rallies on January 23. Tens of thousands of protesters took to the streets in almost all Russian cities, from Moscow to Vladivostok, many of whom were brutally detained by riot police.10 After the violent suppression of protests, supporters of Navalny’s Anti-Corruption Foundation (FBK) turned to experimental forms of dissent, such as a flashlight protest on February 14 where people shone their cellphone flashlights from residential courtyards,11 and online protests where people tagged themselves on a city map. In April, the personal data of Navalny supporters were leaked and subsequently used by police and Russian authorities to apply pressure via phone calls, home visits,12 and workplace firings. At least 50 employees of the state-owned Moscow Metro lost their jobs due to the leaked data.13 Discontent with policies aimed at increasing vaccination rates fueled protests as well. The mandatory vaccination campaign also provoked an outcry. On June 28, the CPRF staged a rally against mandatory vaccination,14 which was broken up by riot police. Lastly, CPRF supporters mobilized against electoral fraud after the State Duma elections in September.25 15 For the first time, a massive prosecution was targeted at ordinary citizens, especially after the FBK website data leak.16
  • Academic freedoms were also put to the test during the year as the Law on Educational Activities came into force on July 1, despite a large public campaign to prevent its passage.17 Under this new law, all educational activities—from popular science lectures to international collaborations between universities—would be monitored by the government. Additionally, some topics have been deemed sensitive, and their treatment is closely monitored by government authorities; these include gender issues, LGBT+ rights, and discussion of the Second World War and Soviet repression. The NGO Memorial was shut down for failing to note its “foreign agent” designation on its publications.18 Pressure on the academic community also continued apace: Yaroslav Kuzminov, rector of the internationally recognized Higher School of Economics, was forced to step down19 ; and Sergei Zuev, rector of the Moscow School for Social and Economic Sciences (aka “Shaninka”), was put under criminal prosecution for alleged embezzlement of public funds.20
Independent Media 1.00-7.00 pts0-7 pts
Examines the current state of press freedom, including libel laws, harassment of journalists, and editorial independence; the operation of a financially viable and independent private press; and the functioning of the public media. 1.251 7.007
  • In 2021, the trend of using the legal framework against independent journalists worsened significantly, while pro-state TV and other media were carefully controlled and censored.1 The “foreign agent” law was applied to major opposition outlets, such as Meduza, TV Rain (Dozhd), OVD.info, Mediazona, RFE/RL, and Vazhnye istorii (Important Stories). This move impacted independent funding, which in turn hurt advertising revenues and journalist salaries. Outlets focused on data-driven journalism and investigations, such as The Insider newspaper and founder Roman Dobrokhotov, were intentionally targeted to prevent information leaks that would damage the reputation of Russian authorities and politicians. On April 7, Roskomnadzor, the Russian state media regulator, announced that it had drawn up 390 protocols against Radio Svoboda (RFE/RL in Russia) for the lack of “foreign agent” labeling on its publications, resulting in fines totaling 230 million RUR. Several journalists were forced to flee the country for fear of repressive acts.
  • Russian authorities cracked down on the student magazine DOXA and its staff.2 The same day, journalists from Proekt Media were designated as foreign agents. The list of individual foreign agents was amended to include journalists from RFE/RL, Open Media, and many others.3 On August 4, Roskomnadzor blocked the websites of organizations affiliated with exiled businessman Mikhail Khodorkovsky, reportedly the wealthiest Russian at one time, based on a request from the General Prosecutor’s Office that claimed these media were affiliated with Khodorkovsy’s Open Russia initiatives (labeled “undesirable” by the state).4
  • Independent journalists in Russia are harassed and prosecuted on criminal and administrative grounds. Ivan Safronov was sentenced to prison for alleged espionage.5 Brutal force was used against journalists Kristina Safonova (Meduza), Elizaveta Kirpanova (Novaya Gazeta), and Fedor Khudokormov (YouTube channel Real View).6 According to a survey of journalists in March–April 2021 by Levada, direct censorship is viewed as the main issue for Russian media (57 percent), in addition to pressure on journalists (46 percent) and reports of violence against journalists (16 percent). Many journalists express concerns that they may fall victim to arbitrary use of the “treason against the state” clause (Article 275) of the criminal code.7 Notably, Dmitry Muratov, editor-in-chief of Novaya Gazeta, received a Nobel Prize in 2021 as the most prominent defender of freedom of speech in Russia.8
  • Editorial independence is threatened by Roskomnadzor’s arbitrary use of censorship and blockchain governance. Russian authorities exerted pressure on international media giants Google and Apple, forcing them to remove the Smart Voting app that aimed to coordinate the protest vote. Both companies, each with more than 100 employees in Russia, complied in order to protect their staffs from danger.9 Roskomnadzor also slowed Twitter10 and pressured Telegram, a popular messenger service, to temporarily block Navalny’s bot on polling days.11
  • In terms of political polarization, the Russian public remains fragmented and contained in their respective media “echo chambers.” The more liberally minded audience relies more on the internet and social networks, whereas traditional media (TV and print press) are still popular among most Russian citizens12 : 73 percent get their information from television, 39 percent from the internet, and 39 percent from social networks.13 Yet overall trust in media is only 36 percent, according to Levada polls in October.14
Local Democratic Governance 1.00-7.00 pts0-7 pts
Considers the decentralization of power; the responsibilities, election, and capacity of local governmental bodies; and the transparency and accountability of local authorities. 1.502 7.007
  • Local governance in Russia lacks political and financial autonomy. The majority of Russian municipalities depend on regional and federal funds in the form of subsidies, grants, and subventions, and often cannot sustain even basic public services and provision of goods. There is a dramatic discrepancy between urban and rural areas in terms of budget capacity and infrastructural development. On December 21, President Putin signed the Law on the General Principles of Organizing Public Power that further expanded presidential control over regions and local governance. The law standardizes legal titles (“president,” for example, may not be used by governors), terms of tenure, and jurisdictions of regional and local authorities.1
  • Russian municipalities are poorly accountable to local communities since the number of directly elected mayors dramatically decreased with municipal reforms in the mid-2000s. In 2021, the number of large cities with elected mayors was under seven.2 Most municipal heads—53 percent in cities and 48.5 percent in rural areas—are selected by commissions formed by local legislatures.3 All local legislatures are dominated by representatives of United Russia, which facilitates political control over local executives. Nevertheless, local elections to legislative bodies are still competitive, allowing non-UR candidates to win a seat.
  • In September, 11 cities held elections to local councils. In all cases, United Russia obtained the most seats; however, the distribution of parties is more diverse than at the regional or federal levels. Political parties fail to reach out to local constituencies, so independent candidates are usually more successful. During the year, local elections took place in the shadow of the State Duma campaigns, and there was no specific local agenda. On March 28, Yakutsk, one of seven cities with mayoral elections, welcomed new mayor Evgeniy Grigoriev, former deputy to the popular mayor Sardana Avksentieva, who resigned at the beginning of the year.4
  • During COVID-19, there was no decentralization in terms of financial and infrastructural capacities. Municipalities largely operated as subordinates of the regional administration in handling the pandemic. Only the Moscow city administration demonstrated a certain degree of decision-making autonomy in 2021 and introduced new measures to prevent the spread of the virus, namely, QR codes to access indoor dining5 and an active vaccination campaign that featured a car lottery.6
  • Municipal governments barely managed to meet the basic needs of local communities during the year. The majority suffer from a constant budget shortfall and therefore cannot fulfill their obligations. Municipalities of the federal cities, primarily the capital Moscow, enjoy better financial opportunities that provide Muscovites with better services vis-à-vis the rest of the country.7
Judicial Framework and Independence 1.00-7.00 pts0-7 pts
Assesses constitutional and human rights protections, judicial independence, the status of ethnic minority rights, guarantees of equality before the law, treatment of suspects and prisoners, and compliance with judicial decisions. 1.251 7.007
  • Russia’s court system is plagued with long-standing issues, including heavy prosecutorial bias, low qualifications of judges, red tape, and interference from the executive in high-profile or politically charged cases.1 Judicial proceedings remain influenced by the vested interests of business groups, executive authorities, and security services.
  • The COVID-19 pandemic affected the overall efficiency of Russian courts. Whereas the number of cases in commercial courts in 2020 dropped compared to 2019, the number of individual bankruptcy cases increased by more than 50 percent. And there were significantly more cases of household indebtedness and credit liability.2 Yet, according to Vyacheslav Lebedev, Head of the Supreme Court, the judicial system has managed the increased workload and successfully incorporated online tools and workflow, and he promised to introduce amendments to facilitate online participation in court hearings.3
  • The pandemic provided additional grounds for Russian authorities to restrict human rights and introduce new restrictions, especially over privacy rights, freedom of assembly, and freedom of association.4 In 2020–21, the number of politically motivated prosecutions and raids of homes and offices increased. Charges of violating COVID rules at the mass rallies on January 23 were used to criminally prosecute FBK-affiliated activists, including lead figures Lyubov Sobol and Oleg Navalny (Alexei’s brother), who were sentenced to “restricted freedom” and hefty fines.5 Navalny associates, including former FBK head Ivan Zhdanov and former regional coordinator Leonid Volkov, fled Russia to avoid prosecution.6
  • Russia’s legal system is selectively used to put pressure on a large-scale and individual basis. The January 23 mass rallies in support of Alexei Navalny served as a turning point in unleashing the repressive use of legislation on extremism, foreign agents, and undesirable organizations (as well as individuals). For instance, local police officers were involved in checking potential supporters of Navalny and to force citizens whose personal data were leaked to lodge complaints against FBK.7
  • Police, the prison system, and other institutions of law enforcement were actively used to suppress political and civic activism during the year. Nearly 3,500 protesters were arrested at demonstrations in support of the jailed Kremlin critic Navalny. Police applied “harsh tactics”8 against protesters that resulted in a number of injuries, including Margarita Yudina, who was attacked by a Russian Guard officer and ended up in intensive care.9 Meanwhile, the Investigative Committee launched criminal inquiries in Moscow over the use of violence against law enforcement, hooliganism, and property damage.10
  • The Russian prison system is plagued with systematic abuse of human rights. On October 6, Gulagu.net activists published a 40 GB video archive of prisoner torture in Saratov Oblast, which led to a major scandal. As a result, the head of the regional penitentiary service and a few other officers were fired.11 According to data from Proekt Media, only nine regions over the past five years have shown no evidence of using torture, beatings, and ill-treatment, which implies that violence remains a routine practice in Russian prisons.12 The European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) is currently reviewing the case of Alexei Navalny, who was denied proper medical treatment, deprived of sleep, and assaulted by custodial supervisors during his imprisonment.
  • In 2021, ECtHR made a few high-profile rulings, including the request to immediately free Navalny on health safety grounds related to his severe poisoning on August 2020. Russia’s Ministry of Justice, however, claimed that “there are no legal grounds to free this person from custody”13 since, in July 2020, Russia passed a constitutional amendment that establishes the primacy of Russian law over international law. Another crucial case was the ECtHR ruling that Russia is responsible for committing the murder of Alexander Litvinenko, who was poisoned in London in 2016. Russia was accused of failing to carry out an effective domestic investigation in the case, while Russian authorities denied the accusations altogether.14
Corruption 1.00-7.00 pts0-7 pts
Looks at public perceptions of corruption, the business interests of top policymakers, laws on financial disclosure and conflict of interest, and the efficacy of anticorruption initiatives. 1.251 7.007
  • Russia is a country with widespread corruption in low-level, everyday interactions with public services as well as among political and business elites. Investigations in 2021 revealed high-profile cases of undeclared assets and properties, including the viral FBK investigation “A Palace for Putin: The Story of the Biggest Bribe,” which only a month after its release had been viewed by more than a quarter of the Russian population, according to the Levada Center.1
  • Russian authorities often resort to anticorruption policies to obtain more control over public employees and to protect themselves from leaks of politically sensitive information. President Putin signed a national plan to fight corruption for 2021–24, which has been revised every two years since 2008.2 This time, the president suggested that the government should revise the application procedure for public employees, and official declarations for income, expenses, and assets. The plan contains measures that would ban from employment those with charges of petty corruption, procedures that would regulate access to financial information of public employees, and proposals to review the meaning of “conflict of interest,” “close relatives,” and “close relations.” Overall, the document contains 16 areas for further improvement and clarification.3
  • In the fall, the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ) revealed that associates of Russian elites are “disproportionately represented” in the Pandora Papers scandal involving individuals who offshore financial assets. Among persons mentioned in the investigation are top-ranking CEOs (Transneft, Sberbank, Rostec) as well as President Putin’s friends and relatives.4
  • The number of corruption cases in Russia, according to the prosecutor general, increased by 11.8 percent in February 2021, with around half concerning petty corruption. The top-three regions for corruption are Moscow, Bashkortostan, and Krasnodar. According to official statistics, the main bribe-takers are police officers, teachers, and workers in the prison system.5 In March, the State Duma approved a draft law that would exempt public employees and security services from legal responsibility in cases of corruption due to reasons beyond their control. These would encompass natural disasters, pandemics, military actions, terrorist attacks, and restrictions imposed by the authorities.6 At the same time, obtaining any information on public employees’ personal assets and finances was constrained by presidential decree.7 These measures aim to prevent independent journalistic investigations and the exposure of grand corruption.
  • In 2021, criminal prosecution on the grounds of major corruption remained a tool of political and administrative control. On March 21, the governor of Penza Oblast, Ivan Belozertsev, was arrested on charges of soliciting a bribe of more than 31 million RUR from the pharmaceutical tycoon Boris Spiegel. Both were arrested, along with other members of the regional government.8 On October 4, the mayor of Vladivostok, Oleg Gumenyuk, was arrested for allegedly receiving an especially large bribe, more than 19 million RUR, from a municipal burial service.9

Author:

Margarita Zavadskaya, PhD in Social and Political Sciences, is researcher at the Aleksanteri Institute, University of Helsinki. She studies democratization and authoritarian states, political behavior, political attitudes, and protest with a focus on Russia and post-communist societies.

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