Freedom in the World

Freedom in the World 2017

Russia

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Freedom Status: 
Not Free
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Freedom in the World Scores

(0=Least Free, 100=Most Free)
(1=Most Free, 7=Least Free)

Quick Facts

Population: 
144,300,000
Capital: 
Moscow
GDP/capita: 
$9,093
Press Freedom Status: 
Not Free
Net Freedom Status: 
Not Free

Ratings Change:

Russia’s political rights rating declined from 6 to 7 due to the heavily flawed 2016 legislative elections, which further excluded opposition forces from the political process.

Overview: 

In Russia’s authoritarian government, power is concentrated in the hands of President Vladimir Putin. With loyalist security forces, a subservient judiciary, and a legislature dominated by his United Russia party, Putin is able to manipulate elections and inhibit formal opposition. The government also has strong control of the media environment, and has been able to retain domestic support despite an ongoing economic slump and strong international criticism. The country’s rampant corruption is one notable threat to state power, as it facilitates shifting links among bureaucrats and organized crime groups. 

Key Developments in 2016: 
  • Amid historically low turnout, elections in September produced a supermajority for the ruling United Russia party in the State Duma, the lower legislative house.
  • In July, Putin created the National Guard of Russia, a force devoted to maintaining public order; critics noted that the body is likely to be used to prevent unwanted public protests.
  • Space for independent voices in the media continued to diminish, particularly after a series of politically motivated personnel changes at the RBC media group.
  • The Levada Center, among many other organizations, was added to the list of “foreign agents” by the Justice Ministry during the year; the authorities continued requiring groups that receive foreign funding and engage in loosely defined political activities to adopt the label.
Executive Summary: 

Russia’s economic downturn continued in 2016, and the Kremlin worked to preempt potential domestic discontent through several means, including focusing public attention on foreign interventions. Authorities continued incorporating Crimea into the administration of the Russian Federation, maintained support for separatist militants in eastern Ukraine, and expanded military support for Bashar al-Assad’s regime in Syria.

Historically low turnout marked the Duma elections in September, in which United Russia captured 343 of 450 seats, solidifying its grip on the legislative branch of government. Voters also cast ballots in a number of regional races, which United Russia dominated. The restrictive political atmosphere—characterized by the state’s grip on the flow of information, limitations on activism, and hostility to opposition—undercut competition and freedom of choice. In October, the Levada Center, a local independent research organization, published the results of its post-election polling, noting that approximately a third of respondents believed the elections to have been unfair. Nevertheless, half of those polled expressed satisfaction with the electoral results. Following the elections, legislators approved the nomination of Vyacheslav Volodin, a close Putin ally and his former first deputy chief of staff, to the position of Duma speaker. The move, part of a broader reshuffle of the political elite, was perceived to bolster executive control over the legislature in preparation for presidential elections in 2018.

In September, the Federal Antimonopoly Service reported that the state controls 70 percent of the economy either directly or through state-owned enterprises. Throughout the year, the Kremlin utilized its vast resources to pressure opposition entities and critical voices. Authorities continued to restrict the activities of civil society groups, increasing pressure on independent groups—including the Levada Center—by declaring them “foreign agents.” The regime also intensified its grip on the country’s media environment, saturating the landscape with nationalist propaganda while suppressing remaining sources of independent information. The editorial leadership of RBC came under fire in May in connection to reporting on the president’s family and friends. Three editors at outlets owned by the media group were pushed out amid rumors of pressure from the Kremlin, and replaced in July by recruits from the state-owned TASS news agency; many RBC reporters resigned in protest.

Aggregate Score: 
20
Freedom Rating: 
6.5
Political Rights: 
7
Civil Liberties: 
6

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