Russia | Freedom House

Nations in Transit



Nations in Transit 2003

2003 Scores

Democracy Score
(1 = best, 7 = worst)


Electoral Process
(1 = best, 7 = worst)


Civil Society
(1 = best, 7 = worst)


Independent Media
(1 = best, 7 = worst)


Judicial Framework and Independence
(1 = best, 7 = worst)


(1 = best, 7 = worst)


(1 = best, 7 = worst)


As the Russian Federation embarks upon its second decade of post-Soviet independence, there is widespread concern in the West about the country's lack of commitment to democratic consolidation. Although Russia is an electoral democracy in which the citizenry possesses formal political rights, such as the right to vote and to compete in elections, real power is found not in the competing branches of government or the interplay of political parties but in the proximity of groups to the executive. Civil liberties are even less secure. According to the official U.S. view, as expressed in the Russian Democracy Act of 2002, "The capability of Russian democratic forces and the civil society to organize and defend democratic gains without international support is uncertain." Overall, the country still lags behind its Central and Eastern European neighbors in terms of democratization, economic liberalization, and establishment of the rule of law.

President Vladimir Putin shares former president Boris Yeltsin's predilection for balancing factions of the political and economic elite by playing them off each other. As a result, political parties remain the Achilles' heel of Russia's democratization efforts. Rather than vibrant groupings that unite individuals around common beliefs and platforms, parties are poorly developed, leader-centric affairs. Although elections take place at regular intervals and widespread fraud is not the norm, elite manipulation and irregularities abound, especially in the provinces. According to polling data by the WPS Monitoring Agency, only 14 percent of Russians think that Russia is a democratic state. Fifty-four percent say the country is not a democracy, and 60 percent believe that their votes will not change anything.

Putin remains atop the Russian power structure even though his administration has failed to solve any of the country's economic and social problems, the pervasiveness of crime and corruption in particular. Instead, Putin has established as hallmarks of his presidency his unrelenting position visavis Chechnya, a consistent erosion of press freedoms, and a reluctance (or inability) to embrace a reform process capable of challenging the strangle-hold of the oligarchs over the Russian economy. Hence, coming to grips with the so-called Putin factor is crucial for understanding the nature and dynamics of the Russian political system. In a recent portrait of the enigmatic leader, Russia expert Dale Herspring captured the essence of Putin by describing him as a patriot devoted to re-creating the Russian state and a nonideological bureaucrat interested primarily in incremental problem solving, though still flexible enough to seize opportunities.

Although the U.S. Commerce Department announced its recognition of Russia as a market economy in June 2002, the move was less a reflection of Russia's development of internationally accepted principles of transparency, accountability, and the rule of law and more a statement of America's political support. Despite the declaration, important U.S. economic players remain unwilling to invest their funds in the Russian economy. Corruption is rife in all phases of life, and Western concepts of "conflict of interest" have yet to take root. Politicians often combine executive power with a direct or indirect interest in businesses affected by that power. Governors and regional oligarchs continue to abuse the electoral process. Adding to Russia's economic woes is the government's failure to undertake crucial reforms in the country's energy sector. The same is true of the moribund banking sector, which continues to function mainly as a conduit for channeling public money into favored firms. Many experts feel that if the banking sector is not seriously overhauled, most Russian banks will not survive if the country enters the World Trade Organization (WTO).

The Wall Street Journal and the Washington-based Heritage Foundation rate Russia as having one of the world's least free economies, ranking it 135th out of 156 countries in their 2003 Index of World Economic Freedom. Nevertheless, with few signs of economic prosperity outside of Moscow, President Putin's popularity rating remains high. Although the Russian public distinguishes sharply between the era of President Boris Yeltsin and the post-Yeltsin era, the evolving rules of the political game today contain the same system-threatening confrontations characteristic under Yeltsin.

The increased political role being played by former KGB officers in government is a potential threat to democracy, and the erosion of the rights of individuals, particularly their ability to critique government actions, is troublesome. For example, following the bloody resolution of the October 2002 Chechen hostage siege in Moscow, which led to the deaths of more than 120 people, the Russian Parliament passed amendments to the Law on the Mass Media that many analysts felt would endanger the meager level of press freedom that now exists. Although President Putin vetoed the legislation, the speed with which authorities sought to limit media freedom serves as a sober reminder of the chasm that remains between Western conceptions of free speech and other rights and what is practiced in contemporary Russia.

Ultimately, it is puzzling that in a country in which the media has been severely constrained and human rights abuses are widespread, the former spy chief leading the country has yet to suffer politically. For many Russians, Putin's strong-handed pragmatism remains a stabilizing political force that is preferable to the political turbulence characteristic of the Gorbachev and Yeltsin eras. The previously fractious legislature and the underdeveloped judiciary exert little control over the executive, and the country's substantial Communist and liberal opposition groupings have yet to figure out how to successfully transform the social and economic deprivation of the post-Communist era into political capital. Some argue that Putin-style stability comes at the expense of true political competition and use the term monopolized democracy to describe Russia today.

Consequently, Yeltsin's handpicked successor remains a popular ruler despite a sputtering economy characterized by corruption, elite oligarchic domination, social crises that cross generational lines, and a bloody drawn-out war in Chechnya that increasingly impacts the lives of average citizens. Indeed, as of October 2002, 77 percent of Russians approved of Putin as national leader and only 19 percent did not. The president's popularity is as much attributable to the lack of viable alternatives as it is to his performance, and the sober assessment of a May 2002 article in Rossiiskaya Gazeta seems to explain the contradiction best: "People do not see any other figures in whom they can place their hopes for a better life." In fact, 48 percent of Russians polled in November 2002 by the All-Russian Public Opinion Research Center approved of extending the presidential term from four to seven years; 41 percent were against. Although under existing legislation Putin is limited to two terms in office, about 46 percent of those polled felt that the president should have the right to run for three or four terms in a row.

Electoral Process: 

A lingering result of the 1993 Yeltsin Constitution, the political landscape of the Russian Federation is still dominated by the executive. Opposition forces continue to abide by this set of rules, at least as much as the government does, and this seems to explain the continued stability of the Russian political process. However, stability does not necessarily denote democratic consolidation, and this was evident in two high-profile electoral fiascos in 2002 in Nizhny Novgorod and the Siberian region of Krasnoyarsk.

The gubernatorial election in Krasnoyarsk devolved into a battle among the three main "court" groups--the Yeltsin-era "family," the "old St. Petersburgers," and the "new St. Petersburgers"--each with its own candidate. Simultaneously, a battle raged between Interros and Rusal, two large oligarch-based financial-industrial groups. Sympathizers of all sides employed ballot-stuffing and ballot-spoiling techniques, as well as direct falsification during vote counting, such that declaring a clear winner was all but impossible. In the end, President Putin resolved the situation by appointing one candidate as acting governor, though the precise legal grounds upon which this took place were questionable. Similarly, in Nizhny Novgorod, Russia's third largest city, close voting in mayoral elections devolved into chaos when candidates accused each other of vote fraud and turned to local courts and the election commission to halt the count and annul the results, respectively. There were also claims that candidates deliberately spoiled ballot papers and paid bribes for votes.

According to the International Election Observation Mission, sponsored by the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), a lack of discipline and ethics among the participants, exacerbated by the Russian civil code's failure to provide sufficient and timely penalties, allows electoral offenses to continue in campaigns. And 2002 was certainly a year in which dirty electoral tricks proliferated, leading to serious talk of reform of the election laws. Numerous articles in the press alleged that the election scandals in Krasnoyarsk and Nizhny Novgorod represented the latest attempts to discredit the election process. A 2002 study sponsored by the Russian Academy of Sciences found that two-thirds of Russians regard their electoral system as window dressing.

In a number of important votes in the regions, gross improprieties pre-dominated, including smear campaigns, legal challenges against candidates, and the use of so-called dirty resources. The term dirty resources refers to the ability of individuals to manipulate the public administrative process in their favor. In elections, for example, this can mean obstructing the registration of potential rivals. Although the Supreme Court overturned the registration of "doubles" (candidates of the same name) in a gubernatorial race in late August, the practice was revived in time for the December 2002 legislative elections in St. Petersburg, in which nine pairs of candidates with identical names were registered.

Recent changes in election laws do carry the promise of improving the situation. Under the new laws, only courts will be able to disqualify candidates for campaign violations and, in any case, no later than five days before the election. There will also be a finite number of reasons for which a candidate can be excluded. Nevertheless, it is not surprising that barely a decade after the fall of communism, voter turnout has plunged. Of those who do vote, many select the "against all candidates" option when they fill out their ballot papers.

The dubious electoral campaigns in 2002 highlighted another fundamental problem of the post-Communist era in Russia: the power of political clans and oligarchs. Having spent the past decade appropriating and dividing up Russia's wealth, especially its abundant minerals and fossil fuels, the oligarchs represent a powerful political and economic force. Although they typically have closed ranks during elections, the regional votes in 2002 indicated that the oligarchs have split into two predominant groups. One group is led by Vladimir Potanin, chairman of Interros and the controlling investor in two reputable national newspapers, Izvestiya and Komsomolskaya Pravda. The other is led by Oleg Deripaska, the head of Russian Aluminum, and Roman Abramovich, governor of Chukotka and the former head of Sibneft. These two groups have already clashed, and new conflicts could have unexpected consequences for the 2003 elections to the Duma, the lower house of Parliament. For example, government critics allege the existence of a multimillion-dollar Kremlin "slush fund" to finance favored candidates in state Duma and local elections. The fund is presumably furnished by oligarchs, who reap greater benefits from the administration in return.

The subordination in 2001 of Vladimir Gusinsky and Boris Berezovsky, the country's two most prominent oligarchs, was viewed as the initial phase of the presidential administration's uphill battle to rein in the power magnates. In response, the oligarchs changed their strategy and opted for lower profiles. For example, Abramovich became governor of the autonomous okrug (district) of Chukotka and crafted a public image of hardworking practicality. This stands in sharp contrast with the prevailing image of oligarchs as corrupt individuals who make billions by stealing and laundering state resources and foreign loans. It remains to be seen, though, whether the oligarchs can actually be reformed.

The Russian political scene is dysfunctional at many levels. Characterized by a strong imbalance of power that favors the executive, Russia has become a kind of monarchy in which the president stands above politics and is not accountable for his decisions. Of course, authoritarianism, benevolent or otherwise, is always problematic, and the long-term implications for Russian democracy of the current superpresidentialism are disconcerting. In particular, while the decision of post-Soviet Russian presidents to refrain from party membership provides them room to maneuver and manipulate, it does so at the expense of democratic consolidation and political stability. It was not surprising that Boris Yeltsin, Putin's wily and unpredictable predecessor, avoided party membership. But Putin's political machinations once suggested that he was prepared to create his own presidential party. In 2001, he went so far as to orchestrate the merger of the second and third largest vote getters into a single pro-Kremlin party. Since then, though, Putin has avoided direct association with the new party, asserting that "it still has to earn the right to be called a party of power."

Article 3 of the Constitution provides for free elections, and Article 13 guarantees a multiparty system. Election rules differ among regions and are subject to revision. At the end of 2002, legislation pending before the Duma sought to amend the Law on Presidential Elections. If approved, the law would retain the existing two-round system, under which a second-round runoff is held if no candidate garners 50 percent of the first-round vote. In addition, political parties receiving 5 percent of the vote in federal legislative elections could nominate presidential candidates without gathering the necessary two million signatures. The maximum candidates may spend on their campaign would rise from 30 million rubles to 150 million rubles (US$5 million).

In national legislative elections, voters make two selections each--one for a candidate in their local electoral district (there are 225 of these mandates) and one for a political party or alliance (another 225 seats divided among parties and alliances reaching 5 percent of the vote). Of the 26 parties listed on the last ballot in December 1999, 6 passed the electoral threshold, garnering a total of 81.37 percent of the party list vote (the corresponding figures for 1995 were 4 parties and 50.49 percent).

Although voter participation in the last presidential and parliamentary elections topped 60 percent, membership in political parties remains low. Large parties, including the Communist Party of the Russian Federation (CPRF), Yabloko, and the Liberal Democratic Party (LDPR), function at the national and subnational levels. The CPRF is the largest, claiming hundreds of thousands of members. Other parties range from a few hundred members to several thousand. Personalities play a major role, and many parties are formed around a single individual or group of individuals.

Russia's 89 regions hold two seats each in the Federation Council, the upper house of Parliament. Regional legislatures name one member, and regional executive branches appoint the other. Critics argue that the appointment of Federation Council members restricts citizen input in national politics. Believing that only two-thirds of the deputies in the upper house carry out their functions in earnest, Federation Council head Sergei Mironov plans to introduce a bill on direct, popular elections to the body. On a positive note, the Federation Council has opened an office in Moscow where members of the general public can meet with their deputies, file complaints, and offer suggestions.

An enduring problem in Russia is that women have a limited role in the political process, particularly at the national level. Women account for 10-12 percent of membership in political parties, and only 34 women (7.7 percent) were elected to the Duma in 1999. This was down from 11 percent in 1995. Although President Putin has lamented the low numbers of women in public life, women occupy only 10 percent of all positions in his administration. Novosibirsk governor Viktor Tolokonskii has proposed preparing legislation that would create a quota system for female legislators at the oblast level in party list voting. The Rostov-based women's group Soglasie has called for a gender quota of 70 percent on party lists for regional and national elections. Group activists claim that about 53 percent of the Russian electorate is female.

For much of the past decade, the Kremlin has discouraged the development of political parties and associations, hoping to create a legislative system based on a few large, permanent, and loyal parties. Although today Russia has nearly 200 parties of every imaginable type, few are expected to survive a stringent process of reregistration that the Duma approved in 2001 with Kremlin backing. To register under the new law, a party must have more than 10,000 members, branches in at least 50 percent of federation units, and a minimum of 100 members in each branch. If a group does not meet these criteria, it can be abolished by a decision of the Supreme Court. The law also mandates state financing of parties that receive more than 3 percent of the vote in the preceding election, limits private contributions to political parties to 3,000 rubles (US$100) a year per individual, and bans contributions by foreigners and international organizations.

National political parties do not figure prominently in the political institutions of Russia's provinces. Provincial politicians either shun party labels or easily exchange and discard them. More than three-fourths of winning candidates in regional legislatures are not even affiliated with national parties, despite recent efforts by national parties to forge regional groupings. The fact that few regional and local legislatures have adopted electoral systems based on proportional representation inhibits provincial party development.

To participate in elections, political parties, political organizations, and political movements must register with the government. Article 13 of the Constitution prohibits activity by parties that advocate the violent overthrow of the state, support the dismantling of the Russian Federation, carry arms, or incite social, racial, national, or religious strife. On these grounds, the Justice Ministry has refused to register parties and movements whose activities allegedly violate the Russian Constitution. Ministry officials say that the law forbids them from registering any political party that is religious in nature. It is not clear where this leaves the Islamic Party of Russia, which transformed itself from a political organization into a national party at its third party congress in Moscow on April 27, 2002. The party has 63 regional branches and claims a membership of 1.5 million people. In mid-2002, the Russian Christian-Democratic Party (RKhDP) embarked on its own challenge to the ban on religious parties when the Justice Ministry refused to register it. RKhDP leaders do not consider the party religious and have vowed to take their case to the Constitutional Court. Central Electoral Commission chairman Aleksandr Veshnyakov anticipates that about 30 parties will compete for seats in the December 2003 state Duma elections; only 18 parties had registered their regional branches as of mid-December 2002.

In a further effort to reduce the number of parties, the Duma voted in 2002 on amendments to the Law on Elections that would raise from 5 to 7 percent the minimum amount of votes necessary for parties to gain party list seats in Duma elections. If the bill passes in its final reading, the new threshold would take effect during the 2007 parliamentary elections (unless the next Duma is dissolved early). These changes were pushed by the new pro-Kremlin Unified Russia Party.

In February 2002, Moscow mayor Yurii Luzhkov's Fatherland Party, the All-Russia movement, and the Unity Party all held party congresses at which delegates agreed to dissolve their respective political organizations and form Unified Russia--presumably a newer, more improved "party of power." Interior Minister Boris Gryzlov was named head of the new party's Higher Council, but the Law on Political Parties forbids top state officials from working in the executive bodies of political organizations. This new centrist, pro-Kremlin alliance controls approximately 240 of the Duma's 450 seats, presumably allowing Putin to dominate Parliament and push through many of the government's bills. However, Unified Russia got off to a rocky start with a disastrous advertising campaign that cost hundreds of thousands of dollars and alienated state employees.

The summer stumblings of Unified Russia might explain the rapid registration in September of the Party of Life. Led by the head of the Federation Council, it appears to exist primarily as a party in waiting in case Unified Russia falters. Also on the center-right horizon is the People's Party, which is striving to get closer to the ruling circle. Further to the right is Alexander Dugin's Eurasia movement, which officially has transformed itself into a political party. Supportive of the president, Eurasia's objective is "the establishment in Russia of a political system based on Eurasian ideology" and the creation of a new state structure modeled after the Commonwealth of Independent States.

Opposition to President Putin and Unified Russia is fragmented. Although the leaders of Russia's liberal political parties and groups met at the fourth All-Russia Democratic Conference in Moscow in October 2002, the prospect of uniting the country's democratic forces into a serious electoral force remains elusory. The leaders of the Union of Right Forces (SPS) and Yabloko, the two parties that spearheaded the conference, have appeared more interested in using a potential alliance to woo each other's voters than to coalesce around a common political agenda. Nevertheless, one positive sign was that the two parties agreed to support a single list of candidates in the December 2002 elections to the St. Petersburg legislature.

A number of new parties with potential electoral impact appeared in 2002, several of which split off from established parties. The Union of People for Education and Science (SLON) is led by two former high-profile members of Yabloko and already has 50 regional groups. Disregard for the intellectual potential of Russia is the main grievance that SLON has against the present regime. SLON plans to maintain close relations with Yabloko. A group of lawmakers who split off from the SPS formed another new electoral force called Liberal Russia. Already, though, the new party has been tarnished by its involvement with Boris Berezovsky, the self-exiled oligarch, and the assassination in September of Vladimir Golovlev, one of its top members. Moreover, since the country already has two main parties that appeal to the liberal electorate, there appears to be little political space in which Liberal Russia can maneuver.

Russia's substantial left opposition still grapples with its inability to counter the domination of political power by political elites and oligarchs. Stripped of its Duma committee chairmanships in 2002, the CPRF appears marginalized at the national level but still commands significant support as the country's largest opposition force. In October 2002, the CPRF organized demonstrations in Moscow and other Russian cities to protest sales of agricultural land and reforms to communal services and utilities. A bill prohibiting national referendums in the 12 months prior to federal elections was passed in September 2002, likely in response to the CPRF's efforts to collect signatures in support of a referendum on land sales and other issues. Accusations that the CPRF has pursued closer ties with Boris Berezovsky could cause further diminution of the party's prestige. Although high-ranking CPRF members have denied that the party is pursuing an alliance with Berezovsky, the Political Council of Liberal Russia, of which Berezovsky was a founding member and major funder, voted in October to expel the oligarch for his links with the Communists.

The People's Patriotic Union of Russia, a Communist-led umbrella movement formed in 1996, suffered the loss of state Duma Speaker Gennadii Seleznev's Rossiya movement, which received official registration in 2002 as the Party of Russia's Rebirth. Seleznev believes that the center-left niche in Russia still has great potential, even though other Communist allies have tried and failed to form alternatives to the CPRF. The new left-wing People's Patriotic Party, which elected former defense minister Igor Rodionov as its head and claims to have 70 branches throughout Russia, is expected to be more radical than the CPRF. The Unified Socialist Party was established at a founding congress in March 2002, with delegates representing the Socialist Party, the Spiritual Heritage movement, and other organizations in attendance. Socialist Party head Ivan Rybkin was elected chairman of the party.

Civil Society: 

When communism fell in Russia, the absence of a developed civil society was cited as perhaps the greatest obstacle to democratization. The good news is that Russia's nongovernmental sector has developed substantially over the past decade, and today approximately 300,000 nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) are registered with the Ministry of Justice. However, civil society still has not reached Western levels and standards, and its ability to affect government decision making is limited.

President Putin's approach to NGOs has largely been one of establishing dialogue with groups and then attempting to coopt them. Groups critical of Putin's policies are simply marginalized. Although the government sponsored an unprecedented gathering of NGOs called Civic Forum in 2001, it has made few substantive efforts to include NGOs in the policy-making process. One notable exception is the Citizens Coalition. Following Putin's call for public disclosures of budget practices at the local level, a group of NGOs in Yaroslavl oblast formed the Citizens Coalition project and began to establish partnerships with municipal districts to promote transparency and openness in local budgeting. As part of this effort, the Citizens Coalition has organized seminars and master classes on budget analysis and the use of public hearings in local legislatures. The group is supported in part by the British Westminster Foundation for Democracy.

Russia's diverse community of NGOs addresses issues ranging from health care and social services to the environment and human rights. More than 70,000 organizations are involved in charitable work, and approximately 2.5 million Russians participate in NGOs. Women make up the majority of volunteers and staff members. More than 30 million Russians actually receive assistance from NGOs.

While there is a significant amount of volunteerism in the country, philanthropy is still underdeveloped. Philanthropic groups that do not have close ties to the state typically lack sufficient funds to carry out their work. There are, however, notable exceptions. The YUKOS Foundation, which was established by the Russian oil giant YUKOS, has contributed $1 million to the U.S.-based Eurasia Foundation to promote community and private sector development in rural Russia. The Russia Donors' Forum is a coalition of private and public grant makers, both international and domestic, that distributes financial resources to groups and individuals for the express purpose of benefiting society. The coalition now includes Russian donor organizations that are active in economic reform, human and civil rights, legal reform, the environment, health, education, and culture. The Vladimir Potanin Charity Foundation provides grants for young teachers and has stipend programs for students.

Article 30 of the Russian Constitution guarantees NGOs the freedom to choose their activities. Individuals have the right to participate in and form associations, including trade unions. The civil code of the Russian Federation, the Law on Public Associations, the Law on Charitable Organizations and Charitable Activity, and the Law on Nonprofit Organizations all contain provisions on organizations and associations. Article 51 of the civil code requires all legal entities to register with the federal Ministry of Justice. An organization must submit its legal documents to the Justice Ministry within three months of its founding meeting. Regional and local associations register through local Justice Ministries. Inter-regional groups register in the locality in which their permanent governing body is based.

Article 52 of the 1995 Law on Public Associations required all registered public associations to reregister. Public associations that failed to do so by the established deadline were subject to closure. Reregistration proved fairly easy at first, but over time regional authorities began to abuse the process by putting pressure on groups to change their activities and mandates. There have been numerous attempts to outlaw organizations that monitor the conduct of governmental institutions, and human rights groups such as Glasnost, the Union of the Committees of Soldiers' Mothers of Russia, and the Disability Center for the Social Rehabilitation of Children have been the most vulnerable to harassment. In what appears to have been a politically motivated case, the group Unified Europe found itself the target of an inspection by prosecutors in the Orel oblast after it successfully pursued 18 local legal cases involving political repression.

Although there have been positive developments in the NGO sector, more time is needed for it to become sustainable. In particular, the organizational capacity of NGOs remains uneven. Groups that receive Western funding generally try to emulate the administrative practices of Western NGOs and do so with varied success. Some organizations are advanced in these areas, but many are just beginning to address such issues. Without adequate skills and information, organizations find it difficult to survive over the long term. Groups that do not have access to Western funding generally are poorly managed and, in many cases, have no desire to emulate international standards. Russian NGOs as a whole began discussing matters such as the proper role and functions of a board of directors only a few years ago. The core of experienced trainers and practitioners is growing, though their ability and willingness to act as mentors vary widely. Some do work quite effectively; others use their connections simply to increase their own status. Meanwhile, the Russian public remains mostly distrustful of NGOs.

Russia's current economic climate hampers the financial viability of most NGOs. Very few organizations can achieve financial sustainability with local resources alone. Changes to the tax code that took effect in July 2002 place limits on grant making by requiring donors and recipients to register and by limiting eligibility for tax-free status to those groups working in the areas of science, culture, sports, and the environment. In violation of Russian law, a value-added tax has been applied retroactively to services provided by NGOs. The consequences of these changes will be evident in 2003, when NGOs file their first annual tax reports under the new code. Thus, economic constraints and the absence of significant incentives in current tax laws are now considered the greatest impediments to the long-term growth of Russia's NGO sector.

One area of civil society that has rebounded in the post-Communist period is religion. A country that once was aggressively atheist, Russia is now looking increasingly to religion to instill values. In the past decade, Russia has become home to 18,000 parishes, 460 monasteries, 5 theological academies, 23 seminaries, 21 theological schools, and 2 Orthodox universities. More than two-thirds of respondents to a survey in 2002 by the All-Russia Center for the Study of Public Opinion claimed to be adherents to one or another religious creed. Fifty-eight percent of respondents declared themselves Orthodox believers, 31 percent atheists, and 5 percent Muslims; less than 2 percent said they belonged to non-Orthodox Christian faiths. There are an estimated 600,000 to 1 million Jews in the country.

Groups with extremist views appear to be on the rise in Russia. In particular, it would seem that anti-Semitism has grown among Russian youths, along with a more general rise in xenophobia. According to the Moscow Helsinki Group, Roma, Mesketian Turks, Jews, and individuals from the Caucasus are most frequently targeted. Experts attribute the growth to a general rise in hate crimes and to better monitoring of the situation. In many regions, local administrations remain anti-Semitic, and state-run local television outlets appear unwilling to expose the problem properly.

In 2002, just as the country was reeling from a number of high-visibility hate crimes, a controversial new bill on extremist crimes was pushed through the legislature with lightning speed. Critics of the law contend that the bill's vagueness makes it a potential weapon against any kind of political activity. One of the most controversial sections is the ban on "inciting any social animosity," which activists fear could be used to crack down on trade unions or other kinds of social activity and protest. The bill also imposes tight restrictions on Internet service providers that activists feel could be used to censor many forms of political expression. Likewise, activists are concerned with the law's definition of extremism, which includes "any attempt to humiliate human dignity." On a positive note, in October 2002 the Moscow city government approved a program for the period from 2002 to 2004 that is intended to "develop tolerance and prevent extremism." The $8.1 million program contains more than 180 activities to promote interethnic and interconfessional harmony.

One area of serious concern is the inability of activists to convince the government to address the environment in a meaningful way. According to a government survey from the year 2000, 120 cities in Russia have air quality that is at least five times more toxic than acceptable levels. President Putin abolished the State Committee for Environmental Protection in 2000 and replaced it with the Russian Ministry for Natural Resources, which has neither the means nor the objectivity to analyze industrial contracts and monitor some 300,000 businesses a year. The ministry's other activities, such as issuing licenses for oil drilling and the mining of precious materials, make it an inappropriate choice for ecological protection. Although Putin announced to journalists in August 2002 that the Kremlin was drafting a new federal Law on Environmental Protection that "will expound a system of measures and responsibilities for causing harm to the environment," Russia's ecological outlook remains grim. According to the Russian affiliate of Greenpeace, "It is impossible to build up a democratic society in Russia while ignoring ecological problems."

Since the collapse of communism, few resources have been devoted to the education sector. While President Putin has called for the modernization of Russian schools, the necessary funding has yet to materialize. For example, half of all Russian schools lack basic services such as central heating, and only a quarter of schools have computers. Russia has 68,000 secondary schools, two-thirds of which are located in villages. Most children still attend state schools. The number of new nonstate schools grew from 368 in 1993 to 607 by 1999. In 2000 and 2001, approximately a third of all students in Russia's institutions of higher education paid fees. Most prestigious institutions of higher education accept bribes from members of organized crime groups to enroll their children or give them better grades. A Russian educational system that once prided itself on free access to a quality, comprehensive education on the basis of merit is now mired in the same level of corruption that thrives in so many other spheres of Russian life--from parking a car to setting up a new business.

Article 30 of the Constitution guarantees the right "to create trade unions to protect one's interests." Although approximately 60 percent of Russian workers belong to a trade union, this number actually represents a sharp decline since the Soviet era. The drop in membership is the result of both the proliferation of nonunionized jobs in the private sector and the inability of unions to perform the same functions they did under communism. The majority of workers belong to unions affiliated with the Federation of Independent Trade Unions of Russia (FNPR), the successor organization to Communist-era unions and by far the largest labor confederation in Russia. The fact that many FNPR officials have long-standing ties to enterprise managers puts independent unions at a disadvantage.

In February 2002, a new labor code came into force requiring all employers, irrespective of the type or nature of their ownership, to comply with labor laws. The new code also applies to foreign nationals working in Russia, unless otherwise stipulated in a federal law or international treaty. Employees now have the right to refuse to perform tasks that are not stipulated in their employment agreements or that pose an immediate danger to their health or life. The new code also provides for the protection of personal information, contains detailed regulations on health and safety in the workplace, and obliges employers to compensate employees for delays in the payment of salaries and other employment-related compensation.

Independent Media: 

The connection between the media and government remains tight in Russia, and media outlets that offer alternative viewpoints face substantial legal and financial obstacles. State media are under pressure to reflect government positions, while private outlets typically represent the political biases and business interests of their investors. Journalists and media owners that are critical of the Putin regime often come under intense scrutiny and are subject to specious audits, complicated legal battles, and even beatings and arrests. The state has also forced the cancellation of important programs and tried to wrest ownership of media outlets by coercive measures. As a result of all these measures, self-censorship is a significant problem among the country's media.

Oleg Poptsov, the president of TV-Tsentr, has identified several disturbing trends in the Russian media. First, the cohesiveness of the Russian media as a professional community has been destroyed in recent years. Second, mass media outlets have become overly commercialized. Nevertheless, Russians remain great consumers of the media. Approximately 97 percent of all Russian households have televisions, and 24 percent have two or more sets. Three television stations reach a national audience. The government stations Russian Public Television (ORT) and Russian Television (RTR) reach 99 percent and 96 percent, respectively, of the country's total viewing audience; the privately owned NTV reaches 72 percent. The state Duma approved a bill in November 2001 that limits TV and radio advertising during educational, religious, and children's programs. Advertisements may not last longer than 20 percent of total airtime. In 2002, Russia's advertising market was expected to grow by more than 50 percent and significantly exceed spending levels seen before the 1998 economic crisis.

In 2001, the federal government gave itself the power to cancel any agreements or deals that would result in the "illegal estrangement of technical means and objects from federal ownership." The state has retained control over all broadcasting and relay stations for television and radio signals by consolidating them under the management of a single government corporation, the Russian Television and Radio Broadcasting Network (VGRTK). The VGRTK oversees the federal signal distribution center in Moscow and its regional subdivisions.

In January 2002, President Putin rejected an amendment to the Law on the Mass Media that would have allowed foreigners to retain co-ownership of Russian television companies if they were among the proprietors prior to August 2001. The law, approved in August 2001, does not allow for foreign ownership in Russian television companies that broadcast to over 50 percent of the country's territory or reach an audience that exceeds 50 percent of the population. Critics argue that Putin's veto of the amendment deprives Russian television companies of the ability to attract substantial foreign investment and leaves them at the mercy of semistate energy companies when looking for investors.

Less than 20 percent of Russians have used a computer, and only 8 percent have surfed the Internet. Only 7.2 percent of Russians have computers at home (up from 5 percent in 2001), with the highest concentration, 27.5 percent, in Moscow. Only 2 percent of rural households have computers. According to the Education Ministry, 10.3 percent of schools are connected to the Internet; independent analysts suggest that figure is much lower, probably closer to 3 percent. Ever optimistic, the Education Ministry announced in 2002 that 31 percent of all schools will be connected to the Internet by mid-2003. According to the postal services department of the Communications Ministry, there are currently some 6,600 public-access Internet outlets in post offices across Russia. The number of regular Internet users in Russia was projected to climb to 8 million in 2002, up from 4.3 million at the end of 2001.

There are dozens of Russian-language news sites on the Internet, as well as over 180 sites representing the country's political parties and movements. President Putin has also ordered all government agencies to launch Web sites and to update them on a daily basis. In June 2002, as part of the state project Electronic Russia, the government announced the launch of a new version of its official portal. The new site emphasizes interactive communication between officials and the public by allowing citizens to send letters, complaints, and suggestions concerning the government's functioning. Meanwhile, e-commerce in Russia has slowed, with 30 to 40 new Internet sites offering goods and services appearing each month, compared to a growth rate of 150 such sites during 2000.

The increased use of the Internet has not been lost on Russia's security organs. Civic groups across Russia have made great strides in organizing, networking, and raising funds through their savvy use of e-mail. Whether the authorities have the resources to monitor the burgeoning flow of information is unclear, but many environmental and political activists have become concerned and now eschew e-mail for sensitive communications in favor of faxes and face-to-face meetings. Of course, technology cuts more than one way, and a spokesman for the Federal Security Service claimed in 2002 that the number of hacker attacks on his agency's Web site might exceed one million for the entire year--twice the level of 2001.

The vast majority of Russia's newspapers and magazines have been privatized, and big business has replaced the state as the principal controller of print media. Today, a handful of Russia's most powerful financiers are in command of the major national newspapers. Owing to the absence of financial support from central authorities, Russia's local and regional press outlets have fallen upon hard times. In addition, worsening economic conditions have caused many Russians to stop buying newspapers and magazines altogether. Nevertheless, most media outlets that are technically private, especially in the provinces, rely on some form of state sponsorship or patronage in the guise of reduced prices or tax benefits. As of 2002, more than 2,000 newspapers were receiving direct federal subsidies. There seems to be a tacit agreement between the Kremlin and big business that while national channels must remain under Kremlin control, regional outlets may enjoy some level of business involvement. The Central Electoral Commission announced in 2002 that it would push for amendments to Russia's Law on the Mass Media that would suspend the work of media outlets that fail to provide objective reporting during election campaigns.

Court rulings on libel and defamation have been used to curtail the freedom of journalists to criticize public figures. Libel is a criminal offense under the 1992 Law on the Mass Media and the 1991 Law on the Protection of Citizens' Honor, Dignity, and Business Reputation, and many government officials and politicians have attempted to utilize this legal mechanism to their benefit. For example, in 2002 a court in Ulyanovsk upheld the sentencing of Simbirskie Izvestiya editor Yuliya Shelamydova to a year of corrective labor and a large fine for an article she published about Ulyanovsk oblast governor Vladimir Shamanov's entourage.

Accreditation procedures and technical regulations have also been used to circumscribe press freedom. In November 2002, for example, officers in the Federal Security Service searched the offices of the weekly newspaper Versiya and confiscated property and personal effects from some newspaper staffers. The paper's editor charged that the raid was intended to intimidate journalists and prevent the publication of an issue devoted to the seizure of a Moscow theater by Chechen terrorists. In October 2002, President Putin canceled an August 1991 decree that guaranteed the legal and operational status of the Moscow bureau of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty (RFE/RL). The Russian Foreign Ministry argued that Putin's decree is purely a technical measure designed to give equal status to all foreign media outlets in Russia and does not constitute a reaction to RFE/RL policies and reporting. One ray of hope in 2002 was President Putin's veto of harsh amendments to the Law on the Mass Media that both houses of Parliament passed in response to the Moscow theater crisis. At the close of 2002, the Duma, the TV and Radio Broadcasting and Mass Communications Ministry, representatives of the press, and the Industrial Committee of the Mass Media were working on a code of ethics for media behavior during public emergencies.

A number of organizations, many at the regional level, aim to defend journalistic freedom and integrity. The most prestigious is the Glasnost Foundation, whose activities often meet with government interference. The Union of Journalists of Russia is the main professional group representing media professionals. In July 2002, leaders of Russia's media community created a new corporate organization that will be tasked with lobbying for the interests of the media sector. Eduard Sagalaev, head of the National Association of Broadcasters, will organize the new body. The Russian public generally views its journalists as front men for media tycoons. Moreover, business firms and other self-interested parties can procure almost any story they want on Russian television with a bribe. As one editor has lamented, "Journalists are also often to blame--they themselves have destroyed their image as defenders of liberties." Under current law, authorities can fine media outlets only 5,000 rubles (US$166) for accepting bribes; the outlets, however, can collect up to $5,000 for a single article of so-called black PR.

There are, of course, many independent and hardworking journalists in Russia. For example, in March 2002 journalist Anna Politkovskaya received a prominent award for producing balanced reporting in Novaya Gazeta on the Chechen war. She did so despite official harassment, threats, and arrest for expressing views that are not popular with ordinary people or the government.

Freedom House's annual Survey of Press Freedom has rated Russia "Partly Free" since 1992.

Judicial Framework and Independence: 

The Russian Constitution meets international standards in its provisions for human and civil rights. Article 2 defines the individual and his or her rights and freedoms as "the supreme value" of the state. Subsequent articles guarantee freedom of movement, conscience, belief, expression, association, and assembly. Article 46 guarantees judicial protection and affirms the individual's right, "if all available means of legal protection inside the state have been exhausted," to appeal to international bodies. Article 15 states that generally recognized principles and norms of international law, and the international treaties to which Russia is a party, are constituent parts of its legal system and take primacy over domestic laws. In 1998, for example, Russia ratified the European Convention on Human Rights, which gives Russian citizens the right to file appeals with the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg. However, according to a report in 2001 by the International Helsinki Federation, Russian authorities pursue a policy of deliberate harassment and intimidation ranging from arbitrary identity checks to eviction, illegal detention, torture, and murder.

Russia's Parliament remains weak relative to the presidency and the government, and in some respects its role has been constrained even further under Putin. In the past, the Duma was able to influence intragovernmental disputes by maintaining direct relations with individual government ministries and agencies, which in turn used these relations to lobby on behalf of their departmental interests. This practice was banned in April 2000, though, when government departments were ordered to deal with the Duma only through the government's official representative to the body. The balance of legislative and executive power shifted even further in favor of the presidential administration in 2002, when Putin successfully marginalized the political Left and consolidated the center into a pro-presidential majority.

In general, the Duma is a well-oiled machine that issues bills at an incredible pace. In contrast with the 2001 spring session of Parliament, which failed to pass important bills on time, the 2002 Duma proved much more disciplined. The newspaper Vremya MN reported in late June that the Duma was passing laws at such a frantic pace that, in the words of Yabloko leader Grigorii Yavlinsky, "even members of specific committees lack the time to understand the contents of laws, much less the deputies who vote on them."

The judicial branch in Russia is even weaker than the legislative branch. Russian voters approved the current Constitution by referendum on December 12, 1993, and Article 1 defines the country as "a democratic, federative, rule-of-law state with a republican form of government." The Constitution also gives the president unusually strong powers, including the right to issue legally binding decrees and directives, to appoint senior members of the judicial and executive branches, and, in certain circumstances, to dissolve the lower house of Parliament. Presidential decrees and directives, like other laws, may be appealed to the Constitutional Court. By law, 70 is the retirement age for judges on the Constitutional Court.

In assessing the role of the Constitutional Court over the past decade, its chairman, Marat Baglai, has called it "a judicial organ that does not allow state power to go beyond the borders of the constitutional framework" and that serves as "an effective mechanism for the defense of the rights and freedoms of citizens." However, the Court does not have the right to select issues for consideration on its own initiative, and the range of bodies that may submit issues to it is limited. The biggest problem the Court faces is that it lacks the power to enforce decisions. Indeed, the ability of the judiciary as a whole to interpret and enforce the Constitution is weak, because the powers of the Constitutional Court itself are restricted.

In general, Constitutional Court rulings do not constitute a source of legislation under the Russian legal system. Moscow mayor Yurii Luzhkov has been able to ignore numerous rulings by the Constitutional Court that say his administration is violating constitutional guarantees of freedom of movement by retaining the Soviet-era system of propiski (residence permits). While the propiska system appears to Western audiences as a clear violation of fundamental constitutional law, 68 percent of Russians believe that citizens of the Russian Federation should have to register at their place of residence; only 23 percent think the system should be abolished. Luzhkov maintains that Moscow and other large Russian cities must have a mandatory residence registration system in order to ensure security and prevent terrorist acts. However, Luzhkov's long-standing adherence to rigid Soviet-style administrative measures has not increased security in the capital; instead it has led to civil rights violations and corruption. Moscow's residence permit rules are used to discriminate against all nonresidents, particularly those from the North Caucasus, but it does not prevent criminals from penetrating Moscow. The law simply compels them to pay large bribes to corrupt officials for permission to remain in the capital.

In 2002, the legislature approved a bill that establishes new procedures for persons seeking Russian citizenship. Persons are eligible to apply for citizenship if they have lived in Russia for more than 5 years and have relatives in Russia. If they have no relatives, then they must live in Russia for 10 years before applying. Potential citizens must speak the Russian language and be familiar with the Russian Constitution. The Duma also adopted a law governing the status of all foreigners living and conducting business within the Russian Federation. It permits the government to establish a list of places that foreigners must obtain special permission to visit and forbids foreigners from moving or traveling outside of the regions for which they have permission to visit without first receiving state permission. The law, which came into force on November 1, 2002, stipulates that all nonresidents staying in Russia for more than three months must carry immigration cards. The law bans residence status for drug addicts, people who are HIV-positive, people with serious criminal records in their home countries, and people who were previously expelled from Russia.

The Russian Federation has a human rights ombudsman, but the office has no power to make or change law. The ombudsman can, however, propose changes to laws that he or she considers unjust. More than 20,000 people appeal to this office annually. Seventeen regions across the country now have their own ombudsmen. Unlike the federal ombudsman institution, regional ombudsmen have no foothold in the Constitution and derive their authority solely from Article 5 of the 1997 federal Law on Ombudsmen, which allows subjects of the federation to appoint ombudsmen from their own budgets. The powers of regional ombudsmen vary according to the legislation that established their office.

Although Russia's judicial system remains fundamentally flawed, a number of positive steps were taken in 2002 to remedy the deficiencies. On October 30, the Federation Council unanimously approved a new civil procedure code that regulates labor and family disputes, limits the role of prosecutors in civil disputes, and establishes strict deadlines for each phase of a civil dispute. If the president approves the legislation, as expected, the new code will take effect on February 1, 2003. Russia's new criminal procedure code came into force on July 1, 2002. The code aims to enhance the rights of suspects by requiring a court warrant for searches and arrests and by banning the return of cases for additional investigation--a practice that often resulted in long, illegal imprisonments. The code stipulates that the first interrogation of a suspect must be held within 24 hours of detention and that the suspect has the right to a 2-hour consultation with an attorney in advance. The new code also attempts to give more power to defense attorneys by allowing them to conduct independent investigations of a case. By 2003, all of Russia's 89 regions will be able to hold jury trials for serious crimes; by 2004, the right to issue arrest and search warrants will shift from prosecutors to the courts.

Article 21 of the Constitution prohibits torture, violence, and "other brutal or humiliating treatment or punishment." Prison conditions remain extremely harsh, because the system lacks proper funding. Overcrowding is a particularly serious problem, and some prisoners are even forced to sleep in shifts because there are not enough beds. Activists assert that the most serious human rights violations in Russia tend to take place not in prison, but in the first few hours after a suspect is detained. The government reduced the prison population in 2002 by releasing 200,000 prisoners. According to the recent census, the country has 919,000 prisoners, including 130,000 in pretrial detention. Alternative forms of liability for minor offenses are also being introduced.

Article 48 of the Constitution guarantees an individual's right to qualified legal assistance and states that legal aid should be rendered free of charge as provided by law. The criminal code fleshes out this right by requiring courts to appoint a lawyer if a suspect cannot afford one. In many cases, however, defendants receive little in the way of useful legal assistance either because they are unable to afford good legal council or because the public defenders who are available are poorly trained. Lawyers in Russia deal annually with some 5.5 million queries from citizens; of these, 54 percent are handled on a pro bono basis.

Russia's judicial independence is threatened by a chronic lack of funding. Nevertheless, Dmitrii Kozak, the deputy chief of President Putin's staff, announced in September 2001 that Moscow refuses to use any foreign assistance to finance necessary reforms, the cost of which is estimated at $1.5 billion. Local courts have difficulty meeting their wage payroll costs, buying equipment, paying telephone bills, and undertaking building repairs. This in turn makes them easy targets for bribery and corruption.

Article 19 of the Constitution guarantees equality of rights and liberties "regardless of sex, race, nationality, language, origin, property and position, place of residence, attitude toward religion, convictions, membership [in] public associations, and other circumstances." However, the 1997 Law on Freedom of Conscience discriminates against all but a handful of religions. It also outlines a difficult registration process and creates openings for state interference in the activities of religious groups. A process of reregistering religious communities in Russia has resulted in the loss of legal status for more than 2,000 congregations (of the 16,000 that were previously registered).

Women face both domestic violence and discrimination in the workplace. The number of Russian women who reportedly die annually from domestic violence exceeds 15,000. Owing to the many obstacles to accurate reporting, the total is likely much higher. In addition, Russian women are barred from more than 500 professions such as coal mining or senior positions in the Russian navy.

In 2002, the Duma adopted a new arbitration procedure code as part of a larger effort to reform Russia's legal system. One of the bill's innovations is that it includes a mechanism for settling conflicts outside of courts with the assistance of a mediator. This provision is intended to speed up resolutions of disputes. Late in 2002, legislators also approved in its first reading a Law on Authors' Rights that would bring Russia into conformity with the Berne Convention for the Protection of Literary and Artistic Works, which Russia joined in 1995. If enacted, the law would redress a constant sore point between Russia and mainly Western countries regarding music and video pirating. The bill also would bring Russian laws on intellectual property rights into correspondence with World Trade Organization requirements. On another positive note, President Putin signed into law in 2002 an important measure allowing the sale of agricultural land, which is valued at an estimated $80-$100 trillion. However, the new law forbids the sale of arable land to foreigners or foreign-controlled companies.


Corruption and extortion pervade life in Russia. Individuals pay bribes regularly to receive a bed for a hospital operation, to obtain a passport, or to register their residency. Likewise, businesspeople frequently pay bribes to conduct their affairs, while government officials routinely accept and even demand them. Corruption has the effect of imposing a de facto tax on citizens that both slows economic growth and deprives the authorities of legitimate revenues. The predominant winners are the bloated state bureaucracy and the oligarchs, who have received billions of dollars in illicit profits.

A study released in 2002 by the Moscow-based research foundation Computer Science for Democracy (INDEM) estimates that corruption costs Russian businesses $33 billion in bribes every year. Sixty percent of business owners and half of ordinary citizens surveyed for the study said that paying kickbacks was a "necessary" part of their lives. The report also notes that Russia's nominally free medical system actually cost patients some $600 million in 2001, with university admissions a close second at $520 million. Ultimately, the amount of bribes paid each year in Russia nearly equals the $40 billion the Russian government takes in as legal revenue.

The concept of conflict of interest is not widely assimilated in Russia, and the boundaries between public and private sector activity are tenuous at best. Many civil servants receive two wages: their state pay and an unofficial salary for so-called services rendered. Although several decrees have been issued on income disclosure requirements, the reported incomes of civil servants are extremely low and therefore highly dubious. Little has been done with the information that has been disclosed. Politicians often combine executive power with direct or indirect interests in businesses that are affected by that power. Two high-level cases in 2002 were illustrative of the problem. First, atomic energy minister Yevgeny Adamov resigned under pressure when a Duma committee questioned whether a company he had established had profited from U.S. government contracts to improve the safety of Russia's nuclear plants. Second, railways minister Nikolai Aksyonenko was fired when the Duma Audit Chamber reported that, among other irregularities, his ministry had juggled freight rates to benefit companies owned by his son and nephew.

Late in 2002, the Duma passed in its first reading a draft Law on Anticorruption that, for the first time in post-Soviet Russia, legally defines the terms corrupt act, corrupt relations, and bribery. The draft law covers not only state officials, but also leaders of political parties and public organizations, financial executives, military personnel, and candidates for executive branch and legislative posts. The bill also establishes a special procedure for presenting tax declarations that covers all forms of income, property, and obligations. In addition, it stipulates that information provided by top federal bureaucrats is to be made public every year. Various versions of the bill have been stuck in the Duma since 1994 because of the strong resistance of corrupt bureaucrats. The law is unlikely to pass both houses of Parliament in its present form, since the Kremlin does not support this version of the bill.

Racketeering is punishable under Article 163 of the criminal code. The old Soviet underworld has been largely replaced by sophisticated political-criminal organizations, often staffed by police and former security professionals. Mafia organizations have close relations with officials at many levels of the government. A report released by the Moscow office of the World Bank in 2002 alleges that 40-50 percent of the Russian economy remains in the shadows and is controlled by illegal capital, with the largest concentration of illegal business found in the services sector. By comparison, in Italy, a developed Western economy with a large illegal sector, only 17 percent of the economy is in the shadows. The Russian government has taken some steps to counteract the high levels of illegal activity in Russia. Early in 2002, for example, the Audit Chamber made public its probe of the misappropriation of foreign loans given to the city of St. Petersburg to prepare for celebrations of its 300th anniversary. According to the investigation, city authorities misused millions of dollars of loans from the International Bank for Reconstruction and Development.

Progress was made in one crucial area in 2002: money laundering. In October, when Parliament adopted a Law on Money Laundering, the Paris-based Financial Action Task Force (FATF), an international body that monitors money laundering, removed Russia from its blacklist. The move marked the end of a long campaign by Russian officials seeking the FATF's recognition of its anti-money-laundering efforts. While the Office of the Prosecutor-General and the state Audit Chamber strive to curtail state corruption, their efforts meet with resistance from bureaucrats and businesses.

In the 2002 Corruption Perceptions Index of Transparency International, Russia ranked 79th out of 102 countries surveyed. In 2001, Russia ranked 82nd out of 99 countries. Although Russia's level of perceived corruption appeared to improve, Transparency International's 2002 Bribe Payers Index, which addresses the propensity of companies from top exporting countries to pay bribes in emerging markets, revealed consistently high levels of bribery by Russian firms. Corruption has a long history in Russia, but this bane of democratic society has increased exponentially and become much more cynical in form during the post-Communist period.


The Russian Federation is a multiethnic state with a complex federal system that comprises 89 component parts: 21 non-Russian republics, 1 autonomous oblast (province), 10 autonomous okrugs (districts), 55 predominantly Russian oblasts and krais, and 2 cities (Moscow and St. Petersburg) with special representative status. Although these regions are equal in standing under Article 5 of the Constitution, this is not the case in practice. The respective powers of the federal government and the regions are laid out in Articles 71-73 of the Constitution, but these provisions carry less weight than the series of bilateral power-sharing treaties signed by the federal government with many of its 89 components. In November 2002, the Duma Regional Policy Committee held a hearing on a draft bill to alter the administrative borders of the Russian region. Deputies and experts at the hearing represented two main schools of thought. Some supported the government's efforts to merge certain regions, while others backed the so-called ethnic republics and called for expanding the independence of federation subjects.

In 2000, the State Council and seven federal superdistricts were created. The State Council provides regional governors direct access to President Putin once every three months, but this consultative body's policy impact has been minimal thus far. The utility of the seven superdistricts, the heads of which are presidential appointees, remains difficult to assess because the federal ministries do not appear to be interested in coordinating activities with them. The presidential representatives for the federal districts are supposed to make sure that federal agencies, such as the security services and the tax service, operate effectively and impartially in the regions and do not get ordered around by local governors. After a decade of divergence, they are also meant to steer regional laws into conformity with federal laws. However, the presidential envoys appear to have widely different views of their own responsibilities. Given the diversity of economic and social conditions in the various districts, though, it makes sense that the envoys who are tasked to oversee them would perform different functions. Regional governors understandably have been irritated to find a new layer of bureaucracy around them.

Republic presidents and the governors of krais and oblasts are popularly elected. Electoral laws vary from region to region, and the elections themselves are problematic affairs. In June 2002, federal Duma deputies approved a bill that provides for the election of one-half of all deputies in regional legislatures according to party lists. The law was the product of a conciliation commission that was formed after the Federation Council rejected the bill earlier in the year. Regardless of the electoral formula, regional leaders have significant influence over local legislatures and often are able to dictate how elections are run. Voting irregularities, campaign violations, and low voter turnout frequently undermine truly democratic results.

The process of harmonizing federal and regional laws picked up steam in 2002 when a number of entities renounced power-sharing treaties between republican and federal authorities. By midyear, 25 out of 42 power-sharing treaties had been canceled. The Constitutional Court ruled in July 2002 that the Law on General Principles for Organizing Legislative and Executive Organs of Power in the Subjects of the Federation allows governors to seek third and, in some cases, fourth terms. However, legislation that would empower the president to dismiss governors and regional leaders who violate federal laws also has been introduced. Under this bill, the government could appeal to the president to impose external rule if, for example, budget resources were used improperly or if a region's outstanding debt exceeded 30 percent of its budget revenues. Theoretically, all governors could be dismissed if the latter stipulation were strictly enforced. The federal center already has two grounds for dismissing regional leaders: commission of a serious crime or failure to enforce a federal law.

The stability of the system of governance in Russia is as much a function of its continuity with past structures as a reflection of a well-designed system of public administration. However, there was a concerted effort in 2002 to introduce significant reforms at the lower levels of government. Governments in cities and rural districts are responsible for managing their own budgets and for raising some revenues from taxes on municipally owned business. Compared to the administrations at the republic and oblast levels, though, municipal governments are very weak, and less than a quarter of their revenues comes from sources they control. Legislation intended to deal with this problem is pending. Current reform efforts are aimed primarily at reorganizing interbudgetary relations and redistributing revenues and expenditures according to a clearer division of responsibilities among the municipal, regional, and federal levels of government.

There is much anticipation surrounding the work of the presidential commission to delineate responsibilities among the various levels of government. The intention of a planned Law on Local Self-Government is to give more power to federal authorities and less to regional elites. Mayors will become mere managers, and regional governors will have to deal mainly with economic, rather than political, issues. Although the commission has not introduced final legislation, two draft bills have been prepared. One deals with the division of powers between federal and regional authorities. The second addresses the responsibilities of regional and local self-government organs. President Putin has emphasized that the guiding principle of the legislation is to give government bodies responsibility for activities only for which they control the requisite funding. He also has stated that once the bills are approved, all treaties on power sharing between the federation and its constituents will be invalid. In October 2002, President Putin called for immediate work to begin on local self-government reforms so that "everything will be ready" for a new system to be implemented in 2005.

The intransigence of bureaucratic structures in Russia's regions also complicates matters. Each region has its own legislature, and the laws in many regions conflict with federal legislation. Mayors often have squelched laws they disapprove of simply by refusing to sign them. The Sverdlovsk Oblast Court ruled in August 2002 that provisions of the oblast Law on Local Self-Government that gives mayors the right to not enact certain local laws contradicts federal legislation; the oblast Duma now must amend the law to require mayors to sign legislation within a certain time frame.

There were 1.14 million state officials in Russia in 2002, or 8 officials for every 1,000 citizens. About one-third of all state officials are in federal service, with the rest at the regional and local levels. Just 1.3 percent of the country's high-ranking bureaucrats are women. In a World Bank study of government wages in 17 industrialized nations, many of them in Europe, Russia came in second to last. Many of the most effective state workers have left government service for better-paying jobs in the private sector, especially in Moscow. Efficiency and effectiveness in government are also significant problems. There is excessive paperwork, and enormous time and resources are wasted on basic tasks. State institutions provide many public services such as education, health care, road maintenance, cultural activities, and law and order, but these services are of poor quality owing to a lack of competition and, accordingly, a lack of consumer choice. Citizens do not have equal access to public services, and increased social expenditures have had few positive effects.