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Russian Government

Constitutional framework

The governance framework established in the new Russian state marked a departure from the model of the erstwhile Soviet republic. This new structure was initially marred by a contentious dynamic between the executive and legislative bodies, with disputes centering on constitutional powers and the trajectory of democratic and economic reforms. The tension escalated in September 1993, culminating in President Yeltsin’s dissolution of the Russian parliament, which included the Congress of People’s Deputies and the Supreme Soviet. This action prompted a rebellion by some members of parliament and their supporters, which was ultimately quelled through military force.

On December 12, 1993, a majority of Russian voters, amounting to three-fifths, endorsed a new constitution that was advocated by President Yeltsin, alongside electing members to a reformed legislative body. The provisions of the new constitution conferred substantial authority upon the president, who is directly elected through a nationwide vote. The president, as the nation’s head of state, has the prerogative to appoint the prime minister, key judicial figures, and cabinet officials. Additionally, the president serves as the commander in chief of the military and holds the power to declare martial law or a state of emergency. The president may also issue decrees with legal standing in instances where the legislature fails to enact proposed legislation. An amendment enacted in 2008, effective from the 2012 election, extended the presidential term from four to six years. Moreover, constitutional amendments in 2020 removed the limitation on consecutive presidential terms.

The Federal Assembly emerged as the national legislature under the new constitutional framework. Comprising two chambers, the upper house, the Federation Council, consists of appointees from each administrative division of Russia, while the lower house, the State Duma, is made up of 450 members elected by popular vote. The president’s choice for the prime minister must receive the State Duma’s approval. Should the State Duma reject a nominee three times, or issue two votes of no confidence within three months, the president is entitled to dissolve the State Duma and initiate new elections. Legislation must be approved by the State Duma before it progresses to the Federation Council. A legislative veto by the president can be overturned with a two-thirds majority in the legislature, or the bill can be amended to address the president’s concerns and passed with a simple majority. Furthermore, with a two-thirds majority and the Russian Constitutional Court’s endorsement, the president can be impeached for treason or other grave offenses. The Federation Council must also confirm all presidential appointments to the highest judicial courts, namely the Supreme Court and the Constitutional Court.

The constitution assures protections for welfare, access to social security benefits, pensions, free healthcare, and affordable housing, and it upholds the principle of local self-governance. However, national legislation supersedes regional and local laws, with the constitution delineating numerous domains either managed jointly by regional and central authorities or exclusively by the central government. Post-enactment of the constitution, the central government has taken steps to curtail the influence of regional governments and governors. In 2000, President Vladimir Putin established seven federal districts to bolster central oversight of the regions. This centralization effort was continued by his successor, Dmitry Medvedev, who, in an attempt to address separatism and Islamic militancy in the Caucasus, instituted an eighth federal district in 2010.

Regional and local government

The Constitution of the Russian Federation establishes a structure where the central government maintains substantial control, yet it also delegates a range of competencies to regional and local authorities. These subnational entities are empowered to manage municipal assets, oversee local law enforcement, and levy regional taxes. In the period following the enactment of the 1993 Constitution, due to a relative passivity from the central government, the various administrative divisions of Russia—comprising oblasts (regions), republics representing minority groups, okrugs (autonomous districts), krays (territories), federal cities (specifically Moscow and St. Petersburg), and one autonomous oblast—exercised significant influence.

Each administrative division is accorded equal representation in the Federal Assembly under the Constitution. However, the influence of these divisions was somewhat reduced in 2000 with the creation of seven federal districts—Central, Far East, Northwest, Siberia, Southern, Urals, and Volga—each overseen by a presidential envoy appointed by the central government. An additional federal district, the North Caucasus, was formed in 2010, and in 2014, following the annexation of Crimea, a territory whose acquisition is unrecognized by Ukraine and the majority of the international community, Russia established its ninth federal district. The presidential envoys in these districts are tasked with ensuring the enforcement of federal laws and facilitating communication between the president and regional governors. While their legal mandate is limited to conveying executive instructions from the federal president, in practice, they wield considerable directive power, reinforcing presidential authority over regional administrations.

Regional governments face fiscal constraints, with their revenue streams often insufficient to fully fund essential budgetary obligations, including the salaries of educators and law enforcement personnel. Additionally, the burden of pension obligations further strains their financial capacity.

Legislative measures have reinforced the dominance of the federal government over regional entities. For instance, regional governors and their deputies were barred from serving in the Federation Council to uphold the separation of powers. Nevertheless, a compromise was reached allowing both legislative and executive representatives from each region to participate in the Council. A 2004 law granted the president the authority to appoint regional governors, a departure from the previous practice of electing them. The early 21st century witnessed administrative reforms aimed at consolidating smaller okrugs into larger federal constituencies.

These reforms precipitated the realignment of the traditional economic regions with the new federal districts, particularly for statistical analysis. The Central district amalgamates Moscow with the Central and Central Black Earth economic regions. The Northwest district merges St. Petersburg and the North and Northwest regions, including the Kaliningrad oblast. The Southern district incorporates parts of the Volga and North Caucasus economic regions, while the North Caucasus district includes the remaining areas of the latter. The Volga district combines territories from the Volga, Volga-Vyatka, and Ural economic regions. The Urals district comprises the remaining parts of the Ural economic region and parts of the West Siberia economic region. The Siberia district unites the rest of the West Siberia region with all of East Siberia, and the Far East district corresponds with the Far East economic region. The Crimean district, established in 2014, includes the federal city of Sevastopol.

Several administrative divisions have adopted their own constitutions, devolving authority to local governments. Although the 1993 Constitution guarantees local self-governance, the extent of local governmental power varies significantly. Urban centers, in particular, wield considerable authority, with responsibilities including taxation and business licensing. Moscow and St. Petersburg stand out with robust local governance structures and substantial tax bases that eclipse those of other regions. In smaller communities, local councils often serve merely as formalities, subordinate to city administrators appointed by regional governors. The mid-1990s saw a restructuring of municipal governance, with the establishment of city councils (dumas), mayors, and administrators supplanting the previous city soviets.


The apex judicial authority in the Russian Federation is the Supreme Court, which oversees the functioning of subordinate judicial entities and acts as the ultimate appellate tribunal. Since 1991, the judicial framework has been augmented by the establishment of the Constitutional Court, whose mandate includes the examination of Russian statutes and international agreements for their adherence to the constitution.

The Constitutional Court operates under the leadership of 19 judges, who are appointed following a nomination by the President and subsequent confirmation by the Federation Council. Both the Supreme Court and the Constitutional Court judges are appointed for life, with the prerequisite that appointees be no younger than 25 years of age and possess a legal education.

The Constitutional Court wields the authority to conduct judicial reviews, thereby assessing the constitutional validity of legislative acts. In its pursuit to rectify the oppressive legal practices of the Soviet period, the Russian legal system now mandates open court proceedings and ensures the right to legal representation for defendants.

Previously, the Supreme Arbitration Court of the Russian Federation was responsible for adjudicating commercial litigation; however, it was dissolved in 2014. Its functions have since been integrated into the jurisdiction of the Supreme Court.

Political parties

During the Soviet era, the political climate was characterized by an authoritarian structure and a lack of variability. The Communist Party of the Soviet Union held a monopoly over the political arena, rendering elections a formality without the presence of genuine competition from independent political parties. However, political reforms initiated in the 1980s and 1990s introduced a new degree of freedom, which led to the emergence of a multitude of political organizations and parties. This proliferation of parties, coupled with significant divergences in opinions regarding the rate and trajectory of reforms, has resulted in a degree of instability within Russian electoral processes. Despite initial successes by parties favoring reform in the early 1990s, influential institutions such as the military and intelligence agencies maintained substantial sway, and a considerable number of bureaucrats exhibited resistance to change. Certain political entities that garnered substantial support during the period of Russia’s move towards independence had become obsolete by the dawn of the 21st century, and some coalitions were primarily centered around the magnetism of a singular, charismatic figure. This is evident when contrasting the 43 political parties that participated in the 1995 elections with the 26 that contested in 1999. Under President Putin’s administration, legislative measures were introduced to further limit the number of political parties by requiring a minimum membership of 10,000 and the establishment of registered offices in no less than half of Russia’s regions to qualify for national elections. In the 2011 legislative elections, a mere four parties secured sufficient votes to obtain representation in the State Duma.

All Russian citizens aged 18 and above are entitled to vote. Presidential elections are conducted over two rounds; should no candidate secure a majority in the initial round, a second round is held between the two frontrunners. In the State Duma elections, voters cast their ballots for both a party and a representative from a single-member district. Half of the seats in the State Duma are assigned based on the party vote, with any party achieving at least 5 percent of the national vote being assured representation on a proportional basis, while the remaining seats are filled through single-member-district contests. Additionally, each regional governor and the head of each regional assembly nominate one member to serve in the Federation Council.

Several political parties that were established in the 1990s had a significant influence. Despite the disbanding of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union and the decline of communism, the Communist Party of the Russian Federation rose as a formidable political entity. Notably, the party’s leader was the runner-up in the presidential elections of both 1996 and 2000, and in 2000, the party had the largest delegation in the State Duma, though it fell to a distant second place in 2003. The Liberal Democratic Party (LDP), known for its ultranationalist and xenophobic stance, capitalized on the public’s disillusionment and fears in the early 1990s. Under the leadership of Vladimir Zhirinovsky, who placed third in the 1991 presidential election, the LDP secured a significant portion of the vote and numerous seats in the State Duma elections of 1993. By the decade’s end, however, the party’s support had waned considerably, though it experienced a slight resurgence in 2003. Throughout the 1990s, President Yeltsin’s administration faced widespread disapproval among the Russian populace. In an effort to garner legislative backing for his policies, Yeltsin promoted the creation of the Our Home Is Russia party in 1995 and the Unity party in 1999; both of which trailed the Communist Party in parliamentary elections. Parties that advocated for the most liberal policies, such as Grigory Yavlinsky’s Yabloko party, struggled to establish a solid foundation beyond the intellectual community. The Women of Russia party, which emerged in the 1990s, initially captured 8 percent of the vote in the 1993 State Duma election, though its support considerably diminished by the decade’s end. In 2001, several parties amalgamated to form the pro-Putin United Russia party, which from 2003 onwards secured the largest number of seats in the State Duma.

Women held a significant role in Soviet politics, with the Soviet Congress of People’s Deputies mandating that at least one-third of its members be female. However, following the dissolution of the Soviet Union, these quotas were removed, leading to a sharp decline in female representation to approximately 10 percent in the State Duma and 5 percent in the Federation Council by the mid-1990s.

In 2005, the establishment of the People’s Chamber provided an advisory body to support Russia’s civil society. Reminiscent of the Soviet model, this chamber comprised officials, with President Putin overseeing the confirmation of its initial members, thereby bolstering the presidency’s influence.

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