History of Modern Russia
The Last Years of the USSR
For many decades of the twentieth century, the Russian Federation (the Russian Soviet Federative Socialist Republic) was the largest republic of the Soviet Union. Like other Soviet republics, despite having its own executive, legislative and judicial authorities, it was tightly controlled by the Union Centre located in the same place as the republic centre — in Moscow. Decentralization of power occurred in the second half of the 1980s during Perestroika. On March 4, 1990, it led to the election of the Congress of People's Deputies of the RSFSR — the highest body of state power. On May 29, 1990, Boris Nikolayevich Yeltsin, the former first secretary of the Moscow City Committee of the CPSU, secretary of the CPSU Central Committee, who had gone into opposition to the current government and Mikhail Gorbachev in 1987, was elected Chairman of the Supreme Council of the RSFSR.
On June 12, 1990, the Declaration on State Sovereignty of the RSFSR was adopted. The Declaration withdrew RSFSR from the Soviet Union, although it continued its existence as a single country. The supremacy of the Constitution and laws of the RSFSR on the territory of the republic over all-union legislative acts was proclaimed. The Declaration provided equal opportunities for all political parties and associations and expanded the rights of autonomous and other federal constituent entities. Since then, the Day of the Declaration of Sovereignty is a public holiday in Russia.
This resulted in a dinarchy in the USSR. The all-union power had been increasingly superseded by the republican power. The latter encouraged greater autonomation of the regions thus jeopardizing the integrity of the country, and refused to transfer taxes to the Soviet Union budget. In December 1990, all references to socialism were removed from the Constitution of the RSFSR, and the right to private property was approved at the highest legislative level. The consequent laws destroyed the Soviet economic system but laid the foundation for a new one. Banking, private business, and stock exchange operations were officially regulated.
Boris Yeltsin's Accession to Power. The Belovezha Accords and the Collapse of the USSR
In March 1991, two referendums were held simultaneously: the all-union referendum on the preservation of the USSR and the republican referendum on the introduction of elections to the post of President of the RSFSR. The majority of the population voted to keep the country together but, at the same time, expressed a desire to establish the highest post in Russia. Boris Yeltsin was elected president on June 12, 1991, the anniversary of signing the Declaration of State Sovereignty of the RSFSR. His rival in the first democratic elections for the head of the republic was Nikolai Ryzhkov, the former chairman of the Council of Ministers of the USSR. However, he scored three times fewer votes. The first democratic elections of the heads of major cities — Moscow and Leningrad — were held on the same day. The representatives of democratic circles, Gavriil Popov and Anatoly Sobchak correspondingly, won the elections. Yeltsin officially took office on July 10, 1991.
After the failure of the August coup in 1991 and the arrest of members of the State Committee on the State of Emergency, the leadership of the RSFSR, without regard to Gorbachev, began to actually dismantle the all-union state and political bodies. Yeltsin banned the activities of the CPSU on the territory of the republic, arrested all its property, and replaced executive committees with administrations in federal entities, whose heads were appointed in agreement with the regional councils. Following the CPSU, the Communist Party of the RSFSR created a few years earlier fell under the ban as well. Komsomol and Pioneers bodies, as well as the party archives, were finally abolished. Thus, Gorbachev's power was fatally undermined, and the collapse of the USSR became inevitable. On December 8, 1991, agreements on the dissolution of the Soviet Union and the creation of the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) were signed in the Belarusian residence of Viskuli in the Belovezhskaya Pushcha. On December 12, 1991, agreements were ratified by the Supreme Soviet of the RSFSR, and on December 21, eight other republics joined it; four republics proclaimed their sovereignty even before that. The Congress of People's Deputies of the RSFSR did not ratify the agreement, and on April 21, 1992, as indicated in Articles 4, 7 and 30 of the Constitution of the RSFSR, it confirmed that the Soviet Constitution and legislation are in force on the territory of the republic, and it remains part of the USSR.
Building a New Economy. Shock Therapy
The collapse of the USSR inevitably meant the complete dilapidation of the Soviet economic system that had been unsuccessfully reformed by Gorbachev. Back in the autumn of 1991, the republic leadership embarked on radical economic reforms with the aim of a rapid transition to market rails. A new government was formed under the leadership of Yeltsin himself. His first deputies were Gennady Burbulis, Yegor Gaidar and Vladimir Shumeiko. At the same time, the famous economist Ruslan Khasbulatov was elected the new chairman of the Supreme Council of the RSFSR.
On the first working day of the new year 1992, the government began the so-called “shock therapy”. The state price regulation system was destroyed. On the one hand, the commodity shortage was overcome and the rouble regained its status as a convertible currency. On the other hand, prices were exorbitant at the start. In a matter of months, the inconsistency of the government's actions in the financial, industrial and agricultural sectors left Russian enterprises and businesses without working capital. In 1992, inflation reached 2600%, which resulted in wage depreciation (with frequent delays in payment of salaries) and debasement of peoples' life savings that survived after Pavlov's monetary reforms. Unemployment increased greatly. The Central Bank tried to cover the losses through monetary emissions, but it was impossible to ensure enough coverage. As a consequence of all this, consumers’ purchasing power decreased dramatically, although the reformers promised a completely opposite effect.
The Russian economy was going through a severe crisis. Production chains collapsed and many interconnected enterprises found themselves in different countries. The already chronic crisis in agriculture had aggravated. A severe economic downturn has begun. Its impact is still being felt today. At the same time, the country's economic development came under the control of the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank, which required compliance with certain conditions for obtaining loans.
Fight Against Opposition and Separatism. The New Constitution
After the collapse of the USSR, some autonomous entities within Russia strived for independence. Tatarstan and Bashkortostan, as well as some other regions, attempted to proclaim independence. The North Caucasus Republic of Chechnya, where separatists led by Dzhokhar Dudayev came to power, caused the most problems. Demonstrating their independence, Chechen authorities continued to use all the benefits and systems created by the joint efforts of the federation as if nothing had happened.
In 1992–1993, the country was going through a severe political crisis. Vice-President Alexander Rutskoy, the Congress of People's Deputies and the Supreme Soviet headed by Ruslan Khasbulatov, went into opposition to Yeltsin. The referendum held in the spring of 1993 did not help to resolve the crisis. On September 21, 1993, Yeltsin issued a decree dissolving the Congress of People's Deputies and the Supreme Soviet. In response, these bodies declared the decree unconstitutional and impeached the president. It resulted in the carnage in Moscow that is estimated to have taken from 120 to 150 lives, and the rebel parliamentarians were blocked and arrested. Shortly thereafter, the country's leadership enacted a public administration reform and dissolved the councils in the regions and municipalities.
On December 12, 1993, an all-Russian Referendum was held on the adoption of a new constitution. It expanded the powers of the country's president, establish a bicameral parliament, and officially enshrined the principle of separation of powers. Simultaneously, the first elections to the new legislative bodies were held — the State Duma and the Federation Council.
During the mass privatization of 1992–1994, state property was transferred to private hands. On the one hand, this made it possible to revive entrepreneurship and give citizens the opportunity to dispose of their own housing and land, on the other hand, it provoked the emergence of an oligarchy and caused great discontent among the population who were not able to make use of their privatization checks (vouchers).
The situation in Chechnya continued to escalate. On November 30, 1994, President Yeltsin signed a decree on measures to restore constitutional order and sent troops to the Chechen Republic on December 9, 1994. Bloody hostilities helped establish control over almost the entire territory of the Chechen Republic, but the war did not come to an end. Having suffered a defeat in open combat, the separatists switched to terrorist methods and organised bloody attacks in Budyonnovsk, Kizlyar, and Pervomaisky. On August 31, 1996, the Khasavyurt agreements were signed to end the hostilities and withdraw Russian troops from Chechnya. Thus, the power Chechen Republic actually returned to the heirs of Dudayev, who had already been killed by that time.
The Second Term of Boris Yeltsin
In 1996, Boris Yeltsin was re-elected for the second term. During this period of his leadership, a new economic crisis emerged because of the huge public debt, falling prices for raw materials (Russia's key exports) as well as the fall of the government's short-term bonds market. On August 17, 1998, the Russian government announced a technical default: the rouble exchange rate against the dollar fell more than threefold. This led to the bankruptcy of many banks and enterprises, especially small and medium-sized businesses.
On August 7, 1999, large Chechen separatist groups invaded neighbouring Dagestan, triggering the outbreak of the Second Chechen War. On August 16, 1999, Sergei Stepashin was succeeded as acting chairman of the Russian government by Vladimir Putin, previously director of the Federal Security Service. From September 4 to 16, 1999, a series of horrific terrorist attacks took place in the country: explosions of residential buildings in Moscow, Buinaksk, and Volgodonsk. More than 300 people were killed and more than 1,700 were injured. Troops were sent to Chechnya with the announcement of the counter-terrorist operation regime. Main militant forces were defeated within twelve months, but clashes with individual gangs continued for several years. Officially, the counter-terrorist operation regime was lifted only on April 16, 2009.
The 2000s: Vladimir Putin and His First Two Presidential Terms
On December 31, 1999, Yeltsin announced his early resignation from the presidency. In March 2000, Vladimir Putin won the presidential elections. One of his first tasks was to eliminate the political influence of oligarchs on the central government. The most influential businessmen of the Yeltsin era, Boris Berezovsky, Vladimir Gusinsky, and Alexander Smolensky, fled the country soon after the prosecution started. In 2003, Mikhail Khodorkovsky, the head of Yukos company, was arrested and subsequently convicted.
After the 1990s crisis, the economy showed steady growth, the real incomes of the population doubled, and the state budget was in surplus due to the increase in commodity prices. Several economic and social reforms were implemented in the field of labour relations, railway transport, the electric power industry, the banking sector, pensions, taxation, and land use.
On March 14, 2004, Vladimir Putin was re-elected for the second term. In September 2004, the deadliest terrorist attack took place in Beslan that claimed the lives of more than 300 people. The main goal of Moscow during this period was to strengthen the vertical of power. In particular, governors' elections were cancelled, the party-list voting at the elections of the State Duma was introduced, the territorial representative offices of the State Duma were abolished, and the members of the Federation Council started to be appointed by the regional heads.
Since 2005, National Projects were launched to solve issues in healthcare, education, culture, agriculture, and housing policy domains. At the same time, an attempt was made to “monetize social benefits”. After a while, this initiative was curtailed because of strong public discontent. During this period, it was finally possible to bounce off the potential territorial and political disintegration of the country, to achieve a significant strengthening of Russia's authority and influence in the international arena.
Presidency of Dmitry Medvedev
On March 2, 2008, Dmitry Medvedev was elected the new President of Russia. On May 7, 2008, he appointed Vladimir Putin to the post of Prime Minister of Russia.
The armed conflict in South Ossetia broke out on August 7, 2008. It was provoked by the aggressive actions of the Georgian army and the desire of Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili to restore control over the country's regions that had broken away fifteen years ago. On August 8, 2008, the peace enforcement operation began: a Russian contingent was introduced into the region. The fighting continued for four days and resulted in the signing of a quadripartite agreement on the peaceful resolution of the conflict and Russia's diplomatic recognition of Abkhazia and South Ossetia.
2008 was marked by the global financial and economic crisis, which led to a decline in production and a reduction of reserve funds. The Russian leadership has taken large-scale anti-crisis measures to balance this. By 2011, the country had returned to pre-crisis levels.
Amendments to the Constitution increasing the presidential term from 4 to 6 years and the deputies' service term in the State Duma from 4 to 5 years were approved on December 30, 2008.
Medvedev's presidency was marked by several reforms in the law enforcement agencies: the Investigative Committee was detached from the Prosecutor's Office, and the reformation process started in the Armed Forces and the Ministry of Internal Affairs. Direct elections of regional heads were reinstated on April 25, 2012.
New Presidential Terms of Vladimir Putin
On March 4, 2012, Vladimir Putin won the presidential elections and appointed Dmitry Medvedev as Prime Minister. That period was accompanied by a large-scale protest movement organised by non-systemic opposition to the current government. The protest went into decline after the dissolution of the Opposition Coordination Council in 2013.
In February 2014, the country's first Winter Olympics were held in Sochi. Following the results of the games, the Russian team took first place in the medal standings. Three years later, several athletes were stripped of their medals based on the results of Anti-Doping Commission proceedings. Despite that fact, Russia remained in first place with 2 medals ahead of the United States.
On March 18, 2014, after a referendum in Crimea conducted in response to a coup d'état in Kyiv, Russia claimed sovereignty over the peninsula. This was the will of the Crimea residents, the vast majority of whom voted for secession from Ukraine and reunification with Russia. A number of Western countries, not recognizing the results of the referendum, imposed sanctions against Russia. In response, Moscow imposed a ban on food imports from the European Union. Severing economic ties with the West resulted in a drop in production, devaluation of the rouble against world currencies, and a decline in the real income of the population, but the Russian economy avoided the collapse.
Since September 30, 2015, Russia has been conducting a military operation in Syria, supporting the country's leadership in the fight against terrorist organisations of Islamic fundamentalists. Most of the country was liberated by the end of 2017.
On March 18, 2018, Vladimir Putin was re-elected for the fourth term. In the summer of the same year, Russia hosted the FIFA World Cup for the first time. In October 2018, the State Duma adopted the law raising the retirement age by 5 years, which led to growing public discontent.
On January 15, 2020, the government of Dmitry Medvedev was dismissed, and Mikhail Mishustin became the new prime minister. On the same day, President Putin proposed a number of amendments to the Constitution, which was approved by the State Duma and the Federation Council.
In March 2020, an epidemic of a new coronavirus infection began in Russia with a high morbidity rate and a considerable number of fatal cases. Along with falling commodity prices, the epidemic led to a new economic crisis and a drop in income.
After voting in the summer of 2020, the following amendments were introduced into the Russian Constitution: the priority of Russian laws over international ones in the territory of the Russian Federation, a ban on foreign citizenship for public officials, expansion of the powers of the Constitutional Court, the State Duma and the Federation Council, lifting restrictions on the number of consecutive presidential terms.
Despite all the difficulties, Russia managed to develop the Sputnik V vaccine against the new coronavirus and become the first in the world practice to make it publicly available. At the end of 2020, the state began mass vaccination of the population. The vaccine was registered and adopted for use in dozens of countries around the world.
On the night of 23 to 24 February 2022, a special military operation was launched to demilitarize and denazify Ukraine. It was the result of a long Russian-Ukrainian political crisis and military operations of Ukrainian troops against the Donetsk and Lugansk People's Republics proclaimed after the coup in Kyiv in 2014. On September 23–27, 2022, the Donetsk and Luhansk People's Republics, as well as the Kherson and Zaporizhzhia regions, joined Russia as a result of referendums.
Many European countries, the United States, Japan, and Australia have imposed unprecedented sanctions against the Russian Federation. But despite the 9 successive packages of sanctions in 2022, the economy of the country managed to withstand the enormous pressure. Russia continues to defend its state and economic interests.
Development of Science
The collapse of the USSR plunged the country's research institutions into a severe crisis. Budget funding was sharply reduced, and a number of organisations were liquidated. In the 1990s, science relied heavily on foreign grants. Science began to gradually recover from the crisis only in the 2000s. In 2000, Zhores Alferov from the Ioffe Physical-Technical Institute was awarded the Nobel Prize in physics. Alferov earned this top award for his fundamental research in the field of semiconductor and laser technologies. Three years later, Alexei Abrikosov and Vitaly Ginzburg were awarded the Nobel Prize in physics for their research in the field of superfluidity and superconductivity. In addition, in 2010, the representatives of the Russian scientific school working in the UK Andre Geim and Konstantin Novoselov received the most prestigious world award for their study of graphene.
Another success of Russian physicists is the development of the latest quantum communication systems for high-security data exchange conducted under the leadership of Artur Gleim from the St. Petersburg Institute of Fine Mechanics and Optics (ITMO). This work resulted in the launch of a single quantum communication line and then the whole multinode quantum network. The astrophysicists Aleksandr Starobinsky and Andrey Linde, the researcher of gravitational waves Vladimir Braginsky, and the team of Alexander Pavlovsky, who developed a method to generate superpowerful magnetic fields, also won widespread scientific recognition. In 2016, four new chemical elements were discovered at the Laboratory of Nuclear Reactions in Dubna following the discovery of ten new elements within the previous decade.
The Fields Prize laureates Efim Zelmanov, Maxim Kontsevich, Vladimir Voevodsky, Andrei Okunkov, Stanislav Smirnov, as well as the most famous among them Grigory Perelman, the first in the world to prove the Poincaré conjecture, upheld the honour of the national mathematical scientific school.
Representatives of Russian humanitarian scientific schools also achieved much recognition. In 2010, an archaeological team led by Anatoly Derevyanko discovered the remains of an ancient man, contemporary of Neanderthals and Cro-Magnons, called Denisovan. The Russian anthropologist and historian Yuri Berezkin made a great contribution to the study of the initial resettlement of ancient people.
Recognizing the importance of scientific achievements, over the last two decades, the state pays great attention to the implementation of federal targeted programmes, including the “Science” National Project, the creation of technology parks, and the provision of grants (especially to young scientists).
Industry and Agriculture
Industry and agriculture have grown significantly in the last two decades. Despite all the crises, Russia has managed to preserve the military-industrial complex, aircraft construction and nuclear industries that have become successful in the new century and are able to compete with other countries. Metallurgy, mining, chemical, light industry, pharmaceutical industry, and energy sector have developed significantly. Microelectronics and nanotechnology began to develop thanks to state investments. Agriculture has grown rapidly: 30 years ago Russia was the grain-importing country, but it became the world record holder for wheat exports by the early 2020s. The following sectors have risen to above pre-crisis levels: animal husbandry, fish farming, wine and vodka production. The consumption of agricultural products by citizens also increased greatly.
The cultural sphere underwent major changes since the collapse of the USSR. Considerable progress was achieved in the field of television and press, and new regional and all-Russian media and TV channels have been established. Large urban architectural projects were implemented, the most famous being the restoration of the Cathedral of Christ the Saviour, the construction of the Third Ring Road of Moscow, the Ring Road in St. Petersburg, etc. Advanced digital technologies provided Russian citizens with round-the-clock access to performances of outstanding domestic and foreign artists, classical and contemporary works of literature and cinema.
In the 2010s, the state had been quite successfully implementing its cultural policy. Significant reforms were carried out, large museum and exhibition projects were implemented, and many monuments paying tribute to important historical figures and memorials were erected. 2014 was declared the Year of Culture in Russia, 2015 — the Year of Literature, 2017 — the Year of Cinema, 2019 — the Year of Theatre, and 2022 — the Year of Cultural Heritage of the Peoples of Russia. Museum attendance has doubled, library funding has increased, and hundreds of cinema halls have been constructed, including in small settlements. Cinema has become a particularly successful industry as its box office tripled in the second half of the 2010s.
The social sphere has been undergoing extensive development. The Social Support of Citizens State Programme, designed for the period up to 2024, has been operating since 2013. It is aimed to ensure comprehensive improvement in servicing the people receiving social benefits; increase in the birth rate; increase in the number of foster family placements for orphans and children left without parental care; proper conditions for the best work of socially oriented non-profit organisations, the improvement of the material and social status of pensioners and the disabled.