Russian Federation. The year was marked by a growing opposition movement against the old President Vladimir Putin, who responded with repression that, according to critics, reminded Stalin.
The conflict surrounding the parliamentary elections in December 2011 continued at the beginning of the year. The opposition claimed that the Kremlin’s power party United Russia cheated victory, and in February a demonstration was held in Moscow with tens of thousands of participants demanding re-election.
The feminist punk band Pussy Riot made a domed appearance in Christ the Savior’s Cathedral in Moscow, where they performed a so-called punk prayer: “Virgin Mary, save us from Putin”. Three band members were arrested accused of hooliganism, giving the music video the protest international attention on YouTube.
- AbbreviationFinder.org: Provides most commonly used acronyms and abbreviations for Russia. Also includes location map, major cities, and country overview.
The presidential election in March was considered to be decided in advance. Opinion polls showed a clear majority for Prime Minister Vladimir Putin. Just before the election, the Kremlin claimed that Russian and Ukrainian security services in cooperation had averted an attempted assault against Putin. Two suspects arrested in Ukraine admitted to television cameras, but one later claimed he admitted under torture.
Already in the first round of elections, it was clear that Putin would be the next president. He won a landslide victory with over 63% of the vote. Communist leader Gennady Ziuganov got 18% and billionaire Michail Prochorov 8%. Among those who were not approved as candidates were the Liberal opposition party Jabloko’s leader Grigorij Javlinsky.
The data on electoral fraud were numerous. OSCE observers spoke of irregularities in every three polling stations, and about 3,000 cases of cheating were reported to the Russian observatory Golos. The opposition protested against the result, and the day after the election demonstrated about 20,000 people in Moscow. Police arrested over 500 protesters, and some were sentenced to shorter detention. Among the arrested were the popular blogger and anti-corruption activist Aleksey Navalnyj, who during the protests was hailed as a rock star by his followers. He was released shortly.
Following winter’s protests, in March Parliament eased the rules for forming political parties. Under the new law, only 500 members are needed to register a party, instead of the previous 40,000.
In connection with Vladimir Putin’s resignation in May as a new president, violent protests took place in Moscow. Tens of thousands of protesters filled the streets, and there was a quarrel between police and protestors. Many were injured and over 430 people were arrested, including Aleksey Navalnyj and Boris Nemtsov, leader of the Solidarity movement and the Party for the Freedom of the People. Both were sentenced to 15 days in prison. When Parliament voted for outgoing President Dmitry Medvedev as new Prime Minister after Putin, there were also demonstrations.
In the regime’s attempt to curb the protests, the maximum fine for participants in illegal and violent demonstrations was dramatically increased, from 5,000 to 300,000 rubles, corresponding to over SEK 64,000. Organizers of unlicensed demonstrations could be fined double the amount.
When the opposition was to conduct new protests in Moscow in June, the police struck in advance against opposition leaders and activists, including Navalnyj, Nemtsov and TV journalist Ksenija Sobtjak. Their home was searched and they had to contact the police.
In July, the snare was tightened further around the opposition through new laws. Defamation and defamation again became punishable by fines of up to one million SEK. In addition, organizations that promote human rights, and other organizations that are judged to carry out political activities and have contributions from abroad, must be registered with the Ministry of Justice as “foreign agents”. The EU and the US criticized the law. New control of the Internet was also introduced, where the authorities were given the right to close websites with what was called illegal material.
Aleksej Navalnyj was indicted in July, accused of embezzlement three years earlier in a state forestry company. Navalnyj had previously been acquitted in the case, and he described the new indictment as absurd and devoted to silencing his regime criticism. On conviction, Navalnyj risked up to ten years in prison. After the indictment, his supporters declared that they intended to form a new party, the Folkalliance.
A few months after Putin took office, Human Rights Watch noted that the few signs of increased political freedom during Medvedev’s term in office had been wiped out. The new Putin regime had attacked freedom of assembly, freedom of the press and freedom of speech and launched a campaign of arrests and threats to the growing opposition movement.
An urgent flood in the Krasnodar region of the southern Russian federation in July harvested 172 fatalities. Three local politicians and officials were charged that residents of the area did not receive any warning about the rainfall that was coming, despite weather reports of the approaching storm. The tidal wave that pulled over the city of Krymsk at night was described as a multi-meter high tsunami.
At a concert in Moscow in August, American pop star Madonna urged the Russian authorities to respect freedom of speech and release the three accused members of the punk band Pussy Riot. An employee of President Putin responded to Twitter by calling Madonna “whore.”
About a week later, the three young women were sentenced to two years in prison for hooliganism. According to the judge, the protest song in the Savior Cathedral in February was anti-religious, which many Russians agreed with, but according to the women themselves, the protest was directed at the Putin regime. One lawyer said the three were held under cruel conditions in the detention and that the trial was substandard. The ruling was criticized internationally, and Amnesty International described it as a severe blow to freedom of speech in the Russian Federation.
In September, opposition politician Gennady Gudkov, A Fair Russia, was excluded from Parliament’s lower house. He was accused of illegally conducting business alongside his elected representative. Gudkov described Parliament’s decision as a political revenge for his participation in the street protests against Putin and an attempt to silence his criticism of corruption and electoral fraud.
During new protests outside the security service FSB’s headquarters, Aleksey Navalnyj and other opposition activists were arrested. It happened after Navalnyj, Garri Kasparov and Boris Nemtsov formed a coordination council for resistance to the Putin regime. Subsequently, several mass rioters were indicted at the May demonstrations. The first sentence was four and a half years in prison. Left-wing activist Leonid Razvozzyev was also accused of plans for a coup d’etat, but he himself claimed that he had been kidnapped from Ukraine to Moscow and tortured for recognition.
After the three convicted Pussy Riot members appealed their verdict, one of them was acquitted during the fall. The other two were taken to labor camps over a hundred miles from Moscow. According to the human rights organization Memorial, the Russian leadership now used Stalinan’s methods against the opposition, repression with arrests, trials and labor camps. Even Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev criticized the verdict against Pussy Riot.
A court in November declared Pussy Riots punk prayer video for extremist material, which means media publishing it is threatened by closure.
Two worrying changes to the law came into force in November.
One was a so-called treason law punishable by up to 20 years in prison for Russians who have contact with foreigners who may be considered a danger to the security of the Russian Federation. The law was considered to be aimed at activists working for organizations focused on politics, human rights and corruption. According to an experienced activist from the Soviet era, the law was a return to Stalin, when all conversations with foreigners could be treated as a threat to the state.
Organizations that are considered to work on political issues and who receive financial assistance from abroad (they receive nothing in the Russian Federation) must register as foreign “agents” from November. Both those who chose to register and those who refused to do so risk the legal system.
In the local elections in the autumn, Putin’s power party Enade Russia had great success, but was met by accusations of electoral fraud and pressure on voters.
In November, President Putin dismissed Defense Minister Anatoly Serdyukov and the head of the armed forces after a corruption scandal was revealed at the Department of Defense.
During the year, relations with the United States were strained when the Kremlin decided to put a stop to the US aid agency USAID in the Russian Federation. USAID, which has worked with human rights, among others, was accused of interfering in domestic politics.
In December, a former police officer was sentenced to eleven years in prison for assisting in the murder of journalist Anna Politkovskaja in 2006. Who ordered and executed the murder is unclear.
In his speech to the nation in December, President Putin said that a mixed electoral system with both party lists and one-man constituencies should be reintroduced. It was Putin’s first surrender to the opposition since taking office as president in May.
When the United States adopted the so-called Magnitsky law in December, Russia responded, among other things, with a ban on Americans adopting Russian children. Magnitsky law blacklists Russian officials suspected of participating in Sergei Magnitsky’s death in prison in 2009. Magnitsky had been charged with tax fraud after he struck a billion-dollar alarm among state officials.
Relations with the United States were strained by the Magnitsky case but also when the Kremlin decided during the year to stop the US aid agency USAID’s activities in the Ryka federation.
Parliament approved during the year the membership of the Russian Federation in the World Trade Organization WTO, which could thus enter into force.
According to countryaah, the population of Russia in 2012 was 144,984,946, ranking number 9 in the world. The population growth rate was 0.210% yearly, and the population density was 8.8530 people per km2.