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Informational Highlight: Russia

One of the biggest stories of the year is about Russia. For the past six months, Russia has been filling US news cycles. Now, it is not unusual for Russia to be a topic of political concern in the US. However, reports have been released that Russia intentionally intervened with the United States election in order to ensure the victory of Donald Trump. Furthermore, two weeks ago, National Security Advisor Michael Flynn resigned after undeniable reports came out that he discussed sanctions with the Russian government prior to Donald Trump’s inauguration, then lied about it.

This is not normal.

We should all being following this story with great concern, and reaching out to our representatives make them aware of our concern. This is a bipartisan issue that is relevant to the United States’ sovereignty and democracy. You can read more about this story on the Associated Press or NPR websites.

Check out the information below in order to gain some background information on the country of Russia as well as their relations with the US.

 

Demographics

The Russian Federation is the largest country in the world, and covers more than ⅛ of all inhabited land on earth. Though it is the largest country by surface area, it is only the ninth most populous, with over 140 million people at the end of 2016. The country extends across two continents and eleven time zones, sharing borders with Norway, Finland, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, Belarus, Ukraine, Georgia, Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan, China, Mongolia, and North Korea. It also shares maritime borders with Japan and the US state of Alaska. A majority of the population is condensed in European Russia, with 77 percent of citizens living in the more populated and urbanized areas of the East. A 2010 census found that 81 percent of the population is ethnically Russian. The main spoken languages are Russian, Tatar, and Ukrainian. The main religion is Russian Orthodox, though as a result of its communist history, atheism and agnosticism are also very common. Russia has free universal health care as well as free public education, and a subsidized higher education program. The country is very proud of its Olympic success, and holds the second highest amount of gold medals in the world.

 

History

Settlement of Russian lands began in the 8th century by ancient Greek and Roman traders. The first Slavic states were created by settling Vikings. In 1547 the first Russian czar was crowned. He established a new code of law as well as the first feudal representative body. For the next 200 years, Russian czars pushed for territorial growth. In 1721, Russia was proclaimed an empire by Peter the Great, and was recognized as an international power. Imperial Russia continued to push for more land, as well as making great advances in science and the arts. In the early 1800s, Russia became the setting for Napoleon’s great defeat, where his army was left battered and defeated by the brutal Russian winter. This invasion sparked a sense of liberalism in Russia, which led to revolts and eventual reform. In 1905, after the failed Russo-Japanese War, a revolution led to the expansion of civil rights. In 1914, Russia entered WWI after Austro-Hungary declared war on Russia’s ally Serbia. The costs of the war led to the Russian Revolution in 1917, which dissolved the current leadership and created a provisional democratic federal republic. Soon after, Bolshevik leader Vladimir Lenin overthrew the provisional government and created the world’s first socialist state in 1922. Russia then became the United Soviet Socialist Republic (USSR). After Lenin’s death, Joseph Stalin gained power, and steered the country in a different direction. The economy was collectivized and human rights were severely neglected. In 1941 Germany invaded the Soviet Union, which led to eventual German defeat. The USSR emerged from the war as a global superpower. The Cold War soon began as the USSR struggled against the US and NATO for global dominance. In the 1980s the economy stagnated, and eventually in 1989, the Soviet Union fell alongside the Berlin Wall. Over the next ten years, the economy began to shift towards privatization. In 1999 Vladimir Putin was elected as President from his position as prime minister. He has held political power since. In 2014 Russian illegally annexed Crimea, causing sanctions from the international community. In 2015 Russia started military intervention in the Syrian Civil War in aid of the Syrian government.  

 

Government

Formally, the Constitution of Russia states that Russia is a federation and a semi-presidential republic. The federation is structured as a multi-party representative democracy with three branches of federal government. The president is the head of state, and is elected by popular vote for a six-year term. The prime minister is the head of government. The country is split into federal subjects that have representative in the Federation Council. Each subject has different levels of autonomy from the federal government. In 2013, Russia was ranked 122nd out of 167 countries in the Democracy Index. They are currently ranked 80th out of 90 countries in terms of rule of law.  

 

Human Rights

When it comes to human rights abuses, Russia is one of the most discussed offenders. In 2007 alone, cases against Russia in the European Court of Human Rights accounted for 22.5 percent of all cases heard. According to international human rights organizations, as well as independent press, human rights violations in Russia include widespread torture by police, hazing in the Russian army, cruelty against children in Russian orphanages, discrimination, racism, murders of ethnic minorities, and contracted killings of journalists. Demonstrators who speak out against the government are repeatedly attacked and imprisoned, and NGOs have been forcibly closed.

 

Annexation of Crimea

In 2013, Ukrainian president Viktor Yanukovich entered into a backroom deal with Russia, accepting millions in aid in exchange for Russia’s continued occupation of the Port of Sevastopol. The people of Ukraine had been pushing for Ukraine to join the European Union, and were deeply angered by this decision. They took to the streets for months in the Maidan Revolution, and eventually pushed Yanukovych out of power. Russia took advantage of this political unrest to encourage Russian nationalism within Ukraine, and eventually used military intimidation to annex Crimea. Crimea is legally a part of Ukraine, but a majority of its citizens are ethnically Russian. After placing pro-Russian leaders in Crimea, and deploying unofficial and ununiformed Russian military members to the area, Russia pushed Crimea to hold a referendum to leave Ukraine and join Russia. This “vote” was not recognized by the international community. Unrest continues in the Donetsk and Luhansk regions of Ukraine, aggravated by Russian presence. Due to Russia’s aggression, the EU and the US implemented economic sanctions against Russia, which are currently still in place.

 

US-Russia Relations

Relations between the United States and Russia were generally warm in the 1990s until the NATO bombings in Yugoslavia in 1999. In the 2000s, US President George W. Bush and Russian President Vladimir Putin began to have disagreements. Russia vehemently disagreed with the US invasion of Iraq, and accused the US of supporting anti-Russian revolutions in Georgia and Ukraine. In 2007 the US announced plans to build a missile station in Poland, which deeply angered the Russian government, who compared to act to the Cuban missile crisis. In 2009 President Barack Obama attempted a reset of US-Russia relations,and for a couple of years things began to warm. In 2010 the two countries reached an agreement to reduce their stockpile of nuclear weapons. However, tensions began to grow post-2010. After the 2014 annexation of Crimea, the US enacted sanctions against Russia, severely hurting the Russian economy. Russia and the US also had strong disagreements about the Syrian War, with Russia supporting the Syrian government, and the US opposing the current Syrian leadership. During the 2016 election in the US, security officials accused the Russian government of being behind massive cyber-hackings and leaks aimed at influencing the election and discrediting the U.S. political system. In late December, President Obama reacted to these accusations by ordering Russian diplomats to leave the US. Russia did not respond. Recently, reports have surfaced that top Trump advisor Michael Flynn had discussions with Russian officials about these actions prior to Trump being inaugurated. Flynn was forced to resign, as these discussions violated US and international law.

 

 

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Freshman at Lasell College. Interested in fashion, feminism, and fearlessly pursuing my dreams.
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