Contemporary Issues in Russia

Instructor: Christopher Sailus

Chris has an M.A. in history and taught university and high school history.

In this lesson we explore the diverse country of Russia in the 21st century. We will learn about the domestic and international issues it faces, and the forces behind them.

Contemporary Issues in Russia

Everyone's got issues. Whether it's trouble with debt, problems at your job, or a rocky personal relationship, there are always problems that crop up in people's lives. Countries too have their own fair share of problems, though these tend to be more wide-spread, like a sluggish economy or racist culture. In this lesson we will review a few of the issues facing the largest country in the world by land area, Russia.

russia map

Politics and Foreign Policy

For most of the 20th century, Russia was a part of the Soviet Union, the vast, oligarchical, communist nation that stood toe-to-toe with the United States for half a century. After the dissolution of the Soviet Union in the early 1990s, Russia transitioned to a democracy and their foreign relations with the west improved.

However, the recent Vladimir Putin and Dimitry Medvedev regimes have stifled democracy and tightened control over power in Russia.

President of Russia, Vladimir Putin
vladimir putin

Russia has adopted a more aggressive foreign policy reminiscent of the Cold War era. For example:

  • In 2008, Russia recognized the independence of two states within the country of Georgia that wished to break away from the country. A former Soviet-controlled state, this recognition is largely viewed by the rest of the world as an encroachment on Georgian sovereignty.
  • Many western countries believe Russia to be secretly sending troops to aid and direct the separatists in Ukraine. Though Russia vehemently denies any direct intervention in the country's internal dispute, their suspected actions may be considered a threat of war against the west.
  • In 2014, Canadian and American fighter planes intercepted Russian fighters flying close to Canadian airspace in the arctic.
  • In 2015, Norwegian military officials admitted that the amount of Russian air patrols flying along Norway's coast was similar to levels seen during the Cold War. Flying over any other country without permission is considered an aggressive breach of a country's sovereignty.

Economy and Corruption

Russian's weakening economy can largely be attributed to foreign sanctions, oil prices, and income inequality.

To start, the price of the Russian currency, the ruble, has plummeted. Why? Partly because the United States and other countries imposed heavy sanctions against Russia as punishment for violations of the cease-fire agreements in Ukraine.

The precipitous drop in oil prices in 2014 did its part too. Russia has been heavily dependent upon oil exports ever since the fall of the Soviet Union. A loss of value on oil just compounded already growing economic problems.

To make matters worse, Russia has one of the highest levels of national income inequality in the world. According to a 2013 report, an incredible 35 percent of Russian wealth is owned by just 110 people! Cronyism and corruption is rife in Russian institutions, causing frustrated citizens to protest in the streets of Moscow. Government reaction to growing discontent may define Russian domestic politics in the years to come.

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