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Structure of Russia's Present Day Government

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  • 0:00 Emerging from Communism
  • 0:46 Structure of the Federation
  • 1:48 Strong Presidency
  • 2:43 Legislative and Judicial
  • 4:43 Lesson Summary
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Instructor: Kevin Newton

Kevin has edited encyclopedias, taught middle and high school history, and has a master's degree in Islamic law.

Russia's place as a world power has shown little signs of stopping since the fall of the Soviet Union. In this lesson, we will develop a basic understanding of the structure of Russian government, one that is quite different from our own.

Emerging from Communism

For more than 80 years, Russia was part of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics, commonly known as the Soviet Union. Granted, it was the largest, most populous, and arguably, most important part, but it was a part of the greater whole nonetheless. By 1991, Russia was independent under its own name for the first time in decades.

However, the transition from the Soviet Union to the current Russian state was fraught with hazards. In fact, in 1993, a serious coup attempt ended with shots being fired from tanks in the capital. As a result, the president of Russia at the time, Boris Yeltsin, worked to rework the constitution and government of Russia. The resulting arrangement is still in place today.

Structure of the Federation

At the core of the Russian system is the idea that it is a federation. A federation exists when a central government places significant powers within local or territorial governments. As you probably know, Russia is the world's largest country by land area, and that sort of size doesn't come without difficulty. While Saint Petersburg and Moscow may appear to be great Western metropolises, many people in the Far East live in a manner that is largely unchanged since the time of Russia's monarchs, the Tsars. As a result, the federation places power in gigantic chunks of Russia. This provides enough self-government to help ease over any tensions due to language, culture, or ethnicity.

That said, some detractors point to the fact that this is not exactly a perfect system. The real power is not held by the heads of each region, nor is it held by the smaller governments that exist independently of the larger constituent republics. Instead, power in Russia is heavily concentrated in one place.

Strong Presidency

The office of the President of the Federation is the single most powerful seat in Russia. When Yeltsin resigned, he handed over power to Vladimir Putin, who used constitutional machinations to stay in power even past the term limits of the office. Technically, the president is not part of the executive branch. However, he maintains extensive executive powers. He can appoint or dismiss judges, ambassadors, and military leaders and also has significant power over the legislature. As long as he consults with the relevant committees, he has the power to do whatever he wants with regards to foreign affairs.

Additionally, in the event that he is unable to continue his duties, he is replaced by the prime minister, who is actually the head of the executive branch. The strength of the presidential office and the executive branch has helped to ensure stability, if not always freedom.

Legislative and Judicial

You're probably getting the idea that the presidency and executive branch of Russia hold much of the power in that country. You'd be right. Still, the legislative branch has some surprising parallels to the United States. It has two houses, a lower house known as the State Duma, as well as the Federation Council of Russia, the upper house.

The State Duma is elected by the people of Russia voting on groups of candidates put forth by each party. This means that people vote for a party, not for a particular candidate. As a result, it is based on the proportion of population, similar to the U.S. House of Representatives. However, whereas the U.S. House of Representatives has seats allotted to states, the State Duma treats it as one big whole from which to draw candidates according to party lists. You don't vote for your representative but instead for your party to have a seat in the Duma. The State Duma has the typical range of powers you'd expect to find in a legislature with a strong executive branch, but there is one notable exception: a two-thirds vote of the State Duma can dismiss the president.

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