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Spanning nine time zones, this vast Eurasian land is geographically the world's largest country. Emerging from its dominance and subsequent turmoil as a Soviet superpower, Russia has become powerful in international politics. Its wealth comes mainly from its oil and gas exports, and its economic strength has allowed the government to tighten state control over the media. Russia has serious children’s rights issues, including discrimination towards the LGBT and minority communities, a clampdown on freedom of association and expression, and neglect and abuse in orphanages.
The Russian Federation stretches from the edges of Europe in the west to the Pacific in the east. It is the largest country in the world in terms of territory, covering more than 17.1 million square kilometres, or one eighth of the Earth's inhabited surface. Encompassing a huge range of environments and nine time zones, Russia is often informally divided between its European and Asian territory with the border between the two at the Ural Mountain range. In addition to a contiguous continental territory and island Russia also include the exclave of Kaliningrad. Politically a federation, Russia consists of a variety of territorial units including several different classes of provinces and a number of nominally independent republics.
The capital city is Moscow, although this has moved between here and St Petersburg several times throughout Russia’s history.
Population and Language
Russia’s population is approximately 143,000,000 people, as of 2012.
The majority of the population is ethnically Russian, but Russia is also home to a wide variety of minority groups, including Tatars, Ukrainians, Bashkirs, Chechens and many more. Theoretically, many of the larger ethnic groups in Russia have been granted their own semi-autonomous republics as homelands within the federation. Demographic and international boundary shifts, however, mean that the “national” ethnic group in a republic or province might not actually be the majority - the Jewish Autonomous Oblast, for example, is now around 98 per cent non-Jewish.
The largest religious group are Eastern Orthodox Christians, although there is a significant Muslim minority. Buddhism and Shamanic beliefs are also practised in some areas.
History and Politics
Despite tentative reforms in the nineteenth century, Imperial Russia in the 1900s was approaching a crisis. After three disastrous years of fighting the First World War, a failed attempt to suppress striking workers in March 1917 forced the the Tsar to abdicate in favour of a coalition of liberals and socialists. This provisional government was short lived and was in turn overthrown by the more hardline Bolshevik movement in October of that year. After a bloody civil war, with massive violence against civilian populations by all sides, the Bolsheviks emerged victorious as leaders of the new Russian Soviet Federative Socialist Republic, eventually going on to become the Communist Party of the Soviet Union.
Vladimir Lenin, the first leader of Soviet Russia, was succeeded by Joseph Stalin in 1924, who intensified the programmes of economic reform and political repression. Millions died in famines or through executions with many more being deported to labour camps in remote regions. At the same time, however, industrialisation advanced rapidly. During the 1930s initial attempts to avoid war with Nazi Germany through a non-aggression pact failed, and Russia was invaded. After some of the bloodiest fighting of the war, Russia managed to not only reclaim but actually expand its previous territories. Russia annexed several occupied countries into Soviet Socialist Republics, while others were converted into Soviet controlled satellite states, such as the People's Republic of Poland, the People's Republic of Hungary,the Czechoslovak Socialist Republic, the People's Republic of Romania, the People's Republic of Bulgaria, the People's Republic of Albania, and, later, East Germany.
The following decades were characterised by suppression of independence movements in these territories, the gradually worsening state of the Soviet economy and tensions with the United States and its allies, which were prevented from becoming open conflicts by the threat of nuclear annihilation. Instead, both sides sparred through allied regimes and proxy wars around the world in what is known as the “Cold War”.
By the late 1980s, the USSR was facing a number of serious social, political and economic problems, including the consequences of drawn out guerrilla warfare in Afghanistan, goods shortages and inflation. Attempts at reform by Premier Mikhail Gorbachev proved ultimately unsuccessful. Other republics began to secede from the USSR and, when an attempted coup by political hardliners failed to reverse the process, both the Soviet Union and the rule of the Communist party failed. In 1991, the USSR was dissolved and Russia re-emerged as one of a number of republics. Attempts at economic reform, however, led to chaos, rampant corruption and the growth of organised crime. The first Post-Soviet premier, Boris Yeltsin, was succeeded by Vladimir Putin in 1999. While Putin’s reign has seen the return of a degree of economic stability and a rise in living standards, his government style has been seen as increasingly authoritarian.
Russia is one of the world's major economies. Although it suffered greatly from the instability of the 1990s, the economy enjoyed a strong recovery during the following decade, in part due to rising gas and oil prices. Russia’s GDP per capita nearly doubled between 2004 and 2008, from around $10,000 to over $20,000. The global financial crisis did lead to a short lived contraction, but recovery is now underway.
The energy sector remains very important for Russia, but instability in prices also represents a major potential vulnerability. Other sectors, such as manufacturing, are still important but suffer from numerous economic problems, including a tendency towards high failure rates for businesses. Internal consumption has also slowed down, in part due to low consumer confidence. 
Media and Civil Society
Freedom of expression in Russia is currently classified as a “difficult situation” by Reporters Without Borders. While many of the centralised mechanisms for control of information were dismantled at the end of the Soviet era, these were replaced during the 1990s and 2000s with an environment where journalists and human rights defenders were frequently subject to intimidation, assault and even murder. One notable incident was the killing in 2006 of Anna Politkovskaya, a critic of both Vladimir Putin and the conduct of Russia’s war in Chechnya. The parties ultimately responsible are rarely identified in these cases, although accusations have been made that both political and business interests are frequently using murder as a way of silencing critical voices. As a result, many media outlets have begun to practice significant self censorship, notably in the lead up to the Sochi Winter Olympics in 2014. 
The Russian government has also become more directly involved in restricting freedom of speech, including establishing a national blacklist of websites. Though described as a way to protect children from potentially harmful or illegal content, as of September 2013 an estimated 30,000 sites have been blocked - 98 per cent of them without having been examined in a court to determine if their content actually matches the criteria of the law. This has included major social networking sites such as Facebook and there are concerns that the law’s provisions are unclear, too broad and open to abuse.
Other potential threats to expression have included the imprisonment of journalists and the creation of new laws designed to criminalise “insulting religious feelings” and “propaganda of non-traditional sexual relations”. These are seen as part of a wider campaign by the current Russian government to restrict opposition critics, including the high profile sentencing to a labour camp of punk band and political activists Pussy Riot. Some commentators suggest this is part of a project by the Russian government to ideologically fuse conservative Christianity with renewed nationalism and to marginalise critics as “unpatriotic” or “anti-Russian”.
The Russian government has also taken overt measures to restrict the work of civil society, including a law approved in 2012 that forced NGOs who receive funding from overseas to declare themselves as “foreign agents” and to submit to additional oversight. This law has been widely condemned as an attempt to limit the actions of civil society organisations.
Human Rights and Children's Rights
There are numerous serious ongoing human rights issues in Russia, a number of which have directly affected children. Please note that the issues of children in care, sexual abuses and exploitation, child trafficking and general discrimination against non-Slavic or non-Russian ethnicities are covered in greater depth in the persistent violations report.
Abuses by police and security forces, both in the form of officially sanctioned violence and private criminality or corruption, is a major problem. Torture, extortion and even murder by State officials and security forces operating in a “state of impunity” continues, leaving ordinary citizens with almost no way to hold them to account. In 2012, the Russian government formed a new unit specifically to combat this problem, but the effectiveness of this has yet to be demonstrated. This is also unlikely to address incidents where police have used excessive force against anti-government protestors. Russia is also the subject of a backlog of cases in the European Court of Human Rights related to its conduct during the wars and counter-insurgency operations in Chechnya and the northern Caucasus.
Recent legislation aimed at preventing the “promotion” of homosexuality has drawn considerable international attention. While homsexuality itself was decriminalised in Russia in 1993, both local and federal authorities have begun passing laws targeting LGBTI people, most notably a 2013 vaguely worded federal law outlawing the promotion of “non traditional sexual relations” to minors.This has been used to attack gay rights in Russia and to limit the visibility of sexual minorities in public life. The laws has been used to criminalise gay pride rallies, public defences of gay rights and those arguing for the moral equivalence of heterosexual and homosexual relationships. Once again, this law has been interpreted as an appeal to conservative Christian and nationalist forces and has inspired a number of violent far right groups in Russia that have begun targeting gay people for torture and violence.Related laws has also been used to prevent the adoption of Russian children by gay couples from overseas and could potentially block any adoption to countries where civil partnerships are recognised.
Increasingly hostility is being directed towards irregular migrant workers, particularly those from Central Asia, South Caucasus and other areas. Living and working without official papers, migrants and their families are frequently subject to both arbitrary arrest and detention while being denied access to key services. Moscow police have been pursuing an aggressive campaign of harassment and mass detention of migrant workers and their families, at times arresting more than a thousand people in a single day and using widespread racial profiling. Detained people are placed into temporary holding centres in appalling conditions, without adequate shelter, sanitation or access to food and water. This has taken place in an atmosphere of rising anti-immigrant feeling, encouraged by certain politicians in the run up to elections and linked to a corresponding rise in street violence by far right and ultra-nationalist groups. As well as being targeted by police and vigilante groups, labour migrants and their families are often denied access to key public services, to basic employment rights and to the protection of the law. Employers take advantage of those with irregular status to withhold payment or enforce exploitative conditions, including harassing or abusing workers with impunity. Similarly, their irregular status means that many migrants are unable to access vital services such as emergency and maternal health care. In some cases, women in labour have actually been turned away from maternity units due to their irregular migration status.
- The Russian calendar of the time was still based on the Julian system, giving a 13 day difference. As a result, even though these events took place in March by the Gregorian calendar, they are known as the “February Revolution”.