Democracy and rights
Democratic deficiencies are great in Russia,
despite the fact that democracy and the rule of law are
guaranteed in the constitution. Freedom of the press and
opinion is limited. In prisons there are political
prisoners and the work of independent media and
opposition politicians is hindered in various ways. On
the Internet, the climate of debate is freer than in
other contexts, but the authorities have tried to
restrict freedom of expression even there.
Formally, political parties can be formed freely, but
prominent opposition politicians are systematically
denied their registration applications. One of the main
opposition politicians, Aleksey Navalnyj, has been
trying to get his party registered with the Ministry of
Justice since 2012 without success. During that time,
the party changed its name three times and held nine
statutory meetings. Former MP Dmitry Gudkov has also
struggled since 2018 to get permission to change the
name of the party he is leading and get himself approved
as the party's chairman.
Offers a comprehensive list of airports in Russia, including international airports with city located, size and abbreviation, as well as the biggest airlines.
Elections in Russia are mostly peaceful, but
electoral fraud occurs, especially in cases where the
position of the regime's candidates is weak. There are
no formal barriers for women and minorities to
participate in political life, but women are severely
underrepresented in Parliament (just under 16 percent
of members in the duma are women).
The right to demonstrate is limited. All
demonstrations must be approved in advance by the
authorities, except so-called one-man demonstrations. It
is difficult to get permission if the demonstration is
perceived as a protest against the current political
system. Participants in unauthorized demonstrations run
the risk of being subjected to police violence,
receiving fines and being placed in so-called
"administrative arrest" in a few days. For deterrent
purposes, individual participants in prosecutions for
violence against police are prosecuted and sentenced to
prison or given a conditional sentence. Participants in
permitted demonstrations have also been penalized.
Prominent opposition politicians are being persecuted
and harassed, including through politically motivated
judgments (see below). In 2015, former Prime Minister
and Liberal Boris Nemtsov was murdered, and the
authorities have been unable to find the person who
ordered the murder.
Civil society operates under pressure from the
authorities. Non-profit organizations that are
considered to carry on political activities (a concept
that is interpreted quite broadly) as well as foreign
media can be designated as "foreign agents" for direct
or indirect funding from abroad (74 organizations in
April 2019). Being classified as a "foreign agent" leads
to a deteriorating domestic reputation and these
organizations are subject to a comprehensive regulatory
framework when it comes to reporting their financing. If
they fail, fines threaten. Many organizations have
chosen not to receive foreign funding in order not to be
classified as a "foreign agent". This reduces their
resources and opportunities to conduct their business.
Foreign and international NGOs can also be labeled as
"undesirable" if they are considered to threaten
Russia's national security. An "undesirable"
organization is prohibited from operating in Russia (15
organizations had this status in April 2019). If an
organization continues to operate despite the ban, it
can result in a fine and, on repeated offenses,
imprisonment for members of the organization.
Russia has a viable non-profit sector. There are many
organizations that work actively to improve conditions
for, for example, orphans, people with disabilities and
other vulnerable groups, but the right to engage in
interest groups is sometimes restricted, especially in
organizations dealing with politically sensitive issues.
In connection with the authorities marking the
British-based organization Open Russia (Otkrytaja
Rossija) as "undesirable", a persecution campaign was
also launched against activists in a Russian
organization of the same name. Activists in the Russian
organization have been fined and charges have been
brought which could lead to imprisonment. Employees of
Aleksej Navalnyj's foundation against corruption are
also regularly harassed and accused of violating various
Russia ranked 137th among 180 countries and reached a
clear bottom spot among European countries in
Transparency International's latest index of corruption
in the world (see ranking list here). Although the state
explicitly announced a fight against corruption, the
efforts yield little results, as the officials
responsible for combating corruption are often
themselves involved in corruption. A number of
high-ranking officials, including ministers, have been
charged with corruption in recent years, but it is seen
more as the result of internal power struggles than as
sincere attempts to combat the phenomenon.
The widespread corruption causes dissatisfaction
among the population. In early 2017, Alexej Navalnyj
revealed a large-scale corruption rage surrounding Prime
Minister Dmitry Medvedev and his inner circle in a film
entitled "He is no fool" (On vam ne Dimon; available on
Youtube with English text). The movie has generated 30
million views and the reveal led to major demonstrations
against corruption around the country. In March 2017,
tens of thousands of people in at least 97 cities
protested against high-level corruption and in
particular against the Prime Minister.
Freedom of expression and media
The Russian constitution guarantees, among other
things, freedom of expression and press and includes a
censorship ban. In practice, however, freedom of
expression is now severely restricted. Both state
censorship and self-censorship among journalists occur.
In Reporters Without Borders latest press freedom index,
Russia is ranked 149 out of 180 countries surveyed (see
ranking list here).
The majority of the media is loyal to the state and
conveys news in a way that benefits the Kremlin. There
are a few independent media that critically review
public operations. Some examples are the TV channel
Dozjd (www.tvrain.ru), the radio station Echo Moskvy,
the quality newspapers Novaja Gazeta, Vedomosti,
Nezavisimaja Gazeta and The New Times as well as a
number of regional media. Latvia's capital Riga is the
site of an independent news site - meduza.io - that
publishes Russian and English material.
Following Putin's re-entry into the 2012 presidential
post, the authorities' efforts to limit freedom of
expression were intensified by a number of new laws. The
purpose was said to be to fight extremism, slander of
individuals and abuse of children and to protect
religious sentiments and to defend traditional values,
but the laws are so vaguely worded that they can also be
used to silence opposition voices.
The activities of independent media are also hampered
by the fact that they can be punished for the least
violation of the detailed and contradictory regulations.
The New Times magazine was fined 22 million rubles (just
over SEK 3 million) for reporting information on its
financing in a way that the authorities considered was
incorrect. The newspaper managed to collect the
necessary amount with the help of crowfunding and failed
to go bankrupt. Both traditional and new media are often
sued for slander by politicians and businessmen who have
been singled out in reporting. The lawsuits usually lead
to the media being forced to pay violation compensation.
According to the 2019 survey, 81% of Russians use the
internet every day and the internet is today the most
open platform for exchanging views. Recently, however,
attempts have been made to limit freedom of expression
on the Internet. In March 2019, a law was passed that
would stop the media from publishing "fake news" and
disrespectful statements about the state on the
internet. According to the critics, this law could be
used to prevent the dissemination of critical views in
general. (Read more about the new law in the Foreign
Magazine article "Russian attempts to restrict freedom
of expression on the Internet") The law was applied for
the first time two days after it came into force. An
even more repressive law comes into force in November
2019, the so-called "sovereign" or "sustainable"
Internet law, which means that Russian operators cannot
connect to root servers abroad (the large global servers
that handle domain names). The authorities say that the
new law is intended to guarantee citizens of Russia a
stable and secure access to the global network, while
human rights organizations believe that the main purpose
of the law is to give the authorities the opportunity to
block access to the Internet for the public, for example
in large demonstrations when the Internet connection is
crucial for effective dissemination of information.
Threats and violence against individual journalists
and independent media companies exist. Journalists who
monitor political manifestations run the risk of being
arrested along with ordinary protesters with fines or
administrative detention as a possible consequence. It
also happens that journalists dealing with sensitive
subjects are murdered openly or perish under strange
circumstances. The most well-known case is the murder of
the investigative journalist and Putin critic Anna
Politkovskaya. She was shot in the elevator on her way
up to her apartment in 2006. In 2018, three Russian
journalists were murdered who examined the Russian
organization Wagner's operations in the Central African
Republic (Vagner allegedly recruits mercenaries and has
links with one of Putin's closest men Evgenij Prigozhin).
Russia has established several state media (Sputnik,
Russia Today) that broadcast news abroad in several
languages. These media are trying to disseminate
Russia's official view of events in the world. The
Russian regime has also been repeatedly accused of
trying to influence public opinion and election results
in several Western countries. In order to carry out
impact operations, the Kremlin uses the Internet
Research Agency (IRA), a so-called magic factory. The
IRA disseminates information with messages that favor
the Russian leadership in social media. The US Mueller
report found in 2019 that the Russian government was
trying to intervene in the 2016 US election campaign
through hacker attacks and impact operations. 28 Russian
citizens have been prosecuted for crimes stated in the
Judicial system and legal security
The independence of courts is guaranteed in the
Russian constitution, but it happens that courts make
politically motivated decisions in sensitive cases.
Opposition leader Aleksej Navalnyj, for example, has
been convicted of several cases of fraud. Navalnyj
claims that the judges aim to stop him from running for
election. He has in many cases been endorsed by the
European Court of Human Rights (see Calendar, 9 April
Legal security is low in politically motivated cases.
The defense is often not allowed to present its
arguments, but the court ruled on the evidence presented
by the prosecutor. Major legal security deficiencies
also occur during the preliminary investigation. Legal
certainty is higher in the non-political legal
processes, but it appears that economically stronger
parties achieve success through corruption.
According to a report presented in the summer of
2019, there were at least 236 political prisoners in
Russia. The report had been made by a US law firm,
Perseus Strategies, which deals with human rights cases.
The study was conducted with the support of the Russian
human rights organization Memorial, which conducted a
similar study in 2015. At that time, the number of
political prisoners was 46.
One of the most notable political prisoners of recent
times is Oyub Titijev, director of the Memorial Office
in Chechnya. Titijev was arrested in 2018 and sentenced
to four years in prison for alleged drug possession.
However, he was released prematurely in the summer of
2019, a week after another notable case when an
excavating reporter was arrested on an independent news
site, also accused of drug possession, but which was
surprisingly acquitted and released almost immediately
after extensive protests among the media and the general
public (see Calendar; 21 June 2019).
For example, persecution groups are anarchists,
members of the Open Russia organization (Otkrytaja
Rossija) and Jehovah's Witnesses (see Religion). Other
controversial cases are the so-called Novoe Velitjije
and Set stores young people arrested for terrorism (see
Calendar, October 28, 2018 and October 17, 2017,
respectively). The litigation against the famous
director Kirill Serebrennikov and his co-workers has
also attracted attention. Serebrennikov was arrested in
2017 and charged with fraud with cultural money. The
prosecution was regarded by many as politically
motivated when Serebrennikov, in his work, came into
conflict with both the Orthodox Church and with certain
cultural institutions. However, in early fall of 2019, a
Moscow court rejected the charge and sent it back to
The death penalty has in principle been abolished by
the Constitutional Court's judgment. In 2018, the
authority corresponding to the Swedish Prison Service
reported that the number of detainees was record low.
This is the result of a long-term trend. One
contributing reason is that the detention time is now
multiplied by 1.5 before being deducted from prison
According to some researchers, the biggest problem
with the Russian judicial system is a built-in system
error. In the book "The new autocracy", Ella
Paneyach and Dina Rosenberg write that internal
over-bureaucratic regulations and inconsistent promotion
rules lead to employees choosing to proceed with simple
cases, prosecuting the most unprotected individuals and
ignoring the more serious and more difficult crimes.
Since it is impossible to follow all the rules
consistently, employees in the judicial system are not
often forced to violate the law when performing their
duties, the two researchers write.
Russia has a constitutional court whose task is to
ensure that the constitutional rules are not violated.
The Constitutional Court is, in principle, loyal to the
regime, but in some cases tries to mitigate the effects
of laws that restrict the protection of rights by
clearly defining the scope of the laws (and thus
reducing the risk of arbitrary application). The
Constitutional Court also has the power to annul laws
and regulations. This power is used quite often,
especially when it comes to regulations from less
Since the Soviet era, the legal consciousness of the
population has increased: more claim their rights in
court and many who lose go to the European Court of
Justice. Russia is the country that accounts for the
most European Court filings.
The Constitutional Court made a decision in 2015 that
means that Russian courts may deviate from the European
Court of Justice's decision in cases where they go
against the Russian "constitutional identity". Until
2019, the Constitutional Court has refused to execute
the European Court's decision twice. In the vast
majority of cases involving individuals, the judgments
of the European Court of Justice are enforced, that is,
the state pays compensation and reviews the judgments.
On the other hand, it is slow to implement the
recommendations of the European Court of Justice in
dealing with system errors, such as improving conditions
in detention and prisons, counteracting arbitrary
legislation and issuing unfair judgments.
Between 1998 and 2018, Russia paid out about EUR 2
billion in accordance with the European Court of
Justice's rulings. The total amount paid by the state as
compensation for violations of citizens' rights was 70
times greater in 2010 than in 2001.
Putin's return to power in 2012 had a negative impact
on developments in the justice system. The number of
politically motivated sentences has increased and the
number of prison sentences per year has ceased to
decrease. Individuals now win less often in tax or other
administrative goals that can bring money to the state.
This trend is part of the phenomenon described as
"people become the new oil", that is, taxes, fees and
fines are replacing oil as the state's main source of
A recent reform of extremist legislation also fits
into this trend. Between 2013 and 2018, 1,000-2,000
people were sentenced to fines or imprisonment for
"extremist" statements and distributions of "extremist"
material on the Internet. However, with a law change at
the end of 2018, one-off offenses of this kind were
downgraded from criminal to "administrative" wrongdoing
”which led to a decrease in the number of imprisonment
while fines became more common.
Conditions in prisons are poor and have not improved
significantly since the Soviet era. Torture in prisons
is a known problem and the issue was particularly
highlighted in 2018 after videos of documented torture
were circulated on the Internet. The independent news
site Meduza then compiled a list of over 100 reported
torture cases in 2018.
In April 2019, the Prosecutor's Office reported that
violations in prisons occur in every other region of
Russia and that preliminary investigations are ongoing
in over 50 cases of suspected abuse of power. Despite
this, new information on torture is regularly appearing
in the media.