Russian Federation. The Russian Federation 2011 was the
year when Vladimir Putin's power was seriously challenged.
Countryaah official site, United Russia's electoral victory in December was followed
by the biggest protests since the dissolution of the Soviet
Union, with accusations of electoral fraud and loud demands
on Putin's departure. The declining support for the United
Russia power party came after more recent changes in Russia
with more economic uncertainty, growing citizen activism and
the growing importance of the Internet as a political tool.
It was a development that was partly reminiscent of the Arab
Spring. It was speculated during the year in who the power
party United Russia would stand as a candidate for the March
2012 presidential election, Putin or the incumbent President
Dmitry Medvedev. As the outside world suspected, it became
Putin, and Medvedev's four years as president appeared as an
intermediary dedicated to allowing Putin's return.
The announcement in September of Putin's candidacy was
hardly greeted with enthusiasm by the population, rather a
fatigue over the monopoly of power appeared to have
occurred. "Forward in circle," wrote an opposition
newspaper, and foreign judges spoke of stagnation in a
corrupt and internationally isolated society, much like the
Soviet Union of the 1980s. According to opinion polls,
support for United Russia fell sharply, and more than a
fifth of respondents said they wanted to emigrate.
Finance Minister Aleksey Kudrin was dismissed by Medvedev
as he protested against the Putin - Medvedev tandem change
of position. Kudrin's departure was assumed to increase the
capital flight from the Russian Federation as Kudrin had a
good reputation as finance minister.
A unique demonstration of dissatisfaction with Putin came
when he appeared at a martial arts gala in November. When
the Prime Minister spoke whispered and buzzed the crowd, and
according to the online newspaper Gazeta, it was the first
time in Putin's political career that he was publicly
Before the December parliamentary elections, the
independent observer organization Golos was convicted of
violating the electoral law and accused of creating a
negative image of "a party". According to Golos, there were
ten times as many reports of cheating compared to before the
2007 elections, e.g. voting and ordered election results. In
regime-based media, Golos was backed by foreign intelligence
service, and the day before the election, Golo's president
was temporarily arrested.
The election to the lower house, the duma, December 4 was
a confirmation that Putin, Medvedev's and United Russia's
popularity waned. For the first time, the party went back to
an election. According to official figures, the power party
dropped from 64.3% in the previous election to 49.3% of the
votes now. In some areas, the voting share was stated below
30%. The party's total mandate decreased from 315 to 238.
Thus, the party lost the two-thirds majority needed to
change the constitution. The opposition, in turn, made
strong progress, mainly the Communist Party, which almost
doubled from 11.6 to 19.2% and took 92 seats. A fair Russia
got 13.2% and 64 seats, while the Liberal Democrats got
11.7% and 56 seats.
The opposition was convinced that the official result was
staggered and that United Russia declined even further.
Golos received reports of thousands of cases of electoral
fraud, and the day after the election, thousands of people
gathered in Moscow in protest of the election results.
Several hundred protesters were arrested by police. While
the regime was talking about a fair election, Communist
Party leader Gennady Ziuganov described the election as
illegitimate. OSCE observers testified to numerous
violations of the electoral law, including when counting
votes. It was also pointed out that the election was
preceded by unfair access to mass media and pressure on
voters at workplaces to vote for United Russia.
Opposition protests continued, and a short week after the
election, between 50,000 and 100,000 people gathered in
Moscow in state-licensed demonstrations. Throughout the
Russian Federation, from Kaliningrad in the west to
Vladivostok in the east, smaller but similar protests were
held. The next wave of protests emerged across the country
on Christmas Eve, when tens of thousands of people again
demonstrated in Moscow demanding re-election and under
growing Putin hostile moods. Among the speakers were the
last Soviet leader Michail Gorbachev, who urged Vladimir
Putin to follow his example and step down from a system that
had ceased to function.
The arrest of dissidents and protesters continued
throughout the year. In January, among other things,
opposition leader Boris Nemtsov after protests against the
regime on New Year's Eve. Nemtsov's anti-corruption party
was then refused registration and was not allowed to
participate in the elections in December.
The political terror and the security deficiencies of the
authorities made themselves clear during the year. In
January, 36 people were killed and about 180 injured when a
suicide bomber exploded at Moscow's most frequented airport,
Domodedovo. Chechen warlord Doku Umarov said he had ordered
the attack in response to what he termed the Russian
Federation's crime in the Caucasus.
Shortly after the bombing in Moscow, four people were
killed in a bomb attack in Dagestan near the border with
Chechnya. The following day, four police officers were shot
dead in the same city. Dagestan was named the most dangerous
area in Europe during the year. President Medvedev blamed
the uprising in the Caucasus for what he called monstrous
corruption, according to him the worst security threat to
the Russian Federation. In Moscow, several murders of famous
people with connections to the Caucasus were committed. At
the end of the year, a social-critical editor was murdered
in Dagestan, where he reported abuse of authority.
In May, a man in Chechnya was arrested for carrying out
the murder of 2006 Russian investigative journalist Anna
Politkovskaya in Moscow. The man's two brothers and a third
man were awaiting trial in Moscow on suspicion of assisting.
In August, a former police officer was arrested, suspected
of organizing the murder and getting paid for it by an
Worn out infrastructure and poor safety in the transport
sector became evident during major accidents during the
year. In July, a river cruiser in the Volga River fell with
at least 122 casualties, most children. In September, the
ice hockey team Lokomotiv Yaroslavl, with Swedish goalkeeper
Stefan Liv, was obliterated in an air crash in Yaroslavl
north of Moscow. Then 43 people perished.
In January, President Medvedev signed the new START
agreement on disarmament with the United States, which
reduced the number of strategic nuclear warheads. But in
May, Medvedev warned that the Kremlin could abandon the
agreement if the United States implements its planned
robotic defense system in Europe. At the end of the year,
Medvedev explained that Moscow may be deploying Iskander
robots in the Kaliningrad area.
When the United Nations decided in March on an aviation
zone for the al-Khadaffi regime over Libya and intervened
with military means, the Russian Federation cast its vote in
the Security Council. But when the issue of sanctions
against the regime in Syria came to light during the fall,
they, together with China, vetoed.
In October, the Russian Federation signed an agreement
with seven other former Soviet republics on free trade. This
included Belarus, Ukraine, Moldova, Armenia, Kazakhstan,
Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan. In November, President Medvedev
also signed an agreement with Belarus and Kazakhstan's
leaders to form the Eurasian Economic Union in 2015. With
continued strong gas and oil exports, the country's GDP
appeared to grow by about 4% during the year. In November,
the Nord Stream gas pipeline from Viborg on the Gulf of
Finland through the Baltic Sea to Germany was inaugurated,
thereby increasing gas exports.
In November, the Russian Federation agreed with Georgia
on an agreement that opened for Russian membership in the
WTO. Moscow has been negotiating with the WTO for 18 years,
and Georgia's resistance was the last obstacle. WTO
membership formally enters into force in 2012.