Russian Federation. The Russian Federation 2011 was the year when Vladimir Putin’s power was seriously challenged. According to 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 ousted.
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 unidentified person.
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.