State order and internal politics
The Constitution of the Russian Federation, adopted in December 1993, outlines a semi-presidential republic with a federal structure: the president is elected by direct universal suffrage and appoints the prime minister, who must also enjoy the confidence of parliament. The president cannot be elected more than two consecutive times and his mandate, following a reform that took effect in the 2012 elections, has been extended from four to six years.
The federal parliament has a bicameral structure and consists of the ‘Duma’ (the lower house), made up of 450 deputies and elected by universal suffrage every four years, and the Federal Council, made up of 166 senators elected indirectly by local assemblies – two for each of the different subjects that make up the Federation. In the 1990s, under the presidency of Boris Yeltsin (1991-99), Russia faced serious internal political fragmentation. Between 1993 and 1999 no party managed to form a stable majority and nearly half of the laws passed during this period came from government proposals. Yeltsin was forced to oppose the presidential veto on one fifth of the laws passed by the court and continued to govern by decree.Born against Serbia during the Kosovo war, El’cin, elderly and sick, resigned at the end of December 1999, leaving the interim post to Vladimir Putin, former prime minister since August of that year. On the eve of the outbreak of the second Chechen war, Putin, former agent of the Soviet secret police, found in the crisis in the North Caucasus a useful tool to relaunch the role of the federal presidency, proposing himself as a new point of reference in the political-institutional landscape and as a capable leader to rebuild the Russian national identity after a decade of crisis. The newfound support of public opinion was sanctioned by the outcome of the elections of May 2000, which entrusted him with the leadership of the country.
The rehabilitation of the figure and the position of the President of the Russian Federation, held by Putin between 2000 and 2008, had the effect of stabilizing the country from an internal point of view and effectively eclipsing the figure of the prime minister. Putin’s political vision is often associated with the concept, developed by Russian ideologues, of ‘sovereign democracy’, which postulates the Russian right to adopt a form of democracy different from the Western one, even authoritarian in its practical implications, characterized by paternalism, centralism and a charismatic leader. In 2007 Putin founded a new party, ‘United Russia’, which in the 2007 parliamentary elections won 70% of the seats in the Duma, sanctioning the president’s hegemony in the current political scenario. Political continuity to the presidency of the Federation was ensured in 2008 with the election as president of Dmitry Medvedev, Putin’s dolphin, who has since held the role of prime minister unable to be re-elected due to the constitutional limit of two consecutive terms. With the arrival to power of Medvedev – who, having more institutional prerogatives, proved capable of exercising, especially at the beginning, a certain degree of independence from Putin, with whom there was no lack of disagreements – he reconstituted himself for a certain period that balance between the head of state and the presidency of the council which has been missing since 2000.
With the legislative elections of December 2011, the ‘United Russia’ party reaffirmed its dominance, albeit partially weakened: it maintained the majority obtaining 238 seats compared to 212 of the opposition forces. The presidential elections held on March 4, 2012 again registered a large victory for Putin with 63% of the votes, starting his third term. However, compared to the 2007 election and as for the Duma, the percentage of voters for the ‘united Russia’ candidate has dropped by about eight points. At the same time, mass protests erupted against Putin’s leadership, which however did not take the form of organized opposition political groups.
Energy and environment
Russia is the third largest producer and consumer of energy in the world, after China and the USA. As for natural gas, it is the first country in the world for reserves, and is the second largest producer in the world, after the United States. In addition to being the most important component of the energy mix, gas is also the main product exported abroad, mainly to Europe: 85% of total natural gas exports go to the European continent, reaching as many as 94 % if Turkey is also included in the calculation. Over the last decade, these exports have remained constant, at around 180 billion cubic meters (gmc) per year, only dropping to 138 gmcper year in 2009 following the sharp contraction in European and world gas demand, which pushed the price down. The Russians therefore agreed to continue to honor the supply contracts in force with many European countries, which fix the price of gas over the medium term and are linked to ‘ take or pay ‘ clauses (under which the buyer is required to pay the price of a minimum quantity of gas regardless of its withdrawal), while reducing retail gas sales to zero.
Against the stabilization of European gas demand and the intention of the Euto reduce dependence on Russian gas, in the coming years Russia will have to try to intensify relations with the two major consumers of this raw material at its eastern borders: one, already a large importer (Japan), and a potential and rapidly growing one (the China). However, although global capacities for liquefaction, shipping and regasification of methane are rapidly developing in this period, the trade in natural gas is still largely rigid, i.e. linked to the need to travel through gas pipelines, which require large investments. initials, and which today link Russia almost exclusively to Europe. This meant that sanctions and counter-sanctions did not significantly affect gas exports. The oil exports have more than doubled in the last decade, reaching 7.3 million barrels per day in 2009. The largest share (80%) is directed to European countries, 12% to Asian countries and 3.5 % to the USA. Most of domestic production is dominated by domestic firms. At the end of a privatization process strongly conditioned by politics, these companies are now few and highly concentrated. State-owned Rosneft is currently the largest oil producer in the country, while the penetration of foreign companies has been hindered. The latter have therefore chosen to withdraw, or to participate in oil projects by investing directly in Rosneft. Finally, from an environmental point of view, Russia is the fourth country for carbon dioxide emissions in the world (after China, the USA and India) and the fifteenth for per capita emissions. For this reason, the Russian energy policy has been directed towards the development of civil nuclear power (the aim is to double the electricity production capacity by 2030) and hydroelectricity, so as to reduce dependence on fossil fuels. However, most of the country’s 31 nuclear power plants are obsolete, and about half of them are still based on the same type of reactor that caused the Chernobyl ‘accident in 1986.