Russia profile

Map of Russia

Russia emerged from a decade of post-Soviet economic and political turmoil to reassert itself as a world power.

Income from vast natural resources, above all oil and gas, have helped Russia overcome the economic collapse of 1998. The state-run gas monopoly Gazprom is the world's largest producer and exporter, and supplies a growing share of Europe's needs.

Economic strength has allowed Vladimir Putin - Russia's dominant political figure since 2000 - to enhance state control over political institutions and the media, buoyed by extensive public support for his policies.

Spanning nine time zones, Russia is the largest country on earth in terms of surface area, although large tracts in the north and east are inhospitable and sparsely populated.

This vast Eurasian land mass covers more than 17m sq km, with a climate ranging from the Arctic north to the generally temperate south.

Russian naval parade Russia is one of the world's big military powers

At a glance

  • Politics: Vladimir Putin, Russia's dominant political figure since 2000, resumed the presidency in 2012
  • Economy: Russia is heavily dependent on oil and gas exports. Officials have been hesitant to privatise energy assets
  • International: Russia has reacted with hostility to any developments perceived to threaten its strategic interests. The 2014 revolution in Ukraine sparked the biggest East-West showdown since the Cold War

Country profiles compiled by BBC Monitoring

In the period of rapid privatisation in the early 1990s, the government of President Boris Yeltsin created a small but powerful group of magnates, often referred to as "oligarchs", who acquired vast interests in the energy and media sectors.

President Yeltsin's successor, Vladimir Putin, moved to reduce the political influence of oligarchs soon after taking office, forcing some into exile and prosecuting others.

Mikhail Khodorkovsky, the former head of the Yukos oil company and a supporter of the liberal opposition, was arrested on tax and fraud charges in 2003 and later sentenced to nine years in prison. His business empire was effectively seized by the state and Mr Khodorkovsky was not released from jail until 2013.

Russia resurgent

During Mr Putin's presidency Russia's booming economy and assertive foreign policy bolstered national pride. In particular, Russia promoted its perceived interests in former Soviet states more openly, even at the cost of antagonising the West.

The resulting tensions first became acute in August 2008, when a protracted row over two breakaway regions of Georgia escalated into a military conflict between Russia and Georgia.

Russia sent troops into Georgia and declared that it was recognising the independence of Abkhazia and South Ossetia, sparking angry reactions in the West and fears of a new Cold War.

Tensions with the US
Sled in rural Russia Traditional forms of transport are still being used in rural areas

At the same time, Moscow threatened to counter plans by the US Bush administration to develop an anti-missile system in Eastern Europe with its own missiles in the Kaliningrad Region on Poland's borders. President Obama later withdrew the plan, in a move seen in Russian official circles as a vindication of the assertive foreign policy.

Another source of irritation between Russia and the US is Moscow's role in Iran's nuclear energy programme. Russia agreed in 2005 to supply fuel for Iran's Bushehr nuclear reactor and has been reluctant to support the imposition of UN sanctions on Iran.

A gradual warming in relations between Russia and the US early in 2010 culminated in the signing of a new nuclear arms treaty designed to replace the expired Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (Start) of 1991.

However, relations between the Russia and the US took another downturn in 2012, on account of Russian sensitivity to US criticism of its treatment of human rights activists and opponents of the Kremlin.

The Ukrainian revolution of February 2014, which saw Russian ally President Viktor Yanukovych deposed and replaced by a more western-facing leadership, triggered an even more serious crisis in East-West relations.

The US, EU and other Western states accused Moscow of directly supporting the pro-Russian rebellions that subsequently arose in eastern Ukraine, and imposed sanctions against businesses and individuals close to President Putin.

Economic muscle

Russia's economic power lies in its key natural resources - oil and gas. The energy giant Gazprom is close to the Russian state and critics say it is little more than an economic and political tool of the Kremlin.

At a time of increased concern over energy security, Moscow has more than once reminded the rest of the world of the power it wields as a major energy supplier. In 2006, it cut gas to Ukraine after a row over prices, and in 2014 it sharply raised prices for gas sold to the Ukraine after the government .

Ethnic and religious divisions

While Russians make up more than 80% of the population and Orthodox Christianity is the main religion, there are many other ethnic and religious groups. Muslims are concentrated among the Volga Tatars and the Bashkirs and in the North Caucasus.

Separatists and latterly armed Islamists have made the Caucasus region of Chechnya a war zone for much of the post-Soviet era. Many thousands have died since Russian troops were first sent to put down a separatist rebellion in 1994.

Moscow is convinced that any loosening of its grip on Chechnya would result in the whole of the North Caucasus falling to anarchy or Islamic militancy.

In a sign of growing confidence that peace might be returning, the Russian authorities called a formal end to the military operation against the rebels in 2009. Sporadic violence continues, however.

Head of the Russian Orthodox Church, Patriarch Kirill Orthodox Christianity is the dominant faith in Russia, which has a variety of religions

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