Russia country brief

Introduction

The Russian Federation is the largest country in the world , with an area of 17.1 million square kilometers. It covers more than an eighth of the Earth's land area , stretching from the Baltic and Black Seas in the west to the Pacific Ocean in the east. Russia is the ninth most populous country in the world, with a population of 144 million (2017). The capital of Russia is Moscow, which has 13.2 million residents within the city limits and 17.1 million within the urban area.

Russia's National Day on 12 June, commemorating the date of adoption of the Declaration of State Sovereignty of the Russian Soviet Federative Socialist Republic (RSFSR) in 1990.

Political overview

System of Government

According to the Russian Constitution, the country is a federation and semi-presidential republic, wherein the President is the head of state. Executive power resides with the President (Vladimir Putin), who appoints the Government of Russia, can veto legislative bills before they become law, and is the Supreme Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces. The President appoints the Prime Minister (Dmitry Medvedev), who is the head of government. Legislative power resides in the two houses of Parliament: the State Duma (Lower House ), and the Federation Council (Upper House ).

Political developments

Since the Duma elections of December 2003 (with re-election in December 2007 and December 2011), both Houses have been dominated by the centrist United Russia Party, which has close links to President Putin. Russia’s most recent elections were held on 18 September 2016, with United Russia winning 343 seats (76 per cent) in the State Duma.

Under the Russian Constitution, a President may serve only two terms consecutively. President Putin served for two consecutive terms until 2008, and was inaugurated for his third (non-consecutive) term in May 2012. Dmitry Medvedev won the 2008 presidential election and served for one term . In 2008, the Russian Parliament changed the constitution to extend presidential and legislature terms from four to six years. The next presidential election is due to be held on 18 March 2018.

Foreign policy

the global response to international peace and security issues such as the situation in Syria, and Iran's nuclear program. Like Australia, Russia is a member of the G20, the ASEAN Regional Forum, the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) grouping, the East Asia Summit, and the Asia Europe Meeting. Russia hosted APEC in 2012, and hosted the G20 in 2013. Russia is also a member of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), the Union State of Russia and Belarus, the Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO), the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS), the Commonwealth of Independent States Free Trade Area (CISFTA), the Eurasian Economic Union (EEU), the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) and a wide range of other international organisations.

Russia’s purported annexation of the Ukrainian territory of Crimea and city of Sevastopol in March 2014, and support of pro-Russian separatists in eastern Ukraine, has overshadowed Russia’s relations with Australia and other Western partners.  In response, Australia announced targeted financial sanctions and travel bans on individuals and entities instrumental to the Russian threat to the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Ukraine. The United States, European Union, Canada and others have also taken a range of measures, including sanctions against individuals and entities. One of the consequences of Russia’s actions has been Russia’s effective exclusion from the G8, which has reverted to meeting in G7 format. On 27 March 2014 a majority in the United Nations General Assembly passed a resolution on the Territorial Integrity of Ukraine which emphasised that Russia’s purported annexation of Crimea had no validity.

Russia signed the NATO Partnership for Peace initiative in 1994. In 1997, NATO and Russia signed the NATO-Russia Founding Act, which the parties hoped would provide the basis for an enduring and robust partnership between the Alliance and Russia. This agreement was superseded in 2002 by the NATO–Russia Council, which was conceived as a mechanism for consultation, consensus-building, cooperation, joint decision and joint action. Following Russia’s illegal military intervention in Ukraine and its violation of Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity, in April 2014 NATO suspended all practical cooperation with Russia including in the NRC. However, the Alliance agreed to keep channels of communication open in the NRC and the Euro-Atlantic Partnership Council at the Ambassadorial level and above, to allow the exchange of views, first and foremost on this crisis. Three meetings of the NATO-Russia Council took place in 2016 and two have taken place so far in 2017.

Economic overview

Russia is a vast country with a wealth of natural resources. It is one of the world’s leading producers of oil and natural gas. It is the world's twelfth-largest economy by nominal GDP, with an economy roughly the same size as Australia. The Russian economy’s reliance on commodity exports makes it vulnerable to swings in global prices. The Russian economy began stagnating in late 2013 due to low oil and gas prices, geopolitical tensions and ongoing international sanctions . Following several years of economic contraction, the growth outlook for Russia in 2017 is a low 1.4 per cent. In its latest World Economic Outlook, the IMF forecast that the Russian economy to recover gradually in 2017 and 2018.

In 1997, Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) countries formally acknowledged that the accession of the Russian Federation as a full member of the OECD was a shared ultimate goal. The OECD Council approved the 'roadmap to accession' for the Russian Federation in November 2007. However, in response to Russia’s actions in Ukraine, the OECD Council decided in March 2014 to postpone work on Russia’s accession.

Bilateral relationship

According to the 2016 Census, approximately 85,000 Australians claim Russian ancestry. Contact between Australia and Russia began in 1807, when the Russian naval vessel Neva arrived in Sydney. Consular relations began in 1857 and diplomatic relations in 1942. Australia established an Embassy in Russia in 1943 and has Honorary Consulates in Vladivostok and St Petersburg. The Russian Federation has an Embassy in Canberra, a Consulate-General in Sydney and Honorary Consulates in Adelaide, Brisbane and Melbourne.

Australia and Russia engage in a number of important international and multilateral fora, including those involved with non-proliferation issues and regional security. Australia and Russia concluded a bilateral Double Taxation Agreement in September 2000, which came into effect in 2004. In 2010, Australia and Russia signed a Memorandum of Understanding on Agricultural Cooperation. Russian students are also eligible to apply for Endeavour Award scholarships under the Australia Awards.

As an example of continued cultural cooperation between Australia and Russia, the National Gallery of Victoria hosted the Masterpieces from the Hermitage Museum: The Legacy of Catherine the Great exhibition from 31 July to 8 November 2015. Over 400 works from the personal collection of Catherine the Great were seen by visitors to the NGV including works from Rembrandt, Velasquez, Rubens and Titian.

Recent high-level visits and contact

Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull and President Putin spoke at both the G20 Summits in Antalya, Turkey (2015) and Hangzhou, China (2016). President Putin visited Australia in late 2014 to participate in the G20 Summit in Brisbane. Then Trade Minister Alexey Ulyukaev and Energy Minister Alexander Novak also visited Australia in 2014 for G20 meetings. President Putin first visited Australia in September 2007 for APEC Leaders' Week, the first ever visit by a serving Russian leader to Australia. Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov visited Australia in January 2012. Minister for Agriculture Dr Elena Skrynnik visited Australia in March 2011 for the third Australia-Russia Joint Commission on Trade and Economic Cooperation (JCTEC).

Then Foreign Minister Bob Carr represented Australia at the G20 Summit held in St Petersburg in September 2013. Mr Carr, then Treasurer Chris Bowen, and then Minister for Employment, Skills and Training Brendan O’Connor participated in G20 ministerial meetings earlier in 2013. Also in 2013, an Australian parliamentary delegation led by then Senate President John Hogg visited Moscow and St Petersburg. Then Prime Minister Julia Gillard and then Trade Minister Dr Craig Emerson visited Vladivostok in September 2012 for the APEC Ministerial and Leaders Meetings. Dr Emerson and then Minister for Small Business Brendan O’Connor participated in earlier APEC ministerial meetings in 2012. Then Foreign Minister Stephen Smith visited Moscow in April 2010 for bilateral discussions. Then Governor General Major General Michael Jeffery visited Russia in May 2005.

Bilateral economic and trade relationship

In response to Russia’s purported annexation of the Ukrainian territory of Crimea and city of Sevastopol in March 2014 , and support of pro-Russian separatists in eastern Ukraine, Australia has imposed targeted financial sanctions and travel bans on certain Russian individuals and entities instrumental to the Russian threat to the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Ukraine.  In September 2014, Australia expanded these sanctions to cover restrictions on arms exports; restrictions on access of Russian state-owned banks to Australian capital markets; prohibitions on the export of goods and services for use in Russia’s oil exploration or production; restrictions on Australian trade and investment in Crimea.  Australia also imposed a ban on exports of Australian uranium.  Further information can be found at Australia and sanctions.

In response to countries that had imposed sanctions against Russia, President Putin in August 2014 issued a Presidential decree on the 'Application of Certain Special Economic Measures in order to protect the National Security of the Russian Federation'. The decree imposed bans on the import of specified agricultural products originating from Australia, United States, EU member states, Norway and Canada. Russia subsequently extended the food import ban to include other countries.  For further information on the ban please see the Department of Agriculture’s website.

Two-way merchandise trade between Australia and Russia was worth $697 million in 2016, down from $1. 837 billion in 2014. Australian merchandise exports to Russia in 2016 were worth $478 million and imports from Russia totaled $219 million. Australian exports to Russia in 2016 included live animals, sugars, molasses and honey, and meat (excluding beef ). Crude petroleum dominated Australian imports from Russia in the same period, which also included wood manufactures.

Australia's services exports to Russia in 2016 were valued at $111 million and imports of services from Russia were valued at $72 million. Services exports were largely in education-related travel and personal travel.

For advice on doing business in Russia, please contact Austrade or visit www.austrade.gov.au.

Last updated: September 2017


Last Updated: 17 November 2014