Russia country brief

Introduction

The Russian Federation is the largest country in the world. It covers more than an eighth of the Earth's land area and stretches from the Baltic and Black Seas in the west to the Pacific Ocean in the east. Russia's population of 142.5 million (July 2014 est.) celebrates Russia's National Day on 12 June.

Political overview

The Russian Federation consists of 83 administrative units, known as 'federal subjects'. Executive power resides with the President (Vladimir Putin), who is the head of state, and the Prime Minister (Dmitry Medvedev), who is the head of government. Under the Constitution, the President appoints the Prime Minister. Legislative power resides in the two houses of Parliament: the State Duma (Lower House, 450 seats), and the Federation Council (Upper House, 166 seats).

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 Vladimir Putin.

Under the Russian Constitution, which was adopted in 1993, a President may serve only two terms consecutively. Putin served as President for two consecutive terms until 2008, and was inaugurated for his third (non-consecutive) term in May 2012.  In the 2008 elections Putin nominated Medvedev as his preferred candidate for President.  Medvedev duly won the 2008 election, serving for one term, until Putin was again eligible to run. 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 in 2018.   

In March 2014 Russia purported to annex the Ukrainian territory of Crimea. In response, Australia, announced targeted financial sanctions and travel bans on individuals 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 had no validity. Russia also stands accused of supporting and enabling the violent destabilisation of Ukraine’s eastern regions by pro-Russian separatists.

Russia is a member of the G20, the ASEAN Regional Forum, the Asia–Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) grouping, the East Asia Summit, the Asia Europe Meeting and a wide range of other international organisations. Russia hosted APEC in 2012, and hosted the G20 in 2013. As a permanent member of the UN Security Council, Russia plays a key role in addressing the international response to issues such as the situation in Syria and elimination of its chemical weapons, and Iran's nuclear program. It is also one of the countries involved in Six-Party Talks with North Korea and a member of the Middle East Peace Process Quartet.  In May 2014, Russia, Belarus and Kazakhstan signed the Eurasian Economic Union (EEU) treaty, which came into force on 1 January 2015. The focus of the EEU is on creating a common market for goods, services, capital and labour, similar in some aspects to the European Union.  The current membership comprises Armenia, Belarus, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan and Russia.

While human rights and civil freedoms improved after the collapse of the Soviet Union, there are growing international concerns that the human rights situation in Russia has deteriorated since President Putin’s return to power in 2012. Examples include human rights violations in the North Caucasus; restrictions on freedom of expression, freedom of assembly, media freedom, and religious freedom; systemic problems in the judicial system; corruption; and legislation that curbs the civil rights of Russia’s lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans and intersex community;.

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 tenth-largest economy. The Russian economy’s reliance on commodity exports makes it vulnerable to swings in global prices. According to the World Bank,low oil and gas prices, geopolitical tensions and ongoing international sanctions will deepen the recession in Russia. The growth outlook for Russia in 2015-2016 is negative, with the economy expected to contract by 3.8 per cent in 2015.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

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 Consulates in Vladivostok and St Petersburg. The Russian Federation has an Embassy in Canberra, a Consulate-General in Sydney and Consulates in Adelaide, Brisbane and Melbourne. Approximately 74,000 Australians claim Russian ancestry, according to the 2011 Census.

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.

President Putin became the first Russian leader to visit Australia when he attended APEC Leaders' Week in September 2007. During Putin's visit, Australia and Russia signed an Agreement on Cooperation in the Use of Nuclear Energy, which entered into force in November 2010.  President Putin visited again for Australia’s hosting of the G20 Summit in Brisbane in late 2014.  In November 2015 Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull spoke briefly with President Putin at the G20 Summit in Antalya, Turkey.

Bilateral economic and trade relationship

In response to Russia’s threat to the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Ukraine, in March 2014 Australia imposed targeted financial sanctions and travel bans on certain Russian individuals and entities.  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 on for an additional year, to 5 August 2016 and extended it 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 A$1.8374 billion in 2014. Russia is Australia's 32nd largest merchandise trading partner. Australian merchandise exports to Russia in 2014 were worth A$530 million and imports from Russia totaled A$1.307 billion. Australian exports to Russia in 2014 included live animals, butter, and meat (excluding beef) . Crude petroleum dominated Australian imports from Russia in the same period, which also included fertilisers.

Australia's services exports to Russia in 2013 were valued at A$151 million and imports of services from Russia were valued at A$96 million. Services exports were largely in personal travel and education-related travel.

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

Last updated: December 2015


Last Updated: 17 November 2014