Russian Federation country brief
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 2012 est.) celebrates Russia's National Day on 12 June.
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, 176 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. In the March 2008 Presidential election, Dmitry Medvedev won the presidency. He confirmed his predecessor, Putin, as Prime Minister in May 2008. Putin, who had previously been President for two consecutive terms until 2008, won the March 2012 Presidential election, and was inaugurated for his third (non-consecutive) term in May 2012. Medvedev became his Prime Minister. In 2008, the Russian Parliament changed the constitution to extend presidential and legislature terms from four to six years.
Russia is a permanent member of the United Nations Security Council, a member of the G8, 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, culminating in a Leaders Week in Vladivostok in September. It will host the G20 in 2013. As a permanent member of the UN Security Council, Russia plays a key role in formulating the international response to issues such as Iran's nuclear program and the situation in Syria. 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.
While human rights and civil freedoms have improved dramatically since the collapse of the Soviet Union, some concerns remain. These include human rights violations in Chechnya and the North Caucasus, lack of media freedom, racially motivated attacks, systemic problems in the legal system, and endemic corruption.
Russia is a vast country with a wealth of natural resources. It is the world's ninth-largest economy. The World Bank forecast GDP growth of four per cent in 2012, with historically moderate inflation of between 7.5 and 8.5 per cent, driven by food and energy inflation.
Recent high energy and resources prices have underpinned this growth and helped Russia weather the Eurozone crisis. The EU is Russia's largest export destination (accounting for more than half of Russia's exports by value). In 2012, Russia announced a US$10 billion contribution to the International Monetary Fund (IMF) to help bail out European countries suffering from the economic crisis.
Russia acceded to the World Trade Organization in 2012.
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. This accession came one step closer with the Russian accession to the OECD Anti-Bribery Convention in April 2012.
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 began in 1942—making 2012 the 70th anniversary of diplomatic relations. Australia has had an Embassy in Moscow since 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 Brisbane and Adelaide. Approximately 74,000 Australians claim Russian ancestry, according to the 2011 Census.
Australia and Russia cooperate in a number of important international and multilateral forums, 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.
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 for Peaceful Purpose (Nuclear Cooperation Agreement). This entered into force in November 2010.
During an April 2010 visit to Moscow, then Foreign Minister Stephen Smith signed a Memorandum of Understanding on Agricultural Cooperation with Russia's then Agriculture Minister Elena Skrynnik, and announced that Russian students would be eligible to apply for Endeavour Award scholarships under the Australia Awards.
In January 2012, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov visited Sydney. During Mr Lavrov's visit, he and then Foreign Minister Kevin Rudd, signed a Memorandum of Understanding on Antarctic Cooperation.
Bilateral economic and trade relationship
Russia is growing in importance as a market for Australian exports and investment, a trend that is expected to accelerate now that Russia has acceded to the WTO.
Two-way merchandise trade between Australia and Russia was worth $2004 million in 2011–12, an increase of 29 per cent on the previous year. Russia is Australia's 32nd largest merchandise trading partner. Australian merchandise exports to Russia in 2011–12 were worth $944 million and imports from Russia totalled $1060 million. Australian exports to Russia in 2011–12 included meat (particularly beef), hides and skins, and live animals. Crude petroleum dominated Australian imports from Russia in the same period, which also included fertilisers, electrical machinery and parts.
Australia's services exports to Russia in 2010–11 were valued at $107 million and imports of services from Russia were valued at $84 million. Services exports are largely in personal travel and education, both of which are expanding.
Blessed with enormous resources and energy reserves, Russia is an important market for advanced Australian technologies that improve the efficiency and safety of resource and energy extraction. Russia is planning to double its level of coal-powered electricity over the next 15 years and increase exports. While Russia has the world's second largest coal reserves, it has been slow to adopt many modern technologies. As a result, there are significant opportunities for Australian businesses to export coal expertise and modern equipment. Austrade led missions of Australian coal technology companies to Russia in 2010, 2011 and 2012. Major Russian coal companies visit Australia regularly, including for major coal-focused exhibitions.
Additional opportunities exist for Australian mining equipment, technology and services (METS) in hard-rock mining around minerals such as nickel, iron ore, gold, copper, zinc and uranium.
Sports and major events are another area of opportunity for Australian exporters. Russia is entering a 'golden decade' of major international sporting events, including the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics, 2018 FIFA World Cup, Formula One Grand Prix, 2013 Kazan University Games and 2015 FINA World Aquatics Championship. Other niche events such as 2013 World Rugby Sevens in Moscow are well matched to Australian expertise. Other bids will follow as the country's infrastructure is upgraded to international standards. In addition, Russia hosts major public events such as the annual St Petersburg Forum for business leaders.
Opportunities also exist in education services, as over 20,000 Russian students study abroad every year. The Russian Government is providing strong financial support to assist its leading universities modernise curricula, adopt international teaching methods and encourage global research collaborations. A range of Australian universities have collaboration arrangements with leading Russian counterparts, including Moscow State University, Tomsk Polytechnic University and Vladivostok-based Far Eastern Federal University.
Russia represents a growing market for Australian agricultural products, including meat, livestock, dairy products and skins and hides. Russian agribusiness has expressed interest in Australia's advanced technologies for tracing livestock and services for improving herd output.
Updated November 2012