Flag of the Russian Federation

Russian Federation 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. Putin appointed Medvedev as his Prime Minister. In the 2008 elections Putin nominated Medvedev as his preferred candidate for President.  He 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.

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 in the Russian threat to the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Ukraine. On 1 September 2014, Prime Minister Abbott announced that Australia would expand its autonomous sanctions against Russia in relation to the situation in Ukraine, extending financial sanctions and travel bans on individuals and entities and introducing sectoral sanctions.

More information on Australia’s sanctions in relation to the situation in Ukraine.

The United States, European Union, Canada and others have also taken a range of measures, including sanctions against individuals and companies. One of the consequences of Russia’s actions has been Russia’s effective exclusion from the G8, which has been 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 will come into effect 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.

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; legislation that curbs the civil rights of Russia’s lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans and intersex community; restrictions on freedom of expression, freedom of assembly, media freedom, and religious freedom; systemic problems in the judicial system; and corruption.

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 eighth-largest economy. The Russian economy’s reliance on commodity exports makes it vulnerable to swings in global prices. According to the World Bank, Russia’s GDP growth in 2013 was 1.3 per cent, down from 3.4 per cent in 2012. International sanctions in response to Russia’s purported annexation of Crimea and intervention in Ukraine are expected to hamper any upturn in the Russian economy. The EU is Russia's largest export destination (accounting for more than half of Russia's exports by value).  China is Russia’s largest trading partner overall.

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 Crimea, 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 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 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.

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. However, since the introduction of autonomous sanctions on Russia in relation to the situation in Ukraine, Australia has suspended all uranium sales to Russia until further notice. President Putin again visited Australia in November 2014 for the G20 Leaders’ Summit in Brisbane.

In September 2013, Foreign Minister Bob Carr visited Moscow, where he met Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, and St Petersburg to represent the Prime Minister at the G20 Summit. In April 2013, Foreign Minister Julie Bishop visited Moscow in her then role as Deputy Leader of the Opposition. She met Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, other Russian ministers, parliamentarians, senior officials, and business leaders. Prime Minister Julia Gillard attended the APEC Summit in Vladivostok in September 2012. In January 2012, Minister Lavrov visited Sydney, and signed a bilateral Memorandum of Understanding on Antarctic Cooperation.

Bilateral economic and trade relationship

Two-way merchandise trade between Australia and Russia was worth A$1.794 billion in 2013. In 2013, Russia was Australia's 31st largest merchandise trading partner. However, the introduction of Australian autonomous sanctions in 2014 and Russia’s ban on agricultural products will likely result in decreased two-way merchandise trade. Australian merchandise exports to Russia in 2013 were worth A$736 million and imports from Russia totalled A$1.057 billion. Australian exports to Russia in 2013 included meat (particularly beef), butter, and live animals. Crude petroleum dominated Australian imports from Russia in the same period, which also included fertilisers, and goods vehicles.

Australia's services exports to Russia in 2013 were valued at A$165 million and imports of services from Russia were valued at A$101 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.