The Russian Federation (Russia) is physically the largest country in the world, covering 6.6 million square miles and 11 time zones over its 6,000-mile length. Its population of about 141.7 million includes well over 100 ethnic groups, though the majority are ethnic Russians. Once an underdeveloped, peasant society, Russia underwent an intense centrally-directed program of rapid industrialization and education under the Soviet regime.
As the successor to the Soviet Union, Russia traces its membership in the OSCE back to the organization’s roots in the Cold War and the Conference on Security and Cooperation in Europe, which was originally a Soviet bloc-led initiative. The collapse of communism and Soviet rule in 1991 forced Russia into a difficult transition toward a democratic state and market-based economy. That transition continues today, though democracy has suffered a series of setbacks under the increasingly authoritarian rule of President Vladimir Putin, who has been in power as either president or prime minister for two decades. As a result, Russia has eliminated much of the space for civil society and free media, reduced access to justice, and imposed severe restraints on political pluralism. Additionally, Russia under Putin’s direction has become increasingly involved in the creation and dissemination of disinformation in attempts to create chaos abroad and undermine Western democratic institutions.
Russia is failing repeatedly to live up to its commitments of the 1975 Helsinki Act, such as respecting territorial integrity, refraining from the threat or use of force, respecting human rights and fundamental freedoms, and fulfilling obligations under international law.
The Helsinki Commission is particularly concerned about Russia’s aggression in Ukraine, including its illegal occupation of Crimea and its ongoing senseless war in eastern Ukraine, and is deeply disturbed by Russia’s culture of legal impunity that has resulted in unsolved murders of activists, whistleblowers, and opposition politicians such as Sergei Magnitsky and Boris Nemtsov. The Commission played a central role in drafting the 2012 Magnitsky Act to impose sanctions of Russian officials implicated in Magnitsky’s murder, as well as other human rights abuses and corruption.
Staff Contact: Rachel Bauman, policy advisor