Name

Russian Federation

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

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  • Russia’s Election: What Does It Mean?

    Rep. Chris Smith (NJ-04) and others discussed the outcome and the implications of the Russian presidential election of 1996, which, at the time of the hearing, had just happened. The winner of the election was Boris Yeltsin, who was re-elected with a margin of thirteen percentage points over Communist Party Chairman and challenger Zyuganov. The hearing also incorporated discussion concerning the conflict in Chechnya and the circumstances under which the election transpired (i.e., fairness, media coverage).

  • Russian Media in Light of Upcoming Elections

    This briefing examined the Russian media in light of the upcoming elections and also with reference towards Russia's obligations to permit and protect the free media in Russia in accordance to the Helsinki Final Act. The true state of the press in Russia and whether the Yeltsin regime is complying or even trying to comply with its internationally recognized obligations were topics of discussion. Witnesses testifying at the briefing – including Elena Masyuk, Reporter for NTV and Catherine Fitzpatrick, Program Coordinator of the Committee to Protect Journalists – illuminated the issues that journalists and the media in general had encountered in recent years, including government sponsored threats and deprivation of accreditation. The Committee to Protect Journalists, in particular, voiced its concerns about the restrictive and even deadly conditions in the Russian republic of Chechnya.

  • THE CHECHEN CONFLICT AND RUSSIAN DEMOCRATIC DEVELOPMENT

    The hearing addressed the OSCE-brokered military agreement in July 1995 between Russian and Chechen representatives to end ethnic conflict among Chechens, Russians, Ingush, and other ethnic groups caught up in the terror of war. The Commissioners discussed the disappearance of people, including a prominent American humanitarian aid worker and an American freelance journalist.  The witnesses gave testimony on the visible breakdown in law and order which has forced humanitarian organizations, such as Doctors Without Borders, to withdraw to a safer location.

  • Report on the Russian Duma Elections of December 1995

    On December 17, 1995, Russia held an election to the lower chamber of Parliament (Duma). The election was Russia’s second since the breakup of the U.S.S.R., and its first since the December 1993 election that followed the October 1993 destruction of the former Parliament building. Although some analysts had warned of the possible cancellation or postponement of the election, the voting took place without incident or violence. International observers considered the election to be free and fair. According to the Central Election Commission (CEC), about 63 percent of eligible voters cast ballots. The figure was higher than had been anticipated, considering the widely-reported malaise and cynicism in Russian society. The high turnout testifies to the electorate’s continuing involvement in the political process, despite many disappointments and economic hardships, and to the desire for change. Russia’s parliamentary election was a multi-party, multi-candidate contest. Forty-three parties fielded party lists totalling 5,675 candidates. Parties needed 5 percent of the national vote to gain representation in Parliament. In the 225 district races, 2,700 candidates entered the lists, an average of 12 per district. All participating parties received an equal amount of free air time on television, and they could buy more. The big winner in the election was the Communist Party (CPRF), headed by Gennady Zyuganov. According to the official results, the CPRF won 22.3 percent of the proportional vote, plus another 58 seats in single mandate districts. The CPRF appealed to voters who had not benefited from Russia’s experiment with a market economy and were discontented about crime, corruption, and a general sense of "disorder" in post-Soviet Russian society. Zyuganov also advocated the restoration, "by voluntary means," of the Soviet Union. The strong showing by the Communist Party mirrors the electoral revival of communist forces in other former Soviet republics and in Eastern Europe, 3.5 years after Russian President Boris Yeltsin declared in the U.S. Congress that "communism is dead in Russia." Zyuganov has also become the frontrunner in the race to unseat Yeltsin in the June 1996 presidential election.

  • Summary of the OSCE Rule of Law Seminar

    From November 28 to December 1, 1995, the participating States of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) convened a seminar on the rule of law. The meeting was organized by the Warsaw-based OSCE Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR). Thirty-eight of the 53 fully participating States attended, along with representatives from two Non-Participating Mediterranean States, six international organizations, and 25 non-governmental organizations. Over the course of two days, a number of emerging democracies described the constitutions and other legislative provisions that had been adopted in their countries to provide for the rule of law, at least on paper. Western participants, for their part, generally spoke of the specific and concrete challenges faced in their countries in actually implementing safeguards for the rule of law. In general, the participation of East-Central European and former Soviet countries—most of which attended this meeting—was more active than at the 1991 Oslo meeting, and Western participants, for their part, avoided the West-West bickering that marred the earlier seminar. At the end of the meeting, the rapporteurs produced summaries of the discussions.

  • Pre-Election Briefing on Russia

    Dorothy Taft, Chief of staff for the Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe, on behalf of Representative Christopher H. Smith and Senator Alfonse M. D'Amato, the Chairman and Co-Chairman of the commission, presided the pre-election briefing on Russia. This briefing discussed the Duma and the Presidential elections in Russia, that would determinated the direction that the State will take as to European security and cooperation. Ms. Taft was joined by four recognized specialists in Russian affairs and electoral processes that shared with the Commission their insight on the Duma elections and beyond: Mr. Robert Dahl, an elections specialist with the International Foundation for Electoral System; Dr. Leon Aron, professor of post-Communist transition in Russia; Dr. Peter Stavrakis, Director at the Kennan Institute for Advanced Russian Studies; and Mr. Paul Goble, special advisor for Soviet Nationality Problems and Baltic Affairs at the State Department.  

  • Pre-Election Briefing on Russia

    This briefing, which then Commission Chief of Staff Dorothy Taft moderated, focused on the Russian Federation’s upcoming Duma elections in December of the same year. Among the implications of these elections was a potential change in the direction that the Russian Federation would take concerning European security and cooperation. Of course, there was also the possibility that the Duma elections would significantly impact the nature of the U.S.’s and the former U.S.S.R.’s bilateral relations. Considering what was at stake in the Duma’s impending elections, not to mention the former U.S.S.R.’s presidential elections in June of the following year, the Commission, understandably, wanted to hold this briefing in order to be acquainted with Russia’s political leaders and the political landscape upon which they operate.

  • Religious Liberty: The State Church and Minority Faiths

    Samuel G. Wise, Director for International Policy at the US Helsinki Commission, presented the second briefing in a series focusing on religious liberty in the participating states of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe. This particular discussion was intended to evaluate the relationship between state churches or traditional religious and freedom of religion for minority faiths in the OSCE region through an analysis of the effects of certain historical legacies on individual states. Witnesses testifying at the briefing – including Father Kishkovsky, Ecumenical Officer of the Orthodox Church in America; Father George Papaioannou, Pastor of St. George Greek Orthodox Church; Gerard Powers, Foreign Policy Advisor for the U.S. Catholic Conference; Lauren Homer, Founder of Law and Liberty Trust; and Lee Boothby, Vice President of the Council on Religious Freedom – focused on the issue of minority and majority in society as it relates to religion and the potential for this issue to result in conflict. The historical origins of these tensions, especially in Eastern Europe, were particularly emphasized. 

  • Religious Liberty in the OSCE: Present and Future

    Speaking on behalf of Congressman Christopher H. Smith and Senator Alfonse M. D’Amato, chairman and co-chairman of the Helsinki Committee, the Committee’s Director for International Policy, Samuel G. Wise, addressed the improvements made by the countries of the OSCE in religious liberty since the demise of communism. Observed deficits in this particular subject were also evaluated, including acts of OSCE governments perpetrating religious intolerance and discrimination against people of faith by passing laws favoring certain religions, turning a blind eye to harassment, and establishing bureaucratic roadblocks to prevent religious minorities from practicing their faith. Each panelist – including Dr. Paul Marshall, Senior Fellow of Political Theory for the Institute for Christian Studies; Dr. Khalid Duran, Senior Fellow for the Institute for International Studies; and Micah Naftalin, National Director for the Union of Councils for Soviet Jews – spoke to the overall factors affecting religious freedom in the OSCE, including: respect for other freedoms such as freedom of speech and religion, ethno-cultural tensions, and the relevance of old prejudices. These ideas were presented in the context of moving towards a more comprehensive respect for religious freedom among OSCE member states in the future.

  • Trade and Investment in Central Europe and the NIS

    This briefing was the tenth in a series of briefings covering topics such as U.S. assistance to Central and East Europe and the NIS, and free trade unions. Topics of discussion included the economic aspects of efforts to develop institutional networks between the Central and Eastern European countries and the OSCE and the Western European multilateral structures and the progress that has been made by countries in developing association agreements with the European Union. Witnesses testifying at this briefing – including Harriet Craig Peterson, President of Cornerstone International Group and Thomas Price, Coordinator for OSCE Affairs for the State Department – evaluated regional issues associated with infrastructure, environment, energy, and border procedures that needed to be addressed to produce a smoother flow of goods from an economic perspective.

  • Chechnya

    This hearing focused on the subject of the crisis in Chechnya. It was the third Helsinki Commission hearing on the disastrous policy hatched in Moscow to resolve by armed force the problem of relations between the government of the Russian Federation and Chechnya.  

  • U.S. Assistance to Central and Eastern Europe and the NIS: An Assessment

    This briefing discussed the successes achieved and the difficulties encountered on the road to democratic reform and stabilization are reflected throughout Central and Eastern Europe, and evaluated the impact of these factors in the scope and tenor of U.S. assistance programs. Such programs involve assistance to countries throughout the region in democratic institution building, market reform and restructuring, health care improvement, energy efficiency, environmental policy, and housing sector reform. Witnesses testifying at this briefing addressed the relevance of the crisis in Chechnya, continued conflict in the Balkans, and tensions in various parts of East-Central Europe to United States Interests in the region. They focused on the goals of U.S. assistance to the NIS and East-Central Europe and the effectiveness of current programs in furthering those goals.

  • The Crisis of Chechnya

    Apart from horrendous human rights violations, the war in Chechnya has brought to the fore all the underlying fissures in Russia’s political and economic structures, as well as highlighted the tensions in Russia’s relations with its neighbors and the rest of the international community. Chechnya confronts Russia’s Government, and by extension, all OSCE governments with the key issue of self-determination. Though Principle VIII of the Helsinki Final Act guarantees the equal right of all peoples to self-determination, the international community has never worked out rules and mechanisms for pursuing that right. Since many countries face actual or potential separatist movements based on demands for self-determination, governments have tended to side-step the issue.

  • The Crisis in Chechnya

    This hearing discussed the human right violations conducted by the Russian government against the civilians of the Chechen Republic. The horrendous human rights violations, the war in Chechnya brought to the fore all the underlying fissures in Russia’s political and economic structures, as well as highlighted the tensions in Russia’s relations with its neighbors and the rest of the international community. Chechnya confronted Russia’s Government, and by extension, all OSCE governments with the key issue of self-determination. Though Principle VIII of the Helsinki Final Act guarantees the equal right of all peoples to self-determination, the international community has never worked out rules and mechanisms for pursuing that right. Since many countries face actual or potential separatist movements based on demands for self-determination, governments have tended to side-step the issue.

  • Electoral Reforms in Russia

    John Finerty from the Commission was joined by Richard Soudrette, representative of the International Federation for Electoral Systems, in leading a discussion on the possibility of reforming Russia’s electoral system.  Soudrette focused on the changes that were seen since the previous year’s parliamentary elections and future prospects for change. Panelists - Catherine Barnes, Robert Dahl, Terry Holcomb, Connie McCormack, and Richard Soudrette – spoke of their individual experiences with the Russian electoral system. The highlighted the successes of the International Federation of Electoral Systems programs in Russia, which focused on legal and institutional reform.

  • Nagorno-Karabakh

    In this briefing, which CSCE Staff Director Samuel G. Wise chaired, the focus was on the conflict that had then recently transpired between the countries of Armenia and Azerbaijan. More specifically, the two countries had had a territorial dispute regarding the area of Nagorno-Karabakh. This dispute had manifested itself into all-out violence that had claimed around 15 million lives at the time of the briefing, as well as creating well over a million refugees. The briefing was the fifth in a series of briefings and hearings that the Helsinki Commission had held since 1988 regarding Nagorno-Karabakh. Fortunately, also at the time of this briefing, there had been very few armed clashes for a couple of months, and the warring factions had observed an informal cease fire. Actually, just three days prior to the briefing, the Defense Ministers of Armenia, Azerbaijan, and Nagorno-Karabakh jointly noted the success of the cease fire and looked forward to a more comprehensive resolution of the conflict. With this decrease in violence, attention had shifted to the international diplomatic plane. The CSCE and the Russians had put forward at least somewhat similar cease fire plans, albeit with competition for adherence. The ultimate end of both approaches was a broader agreement about the status of Nagorno-Karabakh and making peace in the region. The purpose of the briefing, then, was to discuss the possible framework of a political settlement.

  • Crime and Corruption in Russia

    The rationale of this briefing, which Commission Staff Director Sam Wise presided over, was that of a marked increase of crime in Russia. At the time of this briefing, crime had become the dominant subject in Russian politics. Unsurprisingly, the extent of crime in Russia had significant implications for its society, specifically for hte viability of the state. In fact, President Yeltsin had called crime the Russian state’s gravest threat. A question that Wise brought up in the briefing was the possibility of criminals taking over the Russian Federation’s government. Another possibility that Wise mentioned was election of authoritarian, repressive leaders who would make Russia safe. Witnesses in the briefing included Dr. Louise Shelly of American University’s Department of Justice, Law and Society, and Stephen Handelman, Associate Fellow at the Harriman Center of Columbia University.

  • Doing Business in Russia and the NIS: Opportunities and Obstacles

    Jane Fisher, Deputy Staff Director of the Helsinki Commission, presided this briefing focused on trade and doing business in the Newly Indipendent States of the former Soviet Union. It was the third in a series of briefings by the Commission on NIS. The Helsinki Accords cover human rights, security, and economic cooperation, and when the countries of the former Soviet Union were making the transition to democracy, the Commission put a greater emphasis on trade and economic cooperation. Russia and the Newly Independent States had a great potential market. They had enormous natural resources, large consumer markets, and a huge potential for trade and investments. Ms. Fisher was joined by a distinguished panel of experts who have been directly involved in business development in the formet Soviet Union: Dr. Richard Rahn, President and Chief executive officer of Novecon; Edward Chow, Director of International Affairs for Chevron Overseas Petroleum; and Joseph Barker, Vice Presidentof Ryland Trading. They described their experiences and shared their views on the opportunities and hazards of doing business in Russia and the NIS.  

  • Russia and its Neighbors

    Dennis Deconcini (D-AZ) and other legislators discussed Russia’s relations with its neighboring countries. More specifically, concerning democratic reform, the hearing contrasted the economic criteria of privatization, the rate of inflation, currency emission, and subsidies to enterprises with Moscow’s policies vis-à-vis its neighbors. Of course, Russia’s neighbors are referred to as the New Independent States, and, as Deconcini argues, it is problematic when Russia militarily or economically coerces its neighbors to enter into unwanted, yet inevitable, political, security, or economic relationships.

  • Russia and NATO: Moscow’s Foreign Policy and the Partnership for Peace

    This briefing examined what role Russia would play in the Partnership for Peace and NATO. It also looks at human rights concerns as well as military, security, and economic relations bewteen Russia and the West. Several complexities of this situation in the context of the post-communist period were addressed. Witnesses testifying at the briefing – including Lawrence DiRita, Deputy Director of Foreign and Defense Policy for the Heritage Foundation and Dr. Phillip Petersen, Principle Researcher for the Potomac Foundation – evaluated the Partnership for Peace Framework, which worked towards establishing partnerships with a number of European country, including those of the former Soviet Union. The role of Russian policy in this partnership was an especially debated topic.

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