In the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries, the territory that now encompasses European Russia came under the control of Moscow, and the ruling tsars (emperors) adopted an expansionist policy which led to the development of the Russian Empire in the eighteenth century. Modernization and industrialization led to ever growing resentment and rebellion against the autocratic feudal system of government, and was particularly compounded by the hardships caused by the First World War. In the early twentieth century the tsarist regime was overthrown in a popular revolution.
The October Revolution and the Bolshevik seizure of state power in 1917 led to a five year civil war which ended with a Communist victory and the creation of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (Soviet Union) in 1922. Federal status was enshrined in the new Soviet constitution unveiled by Josef Stalin in 1936, but the federal model adopted during the Soviet period was a façade that veiled the highly centralized Communist Party system.
Nationalist tensions, economic stagnation, and demands for democracy in various countries within the Eastern Bloc initiated the downfall of the Soviet Union, which disintegrated after an attempted coup against Mikhail Gorbachev in the Russian Federation failed in August 1991. Between August and December 1991, 13 of the republics seceded from the Soviet Union. By December 31 1991, the Soviet Union ceased to exist, and Russia had changed its legal name from the Russian Soviet Federative Republic, to the Russian Federation, which remains its name today.
The 1993 constitution, adopted after the fall of the Soviet Union, established a political system that is a unique hybrid of a presidential and parliamentary republic. However Russia has not developed the democratic system many hoped would follow in the post-Soviet era, as central government remains strong in the country and regional powers are strictly limited.
The Russian Federation is the world’s largest federal state with more than 100 distinct nationalities and ethnic groups. It consists of eighty-five federal subjects of six different types: 46 oblasts; 22 republics; 9 krais; 4 autonomous okrugs; 3 federal cities; and 1 autonomous oblast. One of Russia’s greatest federal challenges is balancing regional powers and identities within a unified federal country. Traditionally, authorities have maintained strong central state control over governance in the country.
The Head of State of the Russian Federation is the President, who is also the Supreme Commander in Chief, and holder of the highest office. The Russian system is characterized by the strength of its presidency, with the President determining the basic course of domestic and foreign policy. The Government of Russia is the highest organ of executive power, the members consisting of the Prime Minister (the Head Government), the deputy prime ministers, and the federal ministers and their ministries and departments. The Prime Minister is selected by the President, and then confirmed by the lower house of the Russian Parliament.
The legislature of Russia is the Federal Assembly of the Russian Federation, a bicameral Parliament, consisting of the 450 member State Duma (the lower house), and the 166 member Federation Council (the upper house).