June 13, 2016 –
Anna Garde, PolitRussia –
Translated by J. Arnoldski
Twenty-six years ago, Russia adopted a declaration on state sovereignty. Although some are skeptical of this act, it is precisely since that day that the country has gone along a different path of development. For this reason, Russia Day is celebrated each year. From year to year, this holiday is met with criticism. This year, for example, the leader of the Communist Party of the Russian Federation, Gennady Zyuganov, stated that the holiday has “not stuck” and proposed to move the date from June 12th to July 28th, the day of the baptism of Rus. The question as to whether the holiday “has stuck” or not is quite controversial. However, it can be confidently said that this date opened a new page in history.
For the history of a country, a quarter of a century is no small period. Much has happened over these past years. Nevertheless, out of all of the diverse developments, 12 key dates can be selected which fully characterize this small, yet significant era in the history of Russia.
June 12th, 1991
June 12th, [now Russia Day], not only opened a new page in the history of Russia, but is also the day that Boris Yeltsin became the president of the Russian Soviet Federative Socialist Republic, whose name is linked to the key turning point of the first post-Soviet years.
December 12th, 1993
Two and a half years later, the proclaimed declaration of establishing the Constitution of the Russian Federation was realized. On October 15th, 1993, Yeltsin signed the decree to hold a countrywide vote on the draft Constitution. In the end, the country’s fundamental law passed in referendum on December 12th. More than 58% voted for the constitution’s adoption. [On the controversy of the Russian Constitution’s adoption, see “Why Russians don’t Celebrate Constitution Day” – J. Arnoldski]
Over the years of its existence, this text has been amended several times. The names of territorial subjects in the document were amended 5 times, and the composition of Russia in connection with the consolidation and merging of regions and the inclusion of Crimea meant 6 amendments. In addition, in 2008, the terms of office for president were changed from 4 to 6 years and those of the State Duma were also changed from 4 to 5 years. In 2014, more revisions were introduced thanks to which the Supreme Court and Supreme Arbitration Court were united. After a few months, the rules for the formation of the Federation Council were changed. Following appropriate amendments, the president received the right to appoint 10% of the members of the Federation Council representing Russia’s regions.
This date in the country’s history is not so positive as the previous ones. Nevertheless, the majority of experts positively assess the consequences of this event, i.e., the default which became the high point of the all too liberal economic policies of the country’s government. The formal reason for the default was enormous government debt, but the roots of the problem in fact lie in the political arena. The confrontation between the mainly communist State Duma and the liberal government manifested itself in the imbalance of the budget and attempts to close the hole with the aid of GKO ’s (state treasury bonds).
Nevertheless, despite the devaluation of the ruble, the closing of banks and the huge losses of the Russian economy, in general the consequences of the default were positive. According to expert assessments, the decline in prices of Russian goods outside of Russia allowed domestic producers to occupy a new niche in world markets, which increased export opportunities. An improvement of the state policies with which the high leadership had clearly “gone too far” gradually took place. And finally, and mainly, thanks to the default, the economy began to depart from the resource model, as a result of which other industries were able to develop. By and large, without the default of 1998, Russia would have been unlikely to endure the recent crisis and the new downturn in oil prices.
August 7th, 1999
The 1990’s were overall a difficult time for the country not only from the standpoint of the economy or political problems. The collapse of the USSR escalated the issue of separatism among national republics which led to the two Chechen wars. The results of the First Chechen War, enshrined in the Khasavyurt Accord, did not bring about the desired peace of mind. Terrorist attacks, kidnappings for ransom, and military operations by militants on the territories of Chechnya and Dagestan all led to the beginning of the counter-terrorist operation of August 1999 which is known as the Second Chechen War. The leadership of the country lured part of the Chechen national elite to its side, which positive affected results. Nevertheless, the counter-terrorist operation in the republic would last until April 2009.
July 23rd, 2003
This date in Russia’s history is directly connected with the previous one. In 2003, broad administrative reforms began which essentially cemented the successes of the Second Chechen War and put an end to aggressive separatism. It all started with the presidential decree “On Measures for Conducting Administrative Reform in 2003-2004.” The main objective of this first phase of reforms was the separation of powers.
According to the reform’s analysis, approximately 1.5 thousand executive functions were superfluous and 868 were in need of change. The emphasis of the first phase of reforms was made on increasing economic self-sufficiency. Important changes concerned the separation of powers between federal and regional executive authorities, which ultimately helped the problem of separatism to be handled.
The second stage of the reform was in 2006-2010.
Isolating a single date in 2008 is virtually impossible. Over the course of this year, several major events took place which left their mark in history. Large foreign policy shocks were accompanied by cultural and sport victories. Not to mention the tragic date of 08.08 associated with the conflict between Georgia and South Ossetia which was participated in by Russian soldiers to force Georgia to make peace.
On the other hand, in this year the Russian hockey team became world champions, defeating the Canadians by 5:4. In the same month, Dima Bilan brought Russia its first victory at the Eurovision song contest. In June of the same year, Russian soccer players won the bronze medal at the European championship, losing to Spain in the fight for second place.
This no less important date in the history of Russia is connected with the growth of the protest movement following elections to the State Duma. The protest movement was faced with the presidential campaign as a result of which Putin once again became the head of state. Protesters decried mass falsifications and violations of federal law during voting. “For fair elections!” was the main slogan of the protests. The white ribbon became the symbol of these protesters.
The importance of this date is not so much the growth of the protest movement as its consequences. During a direct line, Putin promised to return elections to regional governors, which was soon enshrined in according legislation. Then followed measures according to which the procedure for registering political parties was eased and the number of signatures required for presidential elections was reduced. Although at that moment the head of the Central Electoral Commission, Vladimir Churov, did not resign, he was dismissed from his post before the 2016 elections. His place was taken by Ella Pamfilova, who had hitherto held the post of Commissioner on Human Rights.
2014 was also quite eventful in all spheres of life and society. One of the main events of the year was Russia’s second Olympic games in history, which took place in Sochi from February 7th to 23rd. The games became a record for medals won – 1254. The broadcast of the opening ceremony, which lasted about 3 hours at the Fisht stadium, was watched by 3 billion people and the preparation of the show involved more than 12,000 people.
Despite the fact that many Western leaders refused to go to the opening ceremony of the Olympics, the games still beat Vancouver and Turin in terms of the number of visiting heads of states (44 leaders). The Russian Olympic team was the victor in terms of total medals as well as by number of gold and silver medals.
March 16th, 2014
Not even a month had passed since the closing of the Olympic games when yet another important event which would be written down in history took place. On March 16th, the residents of Crimea voted for the peninsula to be included as part of Russia. According to official data, the number of people who voted for the return of Crimea and Sevastopol to Russian jurisdiction exceeded 96% with a turnout of 83.1%.
The referendum was an historic decision not only for Russia, which was going through far from the best economic times due to Western sanctions, but also for the residents of the peninsula itself. Over the past 2 years, a lot has happened. Despite such negative phenomena as the energy blockade, living standards have constantly improvised in Crimea. The influx of tourists has been restored, and infrastructure has been restored and modernized. Living conditions, in particular the quality of free medical services, have changed for the better.
Despite the fact that the West insists on calling Crimea’s return an “annexation” and Ukrainian authorities threaten to regain the peninsula, life has changed for Crimeans. Of course, 2 years of work is not enough to handle the devastation which Ukraine subjected Crimea to. Nevertheless, things are moving in a better direction, and even some Western media cannot deny this.
January 1st, 2015
January of last year was linked with the creation of the new integration association which has attracted the attention of the whole world. The Eurasian Economic Union was formed by Russia, Armenia, Kazakhstan, Belarus, and Kyrgyzstan. The EAEU has become the largest free market zone with a total population of 182 million people. In this year, the EAEU has launched a free trade zone with Vietnam and negotiations on creating such a zone are ongoing with Egypt, Thailand, Israel, and Iran. Interest in the union has also been expressed by China, Singapore, India, Pakistan, and Palestine. In addition, there are plans to link the union with the Chinese Silk Road Project.
September 30th, 2015
Many experts have called 2015 the year of Russian foreign policy, and not in vain. Despite sanctions and other unpleasant episodes in the world arena, the country managed to achieve considerable successes, and not only in the post-Soviet space with the EAEU. On September 30th, the Russian military and air force operation in Syria began to combat ISIS terrorists. With the aid of the Air and Space Forces of the Russian Federation, the Syrian army was able to repel the attacks of insurgents and liberate most of Syria’s territory. Russian troops were then withdrawn from the Syrian Arab Republic in March 2016.
In addition to generally positive assessments of the anti-terrorist operation itself, experts believe that this episode was the best possible advertisement of Russian military equipment.
April 28th, 2016
Despite corruption scandals, criticism over lost funds, unpaid wages, and other unpleasant situations surrounding the construction of the “East” cosmodrome, on April 26th the launch of the first rocket-carrier Soyuz-2.1a was held. The rocket carried three satellites into orbit and, starting in 2018, the site is planned to carry out 6-8 launches a year. In addition, the cosmodrome will be guaranteed work on lunar programs, the goals of which include launching spacecraft to the moon.
This list is of course limited. Describing the long history of a quarter century in 12 events is impossible. Nevertheless, these dates are unquestionable reference points which have influenced the further development of Russia.