In 2009, Kaliningrad Oblast was a Russian exclave bordering Poland, Lithuania, and the Baltic Sea with no land connection to the rest of Russia. Because of this separation and its proximity to members of the European Union, it prospered more than the rest of Russia. The Russian government held it up as proof that Russia can provide the same quality of life as the European Union. It also enjoyed a more open political environment, as it had independent sources of media and small protests occurred frequently without government pushback.
Russian politics have long consisted of a close relationship between the state and United Russia, the dominant political party in Russian politics since 2000. United Russia is a centrist party that political elites created to support their favored candidate, Vladimir Putin, who held the post of President from 2000-2008, Prime Minister from 200-2012 and won re-election for the 2012-2018 Presidential term.
Prison camps were set up in Russia by the Bolsheviks soon after the October 1917 revolution and the scale of imprisonment expanded enormously beginning in the late 1920s, with most prisoners forced to labor, especially in mining, logging, and construction. From the 1930s through the mid 1950s, camps around the country contained millions of prisoners (from common criminals to political prisoners such as dissidents and opponents of the regime) working in inhumane conditions. Many died due to overwork, extreme climate, disease and malnutrition.
In the late 19th century, Russia’s autocracy, led by a Tsar (also czar), came under increasing attack. Alexander II was forced to liberate the serfs, but he was still assassinated in 1881 by a group called The People’s Will. His heir, Tsar Alexander III was badly shaken by this and launched a massive crackdown. In 1894, Nicholas II became Tsar and attempted to make a number of liberal reforms. For most, however, the reforms didn’t go far enough. In addition, a disastrous war with Japan from 1904-1905 shattered confidence in the Tsar’s ability to rule.