Due to a large aging population, 34 million out of the 143 million Russian citizens lived on pensions in 2005. Prior to 2005, a typical Russian pension consisted of just over $70, which central and regional governments supplemented with free public transportation, housing subsidies, and for some pensioners, free prescriptions and telephones.
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.
The ‘Committee of Soldiers’ Mothers of Russia’(CSM) was formed in 1989 as an organized response to the mistreatment of Russian soldiers during times of war and forced military service for young men who were still in school. Early activity of the CSM’s led to the return of 17,600 men a year earlier than expected from military service. Their organization, led by Maria Kirbasova, continues to oppose war and fight for better treatment of soldiers even today. Their most notable actions were taken in the earlier half of the first Chechen War, namely the “March of Parental Compassion.”
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.