On March 2, 2008, Russians elected Dmitry Medvedev to succeed Vladimir Putin as president. With 97 percent of precincts counted, Medvedev had more than 70 percent of the vote, according to the Central Election Commission. However, many voters expressed anger or apathy about a campaign without real competition.
On Dec. 2, the pro-Kremlin United Russia party headed by President Vladimir Putin swept parliamentary elections, winning more than 64 percent of the vote. The vote -- decried by opposition parties and international observers as unfair -- gives United Russia and two Kremlin-controlled parties all but 57 of the 450 seats in the State Duma, or lower house of parliament.
AUDIO GALLERY »
Politics and Power: Putin's Ascent in Russia
Putin's Chosen Successor
Dmitry Medvedev, 42, is first deputy prime minister and chairman of energy giant Gazprom. A lawyer, Medvedev worked with Putin in St. Petersburg city government in the early 1990s. He came to Moscow when Putin was prime minister and headed Putin's election campaign in 2000. Medvedev won the presidency in March after receiving Putin's blessing as successor.
In Russian politics as well as business, alignment with or against Putin carries weighty repercussions. During his presidency, Putin filled the Kremlin with compatriots from his days in the Soviet KGB, giving them positions as defense minister, interior minister and head of a powerful anti-drug agency. Some analysts see Putin's influence as a stabilizing force among various factions vying for power. Russia's continued economic growth and international weight may depend on the role Putin assumes after his term as president ends.
In Dec. 2 parliamentary elections, Putin headed the pro-Kremlin United Russia party, which won more than 64 percent of the vote. Putin's backing of Dmitry Medvedev to succeed him as president practically assures Medvedev's victory in March elections. A day after Putin's endorsement, Medvedev announced his support for Putin continuing in politics as prime minister.
Under Putin, Russia has placed limits on its post-Soviet experiment with democracy: Putin has reversed the popular election of regional governors, curtailed independent broadcasts, imposed new restrictions on grass-roots advocacy groups, and squeezed rival parties, reducing them to obscurity. To eliminate broadcasts critical of Putin's government, the Kremlin drove the owners of state-controlled Channel One and independent NTV out of the country and seized control of both networks. The Kremlin also targets opposition from the country's oligarchs, modeled in the arrest of oil baron Mikhail Khodorkovsky, then the richest man in Russia, and the breakup of his energy company, Yukos. Khodorkovsky is serving an eight-year sentence for his conviction in 2005 on fraud, embezzlement and tax-evasion charges.
When Putin rose to the presidency, climbing oil prices helped him stabilize the Russian economy and pay off international debt from the 1990s. Putin's popularity grew out of his economic reforms, but his critics say prosperity has come with increased corruption and curtailed freedoms. Russia's oil and gas industry is controlled by the state and remains opaque to Western investors. Europe relies heavily on Russian natural gas supplies, raising fears that Russia will use Europe's energy dependence for political purposes. Russia's state-controlled energy giant, Gazprom, has already clashed over gas prices with neighboring Ukraine and Belarus, threatening to cut supply through the countries.
» U.S. Relations
The relationship between Putin and Bush has frayed since Putin backed U.S. operations in Afghanistan after Sept. 11, 2001. The two countries have had many disputes over the Iraq war, Iran's nuclear program, Kosovo independence and Russia's involvement in neighboring countries. The Bush administration has sharply criticized Putin's rollback of political freedoms, though it eased pressure on Putin in 2007 as anti-American rhetoric grew in Russia. In July of that year, Bush invited Putin to his family's compound in Kennebunkport, Maine, in an effort to improve U.S.-Russian relations strained over Bush's plan to deploy an anti-missile system in Eastern Europe.
Source: Washington Post Staff Reports
Compiled by Amanda Zamora and Heather Farrell, washingtonpost.com
Parliamentary seats: 315; Leader: Boris Gryzlov; President Vladimir Putin headed the party's slate of candidates in the December parliamentary election, even though he is not its formal leader.
Parliamentary seats: 57; Leader: Gennady Zyuganov; The only real opposition party in the Duma, it still takes only mildly anti-Kremlin positions.
Liberal Democratic Party
Parliamentary seats: 40; Leader: Vladimir Zhirinovsky; An ultranationalist party that is essentially controlled by the Kremlin.
Parliamentary seats: 38; Leader: Sergei Mironov; Led by a Putin loyalist, the party was created by the Kremlin as a left-wing adjunct of United Russia.
Comments? Corrections? Questions about the election? E-mail us.