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Russia

Executive Summary

The Russian Federation has a highly centralized, authoritarian political system dominated by President Vladimir Putin. The bicameral Federal Assembly consists of a directly elected lower house (State Duma) and an appointed upper house (Federation Council), both of which lacked independence from the executive. State Duma elections during 2016 and the presidential election in 2012 were marked by accusations of government interference and manipulation of the electoral process.

Security forces generally reported to civilian authorities, except in some areas of the North Caucasus.

The continuing occupation and purported “annexation” of Ukraine’s Crimean Peninsula continued to affect the human rights situation significantly and negatively. The government continued to train, equip, and supply pro-Russian forces in eastern Ukraine, who were joined by numerous fighters from Russia. Credible observers attributed thousands of civilian deaths and injuries, as well as widespread abuses, to Russian-backed separatists in Ukraine’s Donbas region, and to Russian occupation authorities in Crimea (see the Country Reports on Human Rights for Ukraine). Authorities also conducted politically motivated arrests, detentions, and trials of Ukrainian citizens in Russia, many of whom claimed to have been tortured. Human rights groups asserted that numerous Ukrainian citizens remained in Russia as political prisoners.

The most significant human rights problems were:

Restrictions on Political Participation and Freedom of Expression, Assembly, and Media: Authorities restricted citizens’ ability to choose their government through free and fair elections and increasingly instituted a range of measures to suppress dissent. The government passed repressive laws and selectively employed existing ones to harass, discredit, prosecute, imprison, detain, fine, and suppress individuals and organizations critical of the government. Amendments to antiterrorism laws, known as the “Yarovaya package,” granted authorities sweeping powers. Authorities especially targeted individuals and organizations that professed support for the government of Ukraine or opposed the Russian government’s activities in Ukraine.

Suppression of Civil Society: Authorities further stymied the work of nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) through the “foreign agents” and “undesirable foreign organization” laws. Authorities also significantly expanded the definition of political activities to bring more NGOs under the “foreign agents” category. Authorities began fining NGOs for not disclosing “foreign agent” status, while courts closed NGOs for violations involving the foreign agents’ list. Under the expanded definition of political activities, authorities added environmental and HIV-prevention organizations to the list.

Government Discrimination against Minorities: Authorities continued to discriminate against members of some religious and ethnic minorities; lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex (LGBTI) persons; and migrant workers. The Yarovaya package restricted “missionary activity,” including preaching, proselytizing, disseminating religious materials, or engaging in interfaith discussion; authorities used it to harass religious minorities. Authorities utilized a law prohibiting “propaganda” of nontraditional sexual relations to minors to harass the LGBTI community.

Other problems included allegations of torture and excessive force by law enforcement officers that sometimes led to deaths; prison overcrowding, and substandard and life-threatening prison conditions; executive branch pressure on the judiciary; lack of due process in politically motivated cases; electoral irregularities; extensive official corruption; violence against women; limits on women’s rights; trafficking in persons; discrimination against persons with disabilities; social stigma against persons with HIV/AIDS; and limitations on workers’ rights.

The government failed to take adequate steps to prosecute or punish most officials who committed abuses, resulting in a climate of impunity.

Conflict in the North Caucasus between government forces, insurgents, Islamist militants, and criminals led to numerous abuses, including killings, torture, physical abuse, politically motivated abductions, and a general degradation in the rule of law. Ramzan Kadyrov’s government in Chechnya generally did not investigate or prosecute abuses, and security forces committed abuses with impunity.

Section 1. Respect for the Integrity of the Person, Including Freedom from:

a. Arbitrary Deprivation of Life and other Unlawful or Politically Motivated Killings

There were several reports that the government or its agents committed arbitrary or unlawful killings. In the North Caucasus, both authorities and local militants reportedly carried out numerous extrajudicial killings (see section 1.g.).

Prison officials and police allegedly subjected inmates and suspects in custody to physical abuse that in some instances resulted in death (see section 1.c., Prison and Detention Center Conditions). On July 15, police in Ingushetia separately questioned Marem Daliyeva and her husband Magomed Daliyev for suspected involvement in a bank robbery. During the interrogation law enforcement officials insulted and threatened Daliyeva, then covered her head in a black bag, and took her to an undisclosed location for further questioning. They continued to hit her and administered electric shock to her hands and her abdomen. They returned her to the police station and held her for an additional two hours before she was released and learned that her husband had died during his questioning. As a result of complaints filed by Daliyeva, on July 19 the Investigative Committee opened a criminal case on exceeding authority and violating the rights of a citizen. As of August 12, the investigation had not yet determined responsibility for Daliyev’s death or treatment during interrogation.

Physical abuse continued to be a problem in the armed forces. While there were no clear examples of physical abuse leading to death, there were cases of suspicious deaths. In one example, commanding officers deemed the death of conscript Andrey Shlychkov in March a suicide in their official account. The family claimed that senior officers beat the conscript to death, and then hanged him to suggest a suicide. The family claimed that accounts from fellow conscripts and bruising on Shlychkov’s body supported this version. The Committee for the Social Protection of Servicemen in Bashkiriya was investigating the cause of death, and a criminal investigation into whether the case involved instigation to suicide was underway.

In February 2015 opposition politician Boris Nemtsov, deputy prime minister during the administration of Boris Yeltsin, was shot and killed on the streets of Moscow near the Kremlin. Authorities ultimately arrested five Chechens for the crime, with an additional suspect killed in an attempt to apprehend him in Chechnya. On October 3, the jury trial of the suspects began in a military court, with all five of the defendants pleading not guilty. One of the defendants, Zaur Dadayev, was formerly deputy commander of the North battalion of the Interior Troops of the Ministry of Internal Affairs in Chechnya. Reports indicated that Dadayev might have held a position within the ministry at the time of the killing. Dadayev confessed to the killing before recanting, claiming he had been tortured while in detention. He implied that he had received orders for Nemtsov’s killing from Ruslan Geremeyev, another officer who served in the North battalion. The court summoned Geremeyev to testify as a witness on December 13, but Geremeyev did not appear in court. Russian authorities were unable to identify Geremeyev’s whereabouts. In December 2015 investigators charged Dadayev, Anzor Gubashev, Khamzat Bakhayev, Shadid Gubashev, and Temirlan Eskerkhanov with committing the murder as part of an organized group and illegally purchasing, carrying, transporting, and storing firearms.

The country played a significant military role in conflicts outside of its borders, in Syria and in eastern Ukraine, where human rights organizations attributed thousands of civilian deaths as well as other human rights abuses to Russian-backed separatists and Russian occupation authorities in Crimea (see Country Reports on Human Rights for Ukraine). Since September 2015 the country has conducted military operations including airstrikes in the continuing conflict in Syria. According to human rights organizations, the country’s forces have taken actions such as bombing urban areas and humanitarian aid convoys during the conflict, including purposefully targeting civilians (see Country Reports on Human Rights for Syria).

In January a British public inquiry into the death in 2006 of Alexander Litvinenko, a former secret police (KGB) officer turned whistleblower and Putin critic, concluded that two Russian nationals, Andrey Lugovoy and Dmitriy Kuvtun, poisoned Litvinenko with a rare radioactive isotope, polonium 210, in London. The report also found it was probable that President Putin and the Federal Security Service (FSB) chief at the time, Nikolay Patrushev, had approved the killing, which was likely an FSB operation.

b. Disappearance

Enforced disappearances for both political and financial reasons continued in the North Caucasus (see section 1.g.). According to the 2016 report of the UN Working Group on Enforced or Involuntary Disappearances, there were 480 outstanding cases of enforced or involuntary disappearances in the country.

Security forces were allegedly responsible for the kidnapping and disappearance of asylum seekers from Central Asia, particularly Uzbekistan and Tajikistan (see section 2.d.).

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