Russia is a country in Eurasia, and at 6,612,100 square miles, is the largest country in the world, accounting for more than an eighth of the Earth's overall inhabited land area and spanning eleven time zones – it is, however, only the ninth most populous with a population of 144.5 million people (not including Crimea). 77% of the population live in western Russia; the capital city, Moscow, is one of the largest cities in the world. Russia shares land borders with a number of countries, including Norway, Finland, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, Belarus, Ukraine, Georgia, Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan, China, Mongolia and North Korea, while also sharing water borders with Japan and the United States.
Russia has the twelfth largest economy in the world, which is also the sixth largest by purchasing power. Considered a great power, Russia possesses the largest stockpile of weapons of mass destruction in the world, and has long been characterised as a potential superpower. Russia retains membership to a number of international organisations, including the United Nations Security Council, the ASEAN, the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation, the G20, the Council of Europe, the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation, the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe, and the World Trade Organization.
The legislative branch
Constitutionally, Russia is characterised as a federation and semi-presidential republic, in which the President is the head of state and the Prime Minister is head of government.
The Russian Federal Assembly (parliament) is composed of 616 members and is made up of two houses, the 450-member State Duma (lower house) and the 166-member Federation Council (upper house).
The Federal Assembly remains in a continuous state of permanent session, though it breaks briefly during the spring and autumn seasons. Constitutionally, the two houses of the assembly must meet in separate sessions which are open to the public, though joint meetings can be held when required (such as in the event of an important presidential speech). The assembly’s schedule is designed to maintain a discrenable difference between its current state and that of the Soviet-era government, which met only a handful of times a year to confirm new policy.
Each house in the assembly elects a chairman to oversee the workings of that house, as well as forming committees to deal with specific issues. No deputy is allowed to sit on more than one committee at a time.
Of the two houses, the State Duma is more powerful. The main concern of the Federation Council relates to subnational jurisdiction, as well as confirming or removing high-ranking officials such as the procurator general or justices of the courts, all based on the recommendation of the sitting president. The Council must also make the final decision if the Duma recommends the removal of the president, and is responsible for carefully analysing all bills passed by the lower chamber that relate to finance and foreign policy.
All bills must first be passed by the State Duma, however, with the lower house retaining the ability to bypass the upper house with a two-thirds majority vote on legislation if required. The Duma also confirms the prime ministerial appointment, though its powers in this regard are limited and ultimately rest in the hands of the president, who can dissolve the Duma under certain conditions.
The executive branch
The Russian president is head of state while the prime minister is head of the government. The president retains the power to direct all of Russia’s domestic and foreign policy affairs, and represents the country when abroad. He can also appoint and recall Russian ambassadors, accept credentials from foreign representatives, and sign international treaties.
The Russian presidency has been criticised for being too dictatorial in the past. The president appoints the prime minister to chair the government (or cabinet) with approval from the State Duma, though he can dismiss government members and the Duma itself under certain conditions. He is also responsible for appointing and dismissing justices to office, and is the Supreme Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces of the Russian Federation with the power to declare national or regional states of martial law, and national states of emergency.
The judicial branch
The Constitutional Court, Supreme Court, and Supreme Court of Arbitration sit at the head of the judicial branch of the Russian government; district courts are responsible for criminal trials. The judiciary is overseen by the All-Russian Congress of Judges and its Council of Judges – the Prosecutor General is the head of the Russian judicial system.