Pool photo by Alexander Zemlianichenko
It has been contending with its Soviet past ever since, even as the economic chaos of the Russian Federation’s early days gave way to oil-fueled growth, and a brief riot of political activity during that time was tamped down by the authoritarian regime of Vladimir V. Putin. In March 2012, Mr. Putin reclaimed the presidency for the third time, but his return to office has not been welcomed by all Russians and he has faced an increasingly assertive opposition movement.
For more than a decade, Russian politics have been dominated by Mr. Putin, who was named acting prime minister in 1999 by the former president, Boris N. Yeltsin, and then elected president in 2000. Arising from obscurity, Mr. Putin, a former K.G.B. officer, proceeded to consolidate control over almost every aspect of society and business and marginalize what opposition still existed.
His success in stabilizing the society, the economic growth that followed and the firmness with which he clamped down on rebels in Chechnya made him widely popular. He remained president until 2008, when he had to step down because the Russian constitution limits a president to two consecutive terms.His hand-picked successor was the younger and more pro-Western Dmitri A. Medvedev, who was elected in 2008. But Mr. Putin did not relinquish control. The solution was a “tandem” government: Mr. Medvedev became president and Mr. Putin moved to the post of prime minister, though he remained the most influential man in Russian politics.
With Mr. Putin’s re-election in 2012, Mr. Medvedev faded quickly from prominence, as it became ever more clear that Russia’s political system that hinges on Mr. Putin’s personality. While there are powerful interest groups within the Russian government, none of them can act without Mr. Putin’s consent, leaving him at the center of a complex system that must balance disparate demands.
Tensions Lead to Adoption Ban
Since Mr. Putin’s re-election, tensions have risen markedly with the Obama administration. Russia has blocked all Western moves for strong United Nations action on Syria, where the regime of Bashar al-Assad remained Moscow’s sole ally in the Mideast even as the revolt there deepened into a civil war.
Russian officials have used a juggernaut of legislation and executive decisions to curtail United States influence and involvement in Russia, undoing major partnerships that began after the fall of the Soviet Union.
In September, the Kremlin ordered the United States Agency for International Development to cease operations here, shutting a wide portfolio of public health, civil society and other initiatives. And officials announced plans to terminate a joint effort to dismantle nuclear, chemical and other nonconventional weapons known as the Nunn-Lugar agreement.
Russia also passed a law requiring nonprofit groups that get financing from abroad to register as “foreign agents,” sharply curtailing the ability of the United States to work with good-government groups, and another law broadening the definition of treason to include “providing financial, technical, advisory or other assistance to a foreign state or international organization.”
In December, Russia’s Parliament passed a law to ban adoptions of Russian children by United States citizens. The ban was developed in retaliation for the Magnitsky Act, an American law punishing Russians accused of violating human rights.
The measure effectively nullifies an agreement on international adoptions that took effect on Nov. 1. That agreement had called for heightened oversight in response to several high-profile cases of abuse and deaths of adopted Russian children in the United States.
On Dec. 28, Mr. Putin signed the ban, dealing a potentially grave setback to bilateral relations. A spokesman for Mr. Putin said on Jan. 10, 2013, that adoptions already approved by a court would be allowed to go through.
Mr. Putin also said that he would sign a decree calling for improvements in Russia’s child welfare system.
About 1,000 Russian children were adopted in 2011 by parents from the United States, which leads in adoptions from Russia, and more than 45,000 such children have been adopted by American parents since 1999.
The ban has opened a rare split at the highest levels of the Russian government, with several senior officials speaking out against it. And it has provoked a huge public outcry and debate, with critics of the ban saying it would most hurt Russian orphans, many of whom are already suffering in the country’s deeply troubled system.
In their debate, Russian lawmakers said they felt compelled to retaliate for the Magnitsky Act, a law signed by President Obama in December 2012 that punishes Russian citizens accused of violating human rights by prohibiting them from traveling to the United States and from owning real estate or other assets there.
The law is named for Sergei L. Magnitsky, a Russian lawyer who sustained serious injuries and died in a Moscow detention center in 2009 after he accused government officials of a tax fraud scheme.
The same day Mr. Putin signed the ban on adoptions, a judge in Moscow issued an acquittal of the only official to have gone to trial in Russia in the case of Mr. Magnitsky. The official, Dr. Dmitry Kratov, the former head of the medical service at Butyrka Prison, was accused of negligence for refusing repeated requests for treatment for a life-threatening illness.