Maximum heir and successor of the USSR, leader of the Commonwealth of Independent States ( CIS , see in this Appendix), the Russia, formed in 1991, also took on the name of the Russian Federation with the Federal Treaty of 1992. It is the largest country in the world by surface area (over 17.1 million km ²) and one of the most significant for the population (147. 963 500 residents In 1999). The Constitution of the Russian Federation, which has a clearly presidential imprint and which reduced the prerogatives initially accorded to the member states (right of secession, prevalence of local legislation over federal law), was approved in1993.
In the CIS, which groups 12 states (all the components already federated in the ancient USSR, except Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania), the Russia is undoubtedly the leading state, even if the institutional ties with the other members are overall tenuous.. De facto ties, on the other hand, vary from a certain tendency towards political re-aggregation (a closer and more specific Community of Independent Republics was established with Belarus in 1996 – 97 and a significant ‘friendship treaty’ was signed with Ukraine in 1997.) to more frequent military cooperation and economic integration (in particular with some Central Asian countries: 1996 agreements of Russia and Belarus with Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan); however, they are made complex by the massive presence in these states of Russian minorities (especially, in order, in Kazakhstan, Ukraine, Kyrgyzstan).
The internal structure of the Russian Federation is complex, involving not only 22 federated republics, but also a certain number of autonomous territorial units (10 districts or okrugi, a province, two cities and 6 territories or krai), all located within that which is by far the largest of the republics, the Russia in the strict sense: this, adding to the autonomous units the 49 ordinary provinces (oblasts), occupies over 70 % of the surface and includes almost 85% of the population of the entire Federation. Among the other federated republics, the largest by far is that of the Jacuti (over 3.1 million km ², with just one million residents), followed at a distance by the Republic of Comi (415,900 km ²) and the Republic Buryat (351. 300 km ²); the most populous is from the Republic of Bashkortostan and Bashkortostan (over 4,1 million pop.), followed by the Tatars, or Tatarstan (3, 8 million pop.).
While the two possible ‘external’ Russian claims on Crimea (see Ukraine, in this Appendix) and South Ossetia (see Georgia, in this Appendix) are not raised for the moment, and even more so that on Northern Kazakhstan in which a strong Russian-speaking minority is concentrated (see Kazakhstan, in this Appendix), within the Federation independentist movements have bloodied Chechnya for a long time in the Ciscaucasian area. This federated republic, separated from Ingushetia with which it once constituted an autonomous republic of the USSR, had already declared itself independent in 1991 (with the autochthonous name of Ičkeria since 1994), provoking in the long run a hard and bloody Russian military intervention (1994 – 96); with the 1996 agreements, the definition of the status of Chechnya was postponed to a referendum to be held in 2001, but the conflict flared up again in 1999 (see below: History). Strong aspirations for greater autonomy – if not independence – characterize not only other federated republics (Tatarstan in the middle Volga basin, which was granted special autonomy in 1994 ; Baškortostan; Karelia on the border with Finland ; Tuva in Siberia), but also remote kraiSiberians like those of Khabarovsk and Primor´e, very far from Moscow, and even simple oblasts like that of Sverdlovsk (‘Ural Republic’, proclaimed in 1993 and then fallen into thin air). All within the framework of a widespread aspiration to self-government motivated by ethnic reasons, by great distances, and above all by the aspiration of local communities to control their own resources: eg. oil in Chechnya, and even more so the positive position enjoyed by this republic, as it is crossed by the oil pipeline (damaged and blocked several times during the recent civil war) that leads from Baku and the Caspian to Novorossiysk, a Russian export port on the Black Sea.
In this complicated intertwining of claims of belonging and independence, of tendencies to re-aggregation and threats of secession, it is hardly necessary to note that, while the western borders of the Russia are no longer contested by anyone, a strip of Russian territory is, quietly but continuously, claimed by Japan to the east: the Kuril Islands.
The population of the Russian Federation is practically zero growth, if not a slight decrease: in fact the demographic vitality of some of the ethnic minorities and the return flows of Russians from some of the former Soviet republics (Central Asian and Caucasian in particular) are more than balanced by the senile demographic behavior of the great majority of the population: the birth rate has dropped below 10% and the death rate is close to 14% (1997).
About ten cities are located between one million and one and a half million residents (values substantially stationary in recent decades): they are mostly capitals of large oblasts of the Russia in the strict sense, except Ufa and Kazan ‘which perform capital functions of the two main among the minor federated republics (those of the Bashkirs and the Tatars). The two peaks of the Russian urban network stand on these cities: St. Petersburg, the northernmost metropolis on Earth, with 4.7 million residents (it is under the protection of UNESCO with the 2001 Heritage project), and Moscow, spread like wildfire around the Kremlin (deeply renewed in its face, at least in the center, in the last years of the millennium, in particular with the reopening and revaluation of the splendid Orthodox churches), with over 8.5 millions of residents: these two urban centers are the only ones to have the status of ‘autonomous city’ within the Russian Federation. The toponymic revisionism, which had led, starting from 1990, to the restoration of many of the ancient names of cities of the pre-Soviet era, abruptly came to a halt: thus Caricyn was once again called Volgograd, and Togliatti kept its name after the specific referendum of 1996.
From an ethnic point of view, 83 % of the population of the Federation is made up of real Russians (1994): they represent the great majority of the residents of Russia in the strict sense, but also the majority or at least a strong minority in the other federated republics.: from 74 % in Karelia to 27 % in the Chuvash Republic. In the Federation as a whole, the main internal ethnic minority is constituted by the Tatars (almost 4 % of the total population and 49 % of that of their specific republic) and the external one by the Ukrainians (over 2% of the total population). The other minorities, both internal (Chuvas, Bashkirs, Mordvini, Chechens – all organized into their own federated republics – and others, mostly owners of autonomous territories within Russia in the strict sense), and external (Belarusians, etc..). It should be remembered that outside Russia, in the other republics of the former USSR (including the Baltic ones that are not part of the CIS), there are still almost 25 million Russians. On the religious level, ethnic Russians – the believing ones – are mostly Orthodox Christians (35 ÷ 40 million practitioners according to a 1996 assessment), and the Orthodox Church enjoys a certain position of privilege also at the political level; moreover, Tatars, Chechens and other groups are Muslims, the Buryats are Buddhists and there is no shortage of Jewish groups (which have their own autonomous province within the Russian Republic). Orthodox, Muslim, Buddhist and Jewish cults are to some extent protected by the state, as they are considered “traditional cults of Russia” according to a law of 1997, which in a certain sense discriminates against minority religious confessions, including the Catholic one (tabb. 2a and 2b ).