Expatriates relocating to Russia today can expect to encounter a country much different from that which existed a decade ago. The Russian people are still learning to adapt to their new environment. Visitors should also be ready to deal with the additional opportunities and challenges that undoubtedly lie ahead.
Following the breakup of the USSR, a new and smaller Russia officially became the Russian Republic. Boris Yeltsin became the Republic's first democratically elected president, taking office in 1991.
Yeltsin appointed a relative political unknown - former KGB intelligence service agent Vladimir Putin - as his prime minister in 1999. Putin succeeded Yeltsin as president in 2000, and won a landslide reelection victory in an election that lacked a strong rival for a second term in 2004. His administration is expected to institute further economic reforms, while challenging the power of Russia's oligarchs and its Kremlin era bureaucracy.
Power is divided among the legislative, executive, and judicial branches. The Head of State is the President. He is elected for a four-year term. He can dissolve the legislature, declare war, appoint ministers, and issue a wide range of presidential decrees independent of parliament. The bicameral legislature consists of the State Duma and the Federal Council. The Duma has 450 deputies who are elected by direct popular vote and others by proportional representation from the national parties. The Federal Council, with 178 elected representatives, has two delegates from each of 89 republics, regions, districts, and the cities of Moscow and St. Petersburg.
Both politically and economically, change is at the core of modern Russia. The remarkable changes that have occurred since the demise of the old central Communist government have created opportunity and disillusion at the same time. For some Russians, especially the older generations, change has come too quickly. With freedom has come the reality of unstable economy, a reduced standard of living, and crime. For younger generations, change has meant breaking out of old stereotypes, participation in the political process and optimism about the economic future.
Western goods and consumer services are increasingly available, particularly in Moscow, which is at the epicenter of economic and commercial growth. Expatriates living in downtown Moscow can expect a lifestyle comparable to other major international cities.
Many years of restructuring, hard work, and belt-tightening are ahead to achieve a stable economy. The current high rate of economic growth, fueled by high oil prices and the relatively cheap currency, is driving consumer demand and foreign investment.
The unreliability of the banking system, need for economic reform, increased crime, corruption, and political instability has meant foreign investment has proceeded at a cautious rate. At the same time, Russia's abundance of natural resources and its skilled, educated workforce make it a promising environment for future economic investment and growth.