Foreign Policy of Russia: Form of Government, Political System and Political Environment

Gvantsa Kakauridze
6 min readMar 31, 2019


One variable that affects the foreign policy process is the form and type of government a country has. According to the 1993 Constitution, Russia’s form of government is technically a semi-presidential republic, with a president, prime minister and three branches of government (executive, legislative and judicial). President and the Prime Minister share governing responsibilities as the head of state and head of government, respectively. The President, however, holds more power.

Role Of the President Of Russia

The President of Russia acts as the head of the executive branch of the Russian Government and is elected by the population with 6-year term, limited to two consecutive terms. The President is heavily involved in both the domestic and foreign policies of the country, including appointing foreign ambassadors, participating in international discussions, and signing international treaties and agreements. Plus, President is Commander-in-Chief of the military and has the power to veto any laws or policies set by the legislative branch. The President of Russia also has the ability to establish laws without review or approval by other governmental bodies. This power is beyond what a President typically has under this type of governmental systems.

Role of the Executive Branch of the Government of Russia

This branch consists of the Cabinet, also referred to as the Government. Its members include the Prime Minister, deputy prime ministers, and federal ministers. The federal ministers carry out the duties of ministries and departments. The President nominates both the Parliament as well as the Prime Minister, the legislative branch, must approve the nomination. After this, the Prime Minister then nominates deputy prime ministers and federal ministers. The executive branch is responsible for administering laws created by the legislative branch and the President.

The Role of the Legislative Branch Of the Government Of Russia

Legislative branch of Russian government has two branches: the 166 member Federation Council and the 450 member State Duma. The Federation Council represents the matters of the federal subjects of Russia, the political divisions of the country. The Council works to pass legislation by voting on policies and regulations that the State Duma has approved. Decisions on

laws require at least a 51% vote. For constitutional amendments, however, a 75% vote is required. The State Duma has the power to overrule a veto from the Federation Council. The Duma is the first parliamentary body to receive and decide on new law proposals. In addition, the State Duma approves the presidential appointment of Prime Minister and reviews annual reports from the executive branch of government.

The Role of the Judicial Branch Of the Government Of Russia

The judicial branch ensures that the laws of Russia are upheld. It is separated into 3 kinds of courts: general jurisdiction, arbitration, and constitutional. General jurisdiction courts consist of municipal courts at the lowest level, regional courts at the middle level, and the Supreme Court at the highest level. The President recommends nominees for judges of the highest courts and the Federation Council decides on and appoints these nominations.

Key Players in Foreign Policy Making Process

Putin dominates in the realm of Foreign policy. He is assisted by a group of senior aides, who make up the Security Council of the Russian Federation (SCRF). The council can take up virtually any issue of national importance, economics, finance, demographics, and even culture. Putin’s foreign policy decisions are based mostly on the information he receives from the security services. The Russian security community plays the key role in helping Putin conceive, shape, and execute foreign policy decisions. As for the political establishment in the ministry of foreign affairs, this organ is mainly charged for implementation Kremlin’s decisions.

For last decade, except of economic and diplomatic tools, use of force has again become an active instrument of Russia’s foreign policy, within and outside the post-Soviet space. Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu is the most trusted politician in Russia after Putin, as measured by a Levada Center opinion poll. Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Rogozin, in charge of the defense industry, is a rare politician in the bureaucracy dominated government with clear presidential ambitions. The Russian business community less involved in the foreign policy process, though, they are sometimes concerned with the negative economic results from confrontation with the United States and alienation from the EU. However, the oligarchic top layer of the community is too dependent on the Kremlin even to suggest a change in policy (Russia-Britannica Online Encyclopedia).

Type of Political System

Foreign policy that is centered in a narrow segment of the government is usually common for the authoritarian regimes. The more authoritarian a government is, the more likely it is that foreign policy will be in the hands of the president or political leader. Despite the fact that Russia‘s political system is officially democratic, experts consider it as authoritarian. The Economic Intelligence Unit has labeled Russia “authoritarian” since 2011. In 2012, William Partlett of the Brookings Institution called Russia a “managed” or “fake democracy” (Parlett, W., 2012). Moreover, presidential elections in 2018 was considered to be fake because Putin disqualified his legitimate opposition and hand-picked his rivals (Bershidsky, L., 2018).

Political Environment

Opposition to President Vladimir Putin in Russia can be divided between the parliamentary opposition parties in the State Duma and the various non-systemic opposition organizations. Candidates from political parties with seats in the State Duma have free access to the election, they do not need additional signatures. Those from non-Duma parties are required to collect 100,000 signatures in support of their candidacies, with no more than 2,500 from one of Russia’s 85 federal 2 subjects. Independent candidates require 300,000 signatures with no more than 7,500 from one subject, and support from a group of at least 500 citizens. Earlier, the requirements were more stringent: while independent candidates required 2,000,000 signatures, non-Duma party-affiliated candidates needed 1,000,000. While the parliamentary oppositions are largely viewed as being more or less loyal to the government and Putin, non-parliamentary ones oppose the government and are mostly unrepresented in government bodies.


As of October 2017, Russia’s Central Election Commission (CEC) had registered 67 parties. Currently, six parties are represented in the State Duma. Majority of the seats are takes by the United Russia, the party in power, with 343 of 450 seats. The second-largest faction in the Duma is the Communist Party of the Russian Federation (CPRF) with 42 seats. It was formed in 1993. Its leader, 73-year-old Gennady Zyuganov, has participated in every presidential election since 1993 (except in 2004) but chose not to run in 2018. The party instead nominated Pavel Grudinin, a businessperson who is a former member of United Russia and not a member of the CPRF (Gokarn, K., 2018).

The third-largest faction with 39 seats is Liberal-Democratic Party of Russia, founded in 1991. Its platform can be described as chauvinist and revanchist, supporting the restoration of a ‘greater Russia’. Its leader, Vladimir Zhirinovsky, 71, has been contesting every single election except the one in 2004.

The fourth-largest party in the Duma with 23 seats is “A Just Russia.” As a social-democratic party, it supports a welfare state, improved labour legislation and individual property rights, and a market economy with progressive taxation. The smallest parties in the Duma with 6 seats each are Rodina and Civic Platform.

The other branch of the opposition, which is outside the formal party system, has been referred to as the “nonsystemic opposition.” This includes figures such as former chess grand master Garry Kasparov and prominent anti-corruption blogger Alexei Navalny (Gokarn, K., 2018).

The collective opposition faces both internal conflicts and external obstacles. Parties in the Duma are fragmented, spanning the ideological spectrum from communists to nationalists and liberals. No one party holds a mandate large enough to challenge the party in power. According to a survey by the Carnegie Moscow Centre and the Levada-Centre on Russians’ attitudes towards change, a plurality of people believed that voting for reform candidates was the most effective way. Even a 2011 survey of Muscovites express a lack of faith in opposition figures due to their lack of tangible achievements, divergent interests and the suspicion of the influence of the West.

In nutshell, political system and an existed political environment of the Russian Federation shows the the key actor in foreign policy decision making process is the president and narrow segment of political elite. Therefore, next article will discuss the personality, perceptions and values of Vladimir Putin that affects the character of foreign policy decisions significantly.