Russian Federation. There were hopes in the outside world
that the presidential shift in the Russian Federation would
bring some liberalization inward and relaxed relations
outward. But 2008 was the year when democracy was crushed
even more, the Russian Federation went to war with a
neighboring country and the relationship with the West froze
In practice, the results for the presidential elections
in March were clear in advance. According to
Countryaah reports, Power Party United Russia
had appointed Gazprom's chairman and Deputy Prime Minister
Dmitry Medvedev to succeed Vladimir Putin. Nothing was to
interfere with that plan. The most Kremlin-critical
candidate for the elections, former Prime Minister Michail
Kasianov, was banned by the Central Election Commission on
the pretext that he forged signatures in support of his
Communist Party leader Gennady Ziuganov and extremist
nationalist Vladimir Zhirinovsky were the only naming
contenders for Medvedev. But the opposition was not allowed
to speak in the major TV channels, which made unilateral
propaganda for Medvedev's promises of higher wages and
pensions. Medvedev also pleaded for increased civil
liberties, but out in the field the opposition's election
workers were harassed.
Medvedev won, as expected, a superior victory. He
received just over 71 percent of the vote, while Ziuganov
received about 18 percent and Zhirinovsky just under ten.
When the result was clear, Medvedev and Putin appeared
together at a victory concert on Red Square.
When Medvedev then appointed Putin as prime minister, the
question in the outside world was who would actually decide
in the Kremlin. It was speculated that Medvedev was intended
only as a parenthesis, to allow Putin to return to the
presidential post legally. It would turn out that Putin
remained the strong man of the Russian Federation. Among
other things, this was witnessed by foreign leaders who met
Putin and Medvedev together. This was especially true in
connection with the war against Georgia, when Medvedev
displayed a surprisingly harsh rhetoric but still appeared
almost as Putin's spokesman.
When Kosovo in February proclaimed independence from
Serbia and received support from the Western powers, the
Russian Federation reacted harshly and warned of prejudice.
In March, the outbreak republics of Abkhazia and South
Ossetia declared themselves independent of Georgia. The
Russian Federation opened official contacts with both
regions, triggering sharp reactions from Georgia.
The Russian Federation warned that Abkhazia and South
Ossetia would leave Georgia completely if the country joined
NATO, which, according to the Kremlin, would threaten the
security of the Russian Federation. At the same time, during
a visit to the NATO summit in Bucharest in April, Putin
declared that the Russian Federation wanted to assist NATO
in Afghanistan in exchange for Georgia and Ukraine not being
offered NATO membership. Germany and France took into
account the opposition of the Russian Federation, and the
NATO meeting rejected the US line that Georgia and Ukraine
should be invited.
But in the spring, the tone between Georgia and the
Russian Federation hardened, which was blamed for the
shooting of a Georgian unmanned spy plane across Abkhazia.
The Russian Federation accused Georgia of mobilizing at the
borders of Abkhazia and South Ossetia, and Moscow said it
was ready to intervene to protect Russian citizens.
When the Czech Republic agreed in July to receive a radar
system for the new US anti-robot system and Poland
negotiated an anti-robot base, Moscow declared that it would
respond with military means if the US established its
robotic shield near the Russian Federation border.
In August, the Georgian military attacked South Ossetia's
capital Tschinvali in an attempt to regain control of the
outbreak region. South Ossetia asked for help from the
Russian Federation, which sent tanks and thousands of
paratroopers to the Russian peacekeeping forces in South
Ossetia. Regular war broke out between Russian and Georgian
forces and Russian fighter bombs bombed targets inside
Georgia offered ceasefire and ceasefire, but the Russian
Federation accused the Georgian military of ethnic cleansing
and demanded that all Georgian forces withdraw from South
Ossetia. At the same time, fighting also broke out in
Abkhazia where the Russian Federation also sent
reinforcements. As Georgians withdrew from South Ossetia,
Russian troops crossed the border into Georgia and entered
the city of Gori on the road to Tbilisi.
The Russian Federation received harsh criticism from the
West for the invasion of Georgia, but Moscow said it put an
end to ethnic cleansing and genocide in South Ossetia, a
parallel to the Western powers' intervention against Serbia
and Kosovo in 1999.
After five days of war, the Russian Federation declared
that it had achieved its goals of ensuring the security of
Russian citizens, punishing the Georgian invaders and
forcing Georgia to peace. But at the same time, the Russian
Federation demanded that the Georgian military withdraw so
far into Georgia that South Ossetia could no longer be
While Georgia received strong political support from the
EU, NATO and the US, Russia was relatively alone. Both the
Russian Federation and Georgia soon agreed to a ceasefire
negotiated by the EU Presidency of France. The parties then
promised to withdraw all troops to the pre-war positions.
The war between the Russian Federation and Georgia caused
Poland and the United States to agree on the deployment of
US anti-robotics in Poland. The Kremlin reacted sharply to
the message and President Medvedev said that the robot
defense is targeting the Russian Federation.
The Georgia conflict and the anti-robot base deteriorated
relations between the Russian Federation and NATO with a few
months of frozen cooperation as a result. From Moscow's
point of view, Russian security interests were threatened by
the fact that NATO, without the consent of the Russian
Federation, expanded eastward and disrupted the strategic
balance of power in favor of the United States.
At the end of August, the Russian Federation recognized
Abkhazia and South Ossetia as independent states, despite
the fact that the peace plan spoke of negotiations on the
status of the regions. The Russian Federation signed an
agreement with both regions on military and economic
cooperation that gave the Russian Federation the right to
build or strengthen military bases.
Russian recognition was condemned by the EU, NATO and the
US, and Georgia severed its diplomatic relations with
Moscow. In September, the EU decided to postpone
negotiations with the Russian Federation for a new
partnership agreement, but as early as November it was said
to be ready to resume talks.
According to President Medvedev, the war against Georgia
showed that the Russian Federation needed to arm and
modernize its military. Medvedev explained that
modernization should be completed by 2020 and include, among
other things, a comprehensive investment in a deterrent
nuclear weapons system, which was seen as a response to US
plans for robotic defense in Central Europe.
In early October, Georgia confirmed that the Russian
military had withdrawn from the country. Georgia demanded
that the Russian Federation also leave the breakaway
regions, but Moscow intended to keep troops there for a
When President Medvedev visited Washington in November, a
conciliatory tone was set. Medvedev explained that the
Russian Federation wants to approach the United States and
establish strategic partnerships. He also expressed the hope
that newly elected President Barack Obama would contribute
to improved relations between the two countries.
In November, the Russian Federation's parliament decided
to extend the term of office of the President from four to
six years. However, that did not apply to the incumbent
president, and judges saw the change as tailor-made for
Vladimir Putin. He was considered ambitious to return as
president to stay for twelve years, two terms of office.
Some analysts saw a connection with the economic crisis that
was emerging. After nearly a decade of high growth driven
mainly by oil exports, the high oil price dropped
dramatically, the Russian Federation's huge foreign exchange
reserves merged and the ruble lost in value.
The stock exchange was adversely affected by the Russian
Federation's war against Georgia and then continued downward
in the fall, losing over 80 percent of its value after the
summer. As the global financial crisis intensified, indexes
on the Moscow stock market crashed and trading had to be
temporarily halted. The state went into large sums to assist
vulnerable banks and budget revenues decreased, while budget
expenditures for both military and social purposes had
increased during the high oil price years. In December, the
Minister of Finance noted that the Russian Federation's
economy was in recession.
In June, three men were indicted for involvement in the
2006 assassination of regime-critical journalist Anna
Politkovskaya. However, the one who fired the killing shots
and the one who is believed to have ordered the murder were
free. When the trial began in the fall, the defense claimed
that an unidentified Russian politician had ordered the
The murder of journalists continued. In March, a TV chief
in the Dagestan sub-republic was killed and a reporter in
Moscow reporting on fighting between rebels and security
forces in the Caucasus.
Before New Year, a new gas conflict erupted with Ukraine,
when state-Russian Gazprom demanded delayed payments for gas
supplies and a rise in market prices for 2009. Prime
Minister Putin warned Ukraine on New Year's Eve to respond
with stripping gas supplies to Western Europe.