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The Soviet economy and society stagnated in the following decades until General Secretary Mikhail GORBACHEV (1985-91) introduced glasnost (openness) and perestroika (restructuring) in an attempt to modernize communism, but his initiatives inadvertently released forces that by December 1991 splintered the USSR into Russia and 14 other independent republics.

Since then, Russia has shifted its post-Soviet democratic ambitions in favor of a centralized semi-authoritarian state in which the leadership seeks to legitimize its rule through managed national elections, populist appeals by President PUTIN, and continued economic growth.

The communists under Vladimir LENIN seized power soon after and formed the USSR.The brutal rule of Iosif STALIN (1928-53) strengthened communist rule and Russian dominance of the Soviet Union at a cost of tens of millions of lives.It has retained closer political and economic ties to Russia than have any of the other former Soviet republics.Belarus and Russia signed a treaty on a two-state union on 8 December 1999 envisioning greater political and economic integration.Although Belarus agreed to a framework to carry out the accord, serious implementation has yet to take place.

Since his election in July 1994 as the country's first directly elected president, Aleksandr LUKASHENKO has steadily consolidated his power through authoritarian means and a centralized economic system.Founded in the 12th century, the Principality of Muscovy, was able to emerge from over 200 years of Mongol domination (13th-15th centuries) and to gradually conquer and absorb surrounding principalities.In the early 17th century, a new ROMANOV Dynasty continued this policy of expansion across Siberia to the Pacific.Petersburg city courts; autonomous province and district courts; note - the 14 Russian Republics have court systems specified by their own constitutionshighest court(s): Supreme Court (consists of the chairman, deputy chairman, and NA judges); Constitutional Court (consists of 12 judges including a chairman and deputy chairman) judge selection and term of office: Supreme Court judges appointed by the president with the consent of the Council of the Republic; judges initially appointed for 5 years and evaluated for life appointment; Constitutional Court judges - 6 appointed by the president and 6 elected by the Chamber of Representatives; term of judges is 11 years with an age limit of 70 subordinate courts: regional, district, city, town, and military courtsseventy eight political parties are registered with Russia's Ministry of Justice (as of January 2014), but only four parties maintain representation in Russia's national legislature: A Just Russia [Sergey MIRONOV] Communist Party of the Russian Federation or CPRF [Gennadiy ZYUGANOV] Liberal Democratic Party of Russia or LDPR [Vladimir ZHIRINOVSKIY] United Russia [Dmitriy MEDVEDEV]pro-government parties: Belarusian Agrarian Party or AP [Mikhail SHIMANSKY] Belarusian Patriotic Movement (Belarusian Patriotic Party) or BPR [Nikolay ULAKHOVICH, chairman] Communist Party of Belarus or KPB [Igor KARPENKO] Liberal Democratic Party or LDP [Sergey GAYDUKEVICH] Republican Party of Labor and Justice [Vasiliy ZADNEPRYANYY] opposition parties: Belarusian Christian Democracy Party [Pavel SEVERINETS] (unregistered) Belarusian Party of the Left "Fair World" [Sergey KALYAKIN] Belarusian Popular Front or BPF [Aleksey YANUKEVICH] Belarusian Social-Democratic Hramada [Stanislav SHUSHKEVICH] Belarusian Social Democratic Party Hramada ("Assembly") or BSDPH [Irina VESHTARD] Belarusian Social Democratic Party People's Assembly ("Narodnaya Hramada") [Nikolay STATKEVICH] (unregistered) Christian Conservative Party or BPF [Zyanon PAZNIAK] European Belarus Campaign [Andrey SANNIKOV] Party of Freedom and Progress [Vladimir NOVOSYAD] (unregistered) "Tell the Truth" Campaign [Vladimir NEKLYAYEV] United Civic Party or UCP [Anatoliy LEBEDKO]Confederation of Labor of Russia (KTR) Federation of Independent Trade Unions of Russia Golos Association in Defense of Voters' Rights Memorial Movement Against Illegal Migration Russkiye Solidarnost The World Russian People's Congress Union of the Committees of Soldiers' Mothers Union of Russian Writers other - business associations, environmental organizations, religious groups (especially those with Orthodox or Muslim affiliation), and veterans groups Assembly of Pro-Democratic NGOs [Sergey MATSKEVICH] (unregistered) Belarusian Congress of Democratic Trade Unions [Aleksandr YAROSHUK] Belarusian Association of Journalists [Zhana LITVINA] Belarusian Helsinki Committee [Aleh HULAK] Belarusian Independence Bloc (unregistered) and For Freedom movement [Aleksandr MILINKEVICH] Belarusian Organization of Working Women [Irina ZHIKHAR] BPF-Youth [Andrus KRECHKA] (unregistered) Charter 97 [Andrey SANNIKOV] (unregistered) Perspektiva small business association [Anatol SHUMCHENKO] Nasha Vyasna ("Our Spring") human rights center [Ales BYALYATSKI] (unregistered) "Tell the Truth" Movement [Vladimir NEKLYAYEV] (unregistered) Women's Independent Democratic Movement [Ludmila PETINA] Young Belarus (Malady Belarus) [Zmitser KASPYAROVICH] (unregistered) Youth Front (Malady Front) [Zmitser DASHKEVICH] (unregistered)APEC, Arctic Council, ARF, ASEAN (dialogue partner), BIS, BRICS, BSEC, CBSS, CD, CE, CERN (observer), CICA, CIS, CSTO, EAEC, EAPC, EAS, EBRD, FAO, FATF, G-20, GCTU, IAEA, IBRD, ICAO, ICC (national committees), ICRM, IDA, IFC, IFRCS, IHO, ILO, IMF, IMO, IMSO, Interpol, IOC, IOM (observer), IPU, ISO, ITSO, ITU, ITUC (NGOs), LAIA (observer), MIGA, MINURSO, MONUSCO, NSG, OAS (observer), OIC (observer), OPCW, OSCE, Paris Club, PCA, PFP, SCO, UN, UNCTAD, UNESCO, UNHCR, UNIDO, UNISFA, UNMIL, UNMISS, UNOCI, UNSC (permanent), UNTSO, UNWTO, UPU, WCO, WFTU (NGOs), WHO, WIPO, WMO, WTO, ZCBSEC (observer), CBSS (observer), CEI, CIS, CSTO, EAEC, EAPC, EBRD, FAO, GCTU, IAEA, IBRD, ICAO, ICC (NGOs), ICRM, IDA, IFC, IFRCS, ILO, IMF, IMSO, Interpol, IOC, IOM, IPU, ISO, ITU, ITUC (NGOs), MIGA, NAM, NSG, OPCW, OSCE, PCA, PFP, SCO (dialogue member), UN, UNCTAD, UNESCO, UNIDO, UNIFIL, UNWTO, UPU, WCO, WFTU (NGOs), WHO, WIPO, WMO, WTO (observer), ZCchief of mission: Ambassador Sergey Ivanovich KISLYAK (since 16 September 2008) chancery: 2650 Wisconsin Avenue NW, Washington, DC 20007 telephone: [1] (202) 298-5700, 5701, 5704, 5708 FAX: [1] (202) 298-5735 consulate(s) general: Houston, New York, San Francisco, Seattlechief of mission: Ambassador (vacant); Charge d'Affaires Oleg KRAVCHENKO chancery: 1619 New Hampshire Avenue NW, Washington, DC 20009 telephone: [1] (202) 986-1604 FAX: [1] (202) 986-1805 consulate(s) general: New Yorkchief of mission: Chargé d'Affaires Sheila GWALTNEY (since 27 February 2014) embassy: Bolshoy Deviatinskiy Pereulok No.8, 121099 Moscow mailing address: PSC-77, APO AE 09721 telephone: [7] (495) 728-5000 FAX: [7] (495) 728-5090 consulate(s) general: Saint Petersburg, Vladivostok, Yekaterinburgchief of mission: Ambassador (vacant); Charge d'Affaires Ethan GOLDRICH (since July 2012) embassy: 46 Starovilenskaya Street, Minsk 220002 mailing address: PSC 78, Box B Minsk, APO 09723 telephone: [375] (17) 210-12-83 FAX: [375] (17) 234-7853three equal horizontal bands of white (top), blue, and red note: the colors may have been based on those of the Dutch flag; despite many popular interpretations, there is no official meaning assigned to the colors of the Russian flag; this flag inspired other Slav countries to adopt horizontal tricolors of the same colors but in different arrangements, and so red, blue, and white became the Pan-Slav colorsred horizontal band (top) and green horizontal band one-half the width of the red band; a white vertical stripe on the hoist side bears Belarusian national ornamentation in red; the red band color recalls past struggles from oppression, the green band represents hope and the many forests of the countryname: "Gimn Rossiyskoy Federatsii" (National Anthem of the Russian Federation) lyrics/music: Sergey Vladimirovich MIKHALKOV/Aleksandr Vasilyevich ALEKSANDROV note: in 2000, Russia adopted the tune of the anthem of the former Soviet Union (composed in 1939); the lyrics, also adopted in 2000, were written by the same person who authored the Soviet lyrics in 1943name: "My, Bielarusy" (We Belarusians) lyrics/music: Mikhas KLIMKOVICH and Uladzimir KARYZNA/Nester SAKALOUSKI note: music adopted 1955, lyrics adopted 2002; after the fall of the Soviet Union, Belarus kept the music of its Soviet-era anthem but adopted new lyrics; also known as "Dziarzauny himn Respubliki Bielarus" (State Anthem of the Republic of Belarus)Russia has undergone significant changes since the collapse of the Soviet Union, moving from a globally-isolated, centrally-planned economy towards a more market-based and globally-integrated economy, but stalling as a partially reformed, statist economy with a high concentration of wealth in officials' hands.Defeat in the Russo-Japanese War of 1904-05 contributed to the Revolution of 1905, which resulted in the formation of a parliament and other reforms.