UN in Russia

The United Nations officially came into existence on 24 October, 1945. The USSR was one of the co-founding states and first UN members.

The oldest UN presence in the Russian Federation is the United Nations Information Centre in Moscow established in 1948. Most of other UN entities were set up in the Russian Federation at the beginning of 1990s.

Currently over 15 UN structures are providing support to the Government and people of the Russian Federation in addressing the following key development challenges the country is facing:

The main UN programme areas in the Russian Federation


The demographic situation remains one of the most worrying development issues in Russia, with life expectancy at birth among males at a record 58 years in 2006 and the absolute population decline expected to increase in future years, despite the continuing economic growth. The demographic crisis is mainly due to a) high mortality rates primarily caused by unhealthy lifestyles and non-infectious diseases, as well as increasingly affected by the epidemic spread of HIV and the highest TB mortality in Europe; and b) low fertility (Total Fertility Rate 1.34 in 2006), which is part of a long-term trend, characteristic for most of the industrialized countries and related to the modernization / transition processes. In addition, migration remains a social policy challenge with significant, yet poorly measured, impact on the overall demographic trends.

Arresting or indeed reversing population decline involves a whole complex of issues and requires consistent measures over many years, but it is possible and it is clearly needed. While low fertility rates are not uncommon in industrialized countries, high mortality rates certainly are. Tackling health and mortality in particular as well as family and social policies could have a major positive impact on the demographic situation and is well within the capacity and responsibility of policy-makers – at all levels (federal, regional, local) and branches (both executive and legislative) of government.

Russia’s life expectancy curve over the last century shows that the impact of appropriate policies and investment in the health and safety of the population or lack thereof have often had an impact comparable with that of major catastrophes or wars. Hence, it is crucial to realize that inaction with regard to key negative aspects of the demographic situation in Russia today may have an enormous cost for future generations. Importantly, the demographic problems of Russia are either a direct consequence or have a direct link to the broader set of MDG-related challenges, as well as, in the run, influence the competitiveness and sustainability of the country’s economy and society.

Importance and prioritize of population issues in the national development agenda was highlighted by the Concept of demographic development in the Russian Federation, approved in October 2007.

In this context, the UN Country Team identified the strategic support to national efforts to address the demographic crisis as one of the key priorities for joint actions.


At the end of 2005 the President announced establishment of national priority projects in the following areas: education, health, housing, agriculture. The objectives of health priority project are as follows: to improve health status of the population, in increase accessibility to and improve quality of medical care, to strengthen primary care as well as health promotion and disease prevention activities, to improve accessibility to tertiary care. The duration of the projects is 2 years – 2006-2007 and they have recently been extended for another two years. Main activities under health priority project are: training and retraining of primary care physicians, increase salary of primary care physicians and physicians of emergency care, purchasing of equipment for primary care providers, additional immunization program, dispensarization of working population, introducing new check-up programs for infants, program for pregnant woman and deliveries, AIDS prevention and treatment, construction of new centres of high tech tertiary care. It is planned that in 2007 expenditures on health project will comprise 87.7 milliard roubles from the federal budget.

The Russian Federation is experiencing one of the fastest-growing epidemics of HIV/AIDS in the world. The number of HIV-positive citizens officially registered by 1 October 2007 amounts to 396 524 with HIV prevalence rate being at 262 cases per 100,000 people. The most affected age group is between 18 and 24 years old. Currently HIV epidemic in the Russian Federation is at the concentrated stage with the principal drivers being injecting drug use and unsafe sex. The share of HIV-positive women is increasing as well as the number of HIV cases discovered with pregnant women accounting for an augmented proportion of HIV positive births. High growth rates of HIV combined with increasing share of HIV related deaths jeopardize demographic security of the country.

Tuberculosis case notification rate more than doubled from 34.2 (1990) to 90.4 (2000) per 100,000 population. This indicator decreased by 8.5% from 2001 to 2003, and appears to have since stabilized (83.8 in 2005). The TB mortality rate also increased tremendously, reaching 22 cases per 100,000 in year 2002 and remains high. The proportion of MDR-TB in new TB cases in civilian sector increased from 8.1% (2004) to 9.5% (2005). The TB situation in the prison sector has shown a steady improvement over the last six years.

Russia has not yet signed the Framework convention of Tobacco control by the deadline of June 2004 but indicates that it still plans to sign. The legislation regulating lifestyle related health risks (tobacco, alcohol, accidents, diet), is still inadequate to deal with the problems. The Duma has passed some legislation to restrict tobacco and alcohol advertising to minors, and some restrictions on the sale of alcohol. Alcohol and cigarette consumption is high. Male smoking prevalence is over 60% and not decreasing. Female smoking is at 25-30% and increasing. Both alcohol and cigarettes even compared to the low-income levels are very cheap.

Recently the Government established a Commission on Road Traffic Safety which includes representation from various government departments, the private and NGO sector and levels of government. At the first meeting in April 2006, the Road Traffic Safety Report developed jointly by the European Ministers of Transport, WHO and the World Bank was presented and the Ministry of Interior is now the lead agency for this issue and is embarking on a national programme which will involve a number of regions over the coming years. An important reason for the deteriorating health situation is a health-care system in decline. Its structure is still focusing on inpatient services at the expense of outpatient primary health care, disease prevention, and health promotion. In addition, public funding of health care has declined considerably, and the collection of informal fees by public health providers has reduced the access of the poor to health care.


The literacy rate in Russia is 99% according to the Global Education Digest 2006, published annually by the UNESCO Institute of Statistics thanks to the efforts of the Russian Government for retaining of the free compulsory primary education. However, due to the economical and social challenges the secondary education rate has decreased during the last decade.

As of 2006 there are more than 60 000 schools in Russia providing education services to approximately 20 mln pupils, thereby, more than 98% of school-aged children and adolescents are covered by primary and secondary education. Correlation between pupils and teachers is 17 pupils per 1 teacher. Tertiary education is traditionally very popular in Russia. There are more than 8.5 mln students in more than 1000 higher education institutions (universities, academies, institutes).

The Priority National Project “Education” aimed at modernization of the education system is under implementation since 2006. In the framework of the project the state promotes innovative programmes, encourages the best teachers and gifted youth, and ensures dissemination of best practices in the field of quality education. The project contributes also to the strengthening of technical capacities of education institutions, including wide introduction of information and communication technologies, promotion of new management techniques and financial mechanisms.

UNESCO programmes implemented in the country in close cooperation with governmental bodies and aimed at enhancement of methodology and content of education as well as building-up the quality of education services corresponds to the strategic goals that the Russian education system is facing nowadays. Joint efforts of Russia and its international partners in the field of education contribute to the achievement of both Education for All and Millennium Development Goals.


As a result of increasing economic and political stability over the past years, the economy of Russia is experiencing a steady economic growth, which is likely to continue and to come along with a growing demand for energy and natural resources. The Russian economy remains among the most energy intensive in the world. Russia’s Adjusted Net Savings index falls far below the world and European average. Forecasts of emissions and discharges of major pollutants show that urban air pollution will remain a serious problem, while water pollution and drinking water quality will increasingly become a problem in the long run. The rate of land degradation and ecosystem fragmentation threatens security and wealth of future generations. In addition, Climate Change will pose new emerging threats to the population and economy in particular in the Russian Arctic and in the Southern regions.

Russia’s Ecological Doctrine and the Law on Environmental Protection were adopted in January 2002 and represent the governmental commitment to environmental protection. Energy security and food security are broadly recognized as national priorities. In addition, Russia is a party to multilateral environmental agreements and conventions. In order for Russia to fully realize its vast potential for improvements in energy efficiency and reduction in pollution, it will be necessary to eliminate the economic, structural and institutional barriers that currently discourage investors in these areas. With the recognition of development challenged faced by the Russian economy, there is an urgent need to mainstream the concept of environmental sustainability into political, economic and social agendas of contemporary Russia.

Economic Development

The incidence of poverty increased sharply in Russia during its period of economic transition. Children aged 7-15 years and women are at highest risk. The two main reasons for the rise are a sharp economic contraction during much of the transition period and a large increase in income inequality. Increased income inequality has resulted in part from a shift of income from wages to income from entrepreneurship, which is typically distributed more unequally than wage income. The decline in wage income is the result of both a sharp drop in the number of public-sector jobs and a large decline in real public-sector wages. Unemployment of a family member is another strong covariate of household poverty.

Despite its large incidence, much of the poverty in Russia is relatively transitory, with nearly 55% of the poor escaping poverty on their own over one-year spans. This implies that the potential for reducing poverty broadly and rapidly via economic growth is significant. Indeed, independent research suggests a decrease in the incidence of poverty over the last three years, with significant economic growth in Russia. The long-term poor should be an important target group for social assistance schemes and anti-poverty programs.

Although there are a large number of public transfer programmes in Russia, including disability allowances, child and family allowances, pensions, and unemployment benefits, these have obviously not been able to prevent a rise in poverty. There are three main reasons for this. First, the resources allocated to poverty programs are relatively small, as the budget for payroll tax-financed social insurance schemes (e.g., pensions and unemployment benefits) has fallen with the fall in wages. Second, many transfer programmes inherited from the Soviet era, such as low administered prices for food, rent, household utilities, and guaranteed employment, are not appropriate for a market economy. Third, the system of providing social benefits to certain categories of individuals does not guarantee that the genuinely poor will receive these benefits, as those categories do not always coincide with poverty status.

There are several special UN Theme or Working Groups established by the UN Agencies in the Russian Federation to coordinate UN’s work on these and other key issues.