The Russian Empire used the death penalty extensively, starting from there only being one reason for capital punishment (robbery after being convicted twice), but by 1649, the list included 63 crimes, and that was nearly DOUBLED during the rule of Tsar Peter I. The methods used were very cruel by todays standards, including drowning, burying alive, and forcing liquid metal down the throat. Yelizaveta Petrovna opposed her fathers (Peter 1) views on capital punishment, and officially suspended it in 1744. The suspension lasted for eleven years, until the death penalty was once again permited after opposition to the suspension.
Catherine II, also known as Catherine the Great, was perhaps the first individual to strongly oppose the laws of capital punishment in Russia. In her Nakaz [instruction], Catherine the Great stated that, "...in the usual state of the society, death penalty is neither useful nor needed." Catherine the Great standed strongly by her beliefs, and consitent to her stance, the next several decades marked a shift of public ideas about the death penalty in the Russian Empire.
The death penalty was officially outlawed shortly after the February Revolution of 1917. The provisional government enacted the prohibition on March 12, but weakened it two months later by allowing the death penalty for soldiers. The government only lasted for a year, however. The Soviet Government confirmed prohibition almost directly after assuming power, but restored it for some crimes very soon. Over the next few decades, the death penalty was alternately prohibited and permitted.
From "Scaffolds", by Alexander Mikhlin:
"...By the end of 1990s, there were over 30 crimes punishable by death in accordance with Russian legislation.
During the period when the 1960 Criminal Code of the Russian Federation was in force, the greatest number of death sentences was given in early the 1960s. Thus, in 1960, 1,880 people were sentenced to death and in 1961 — 2,159. Then the number of those sentenced to death reduced (1965—1970 — 379—577 per year). During perestroyka their number continued to decline (in 1986 — 407; 1989 — 100). Later, due to a sharp growth in crime the number of people given the death penalty increased to 160—200 people..."
Russia has not executed anyone since 1996, and the regulations of the Council of Europe do not allow it from doing so in the future. However, the death penalty still remains codified. The Penal Code today permits death penalty for five crimes:
But these crimes do not ensure a death penalty, and are not mandatory. Juveniles and seniors who have commited a crime cannot be sentenced to death, same with all women. Even with men between 19 and 64, life imprisonment is permited.
The current form of execution in Russia is by shooting (firing a pistol at the back of the head.)