Vladimir Vladimirovich Putin (Владимир Владимирович Путин in Cyrillic lettering) (born October 7, 1952) has been the President of Russia since December 31, 1999.
Early life and career
Putin was born in Leningrad (now Saint Petersburg). His biography, translated under the title First Person and based on interviews conducted with Putin in 2000, speaks of humble beginnings, including early years in a rat-infested tenement in a communal apartment. He graduated from the Law Department of Leningrad State University in 1975 and was recruited into the KGB. From 1985 to 1990 the KGB stationed him in East Germany), in what is generally acknowledged to have been a minor position. Following the collapse of the East German regime, Putin was recalled to the USSR and returned to Leningrad, where in June 1990 he assumed a position with the International Affairs section of Leningrad State University. In June 1991 he was appointed head of the International Committee of the Saint Petersburg Mayor's office, with responsibility for promoting foreign investment.
He formally resigned from the state security services on 20 August 1991, during the abortive putsch against Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev. In 1994 he became First Deputy Chairman of the city of Saint Petersburg, a position he retained until he was called to Moscow, in August 1996, to serve in a variety of senior (though low-profile) positions in Yeltsin's second Administration. He was head of the FSB (one of the successor agencies to the KGB) from July 1998 to August 1999, and also served as Secretary of the Security Council March-August 1999.
Prime Minister and first term as President
Putin was appointed Chairman (predsedatel', or prime minister) of the Russian Government by President Boris Yeltsin in August 1999, making him Russia's fifth prime minister in less than eighteen months. On his appointment, few expected Putin, a virtual unknown, to last any longer than his predecessors. Yeltsin's main opponents and would-be successors, Moscow Mayor Yuri Luzhkov and former Chairman of the Russian Government Yevgeniy Primakov, were already campaigning to replace the ailing president, and fought hard to prevent Putin's emergence as a potential successor. Nevertheless, Putin's law-and-order image and a fiercely nationalist public relations campaign combined to help him overtake all rivals by late September 1999. While not formally associated with any party, Putin was supported by the newly formed Edinstvo (unity) faction, which won the largest percentage of the popular vote in the December 1999 Duma elections. Putin was reappointed as Chairman of the Government, and seemed ideally positioned to win the presidency in elections due the following summer. His rise to the highest office ended up being even more rapid: on December 31, 1999, Yeltsin unexpectedly resigned and appointed Putin the second (acting) President of the Russian Federation. Presidential elections were held on March 26, 2000, which Putin won in the first round.
In many ways, Putin is an atypical Russian leader: he is comparatively young and is a sports enthusiast—he has practiced Judo since his youth. He is a practicing member of the Russian Orthodox Church, whose conversion to Christianity (following a life-threatening fire at his dacha in the early 1990s) most observers agree was sincere. He speaks German with near-native fluency and passable English. Putin is married to Liudmila Putina, a former teacher of German in Moscow, and they have two children, Yekaterina (Katya) (born 1985) and Maria (born 1986 in Dresden). Their daughters attended the German School in Moscow (Deutsche Schule Moskau) until his appointment as Prime Minister.
Unlike his predecessor, President Putin has been less enthusiastic about erasing Russia's Soviet past from memory. He has stated his belief that whatever the crimes of the Communist regime, it was nevertheless an important part of Russian history and an important influence on the creation of modern Russian society. As a result, some Soviet-era symbols have been allowed to return to Russia, such as the trademark red military flag, the "Soviet Star" crest, and the Soviet national anthem (although with revised lyrics). In 2004, Putin declared the collapse of the USSR a "national tragedy on an enormous scale."
During his time in office, Putin has attempted to strengthen relations with other members of the CIS. The "near abroad" zone of traditional Russian influence has again become a foreign policy priority under Putin, as the EU and NATO have grown to encompass much of Central Europe and, more recently, the Baltic states. While tacitly accepting the enlargement of NATO into the Baltic states, Putin has increased Russia's influence over Belarus and Ukraine.
Putin opposed the war in Iraq during the Iraq crisis of 2003. After the official end of the war was announced, American president George W. Bush asked the United Nations to lift sanctions on Iraq. Putin supported lifting of the sanctions in due course, arguing that the UN commission first be given a chance to complete its work on the search for weapons of mass destruction in Iraq.
A pro-Putin United Russia party won a landslide victory in the 2003 parliamentary elections. Foreign observers called the election itself free, but noted that the largely government-run media, especially Russian national TV, had massively and unfairly campaigned for the governing party only.
Indeed, most Russian TV stations, newspapers, and other media are now controlled directly or indirectly by the Kremlin. Western critics accuse Putin of having orchestrated the trials against "oligarchs" such as Boris Berezovsky, Vladimir Gusinsky, and later Mikhail Khodorkovsky to regain control over the media and large sectors of the Russian economy.
It is said that there are two factions operating within Putin's Kremlin. One, the siloviki, is associated with the more nationalist elements of the military and security services. The other, tagged the "Family," are people linked with former President Boris Yeltsin and the oligarchs, who prospered during his term in office. These two factions often disagree fiercely, as they did in relation to the arrest of Mikhail Khodorkovsky, the Russian oil magnate. Putin has been careful not to be seen to be with one faction or the other, with his Chief of Staff Alexander Voloshin identified as linked to the Family. It is believed that Voloshin threatened to resign in protest at the arrest of Khodorkovsky. Putin accepted the resignation and replaced him with Dmitry Medvedev , the chairman of the gas company Gazprom, of which the Russian state owns 38 percent directly.
Another linked to the Family is former Prime Minister Mikhail Kasyanov. Defying Putin's direct instruction to avoid involvement in the matter, Kasyanov expressed great concern about the Khodorkovsky prosecution and declared the freezing of a controlling stake in Yukos unprecedented.
On 24 February 2004, less than a month prior to the elections, Putin dismissed Prime Minister Kasyanov and the entire Russian cabinet and appointed Viktor Khristenko acting prime minister. On March 1, he appointed Mikhail Fradkov to the position.
Second term as President
On March 14, 2004, Putin won re-election to the presidency for a second term, earning 71 percent of the vote. Again, there was massive and one-sided campaigning for Putin by Russian television channels, most of which are state owned and controlled. Nevertheless, the election campaign and the actual balloting were both declared "free and fair" by an international observation mission run by the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe's Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights. Although Russian Presidents are not limited in the number of terms they can serve, they cannot serve for more than two successive terms. So Putin is not permitted under the Constitution of Russian Federation to run for a third successive term in 2008 (following the 2003 parliamentary elections he gained a sufficient majority to change the Constitution, but so far has not announced any intention to do so.)
On September 13, 2004, following the Beslan school hostage crisis, and nearly-concurrent terrorist attacks in Moscow, Putin launched an initiative to replace the election of regional governors with a system whereby they would be directly appointed by the President and approved by regional legislatures. Opponents of this measure, including Mikhail Gorbachev, Boris Yeltsin, and Colin Powell, criticised it as a step away from democracy in Russia and a return to the centrally run political apparatus of the Soviet era. Also on that day, Putin publicly backed a plan by the Central Elections Commission for voters in Duma elections to cast their ballots for parties, rather than individual candidates. Half of the 450 deputies in the Duma are elected based on proportional representation, while the other half of deputies are elected individually in single-member districts. This measure is also seen as an attempt by the President at consolidating power.
During the Ukrainian presidential election in 2004, Putin twice visited Ukraine before the election to show his support for Ukrainian Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovych and congratulated him on his victory (later rejected as fraudulent). Putin's support for Yanukovych was criticized by some commentators as unwarranted interference in the affairs of post-Soviet Ukraine.
While President Putin is criticized as an autocrat by some of his Western counterparts, his relationships with the American President George W. Bush, the German chancellor Gerhard Schröder, and the Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi are often said to be friendly, and in the case of Schröder indeed quite personal. Some consider his Chechen policy as a vital part in the war on terror, while more critical voices denounce what they see as Russia's disastrous human rights record in the breakaway republic and the short-sightedness of the military solution championed by Putin since 1999.
Quotations and humor
"I looked the man in the eye. I was able to get a sense of his soul." said US President George W. Bush, June 16, 2001, after their first meeting, his first with a head of state. Putin, dead-pan, said of the very recently and thoroughly briefed US President, "This is a man who reads."
"We will corner the bandits in the shithouse and wipe them out" ("мочить в сортире" in Russian): President Putin details his strategy for dealing with Chechen rebels (source: http://www.timesonline.co.uk/article/0,,3-1397914_2,00.html)
- Popular weekly TV-show Kukly showed the most known of Russian politicians as puppets, a puppet-president having been the head of them. It ran for at least seven years, and was shut down in 2002.
Yet there are ongoing political programmes of sarcastic kind in Russia:
- Soft cheese (Plavleny Syrok) with Victor Shenderovich weekly on Ekho Moskvy radio (91.25 FM in Moscow).
- Derisive tales about Vladimir Vladimirovich at vladimir.vladimirovich.ru/english, this goes on Ekho Moskvy too.
Also some particular jokes can be mentioned:
One of Putin's favorite sports is the martial art of judo
. It has been stated that Putin began judo at the age of 14 and he continues to study judo even today. Putin has won competitions in his home town of Leningrad (now Saint Petersburg), including senior champion of Leningrad. Now he is President of the Yawara Dojo, the same St. Petersburg dojo he studied at as a youth.
After a state visit to Japan, Putin was invited to the Kodokan Institute and showed the students and Japanese officials different judo techniques. Though he is not the first world leader to practice judo (Teddy Roosevelt was the first to do so), but Putin is the first leader to move forward in the advanced levels. Currently, Putin is a black belt (6th Degree) and is best known for a "wicked" sweeping leg throw called the Haraigoshi.
- Vladimir Putin, First Person, Public Affairs, 2000, 208 pp. (collection of interviews). Russian title: Ot Pervogo Litsa. Razgovory s Vladimirom Putinym (From the First Person. Confersations with Vladimir Putin), Moscow, Vagrius , 2000.
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December 31, 1999—present
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