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Vladimir Putin

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Template:Infobox President/not-american
Vladimir Putin
Vladimir Putin
Term of office: December 31, 1999
Preceded by: Boris Yeltsin
Succeeded by:
Date of birth: October 7, 1952
Place of birth: Leningrad, U.S.S.R.
First Lady: Liudmila Putina
Political party: None

Vladimir Vladimirovich Putin (Russian: Владимир Владимирович Путин Template:Audio; born October 7, 1952) is a Russian politician and the current President of the Russian Federation. He succeeded Boris Yeltsin on December 31, 1999.

Contents

Life and Career

Putin was born in Leningrad (now Saint Petersburg). His biography, translated into English 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.

In the same book, Putin notes that his paternal grandfather, a chef by profession, was brought to the Moscow suburbs to serve as a cook at one of Stalin's dachas. (In "The Court of the Red Tsar" by Simon Sebag Montefiore, a footnote on page 300 cites Putin as saying that while his grandfather did not discuss his work very often, he recalled serving meals to Rasputin as a boy and also prepared food for Lenin). His mother was a factory worker and his father was conscripted into the navy, where he served in the submarine fleet in the early 1930s. (His father subsequently served with the land forces during the Second World War). Two older brothers were born in the mid-1930s; one died within a few months of birth; the second succumbed to diphtheria during the siege of Leningrad.

Putin graduated from the International Department of the Law Faculty of the Leningrad State University in 1975 and was recruited into the KGB. In First Person, Putin described to journalists his early duties in the KGB, which included suppressing dissident activities in Leningrad.

From 1985 to 1990 the KGB stationed Putin in East Germany, in what he himself acknowledges was 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, reporting to the Vice-Rector. In June 1991 he was appointed head of the International Committee of the Saint Petersburg Mayor's office, with responsibility for promoting international relations and foreign investments.

 Service Photos
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KGB Service Photos

Putin formally resigned from the state security services on August 20, 1991, during the abortive putsch against the 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 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

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Putin was appointed Chairman (predsedatel', or prime minister) of the Government of the Russian Federation 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.

After years of scandal, erratic policy making and a general sense of national malaise under the aged and ailing Yeltsin, Putin's election seemed to many Russians to mark a new beginning in their post-Soviet history. At the same time, however, the new president's election was due in no small measure to Yeltsin's inner circle, who had selected and supported Putin with a view to maintaining their own power and privilege. As Putin's new administration took shape, it was clear that members of the Yeltsin-era nomenklatura - including Chief of Staff Alexander Voloshin and Prime Minister Mikhail Kasyanov - retained significant control over the policies and direction of the new government. On the other hand, Putin was also backed by a team of economic reformers from his native St Petersburg, and could rely as well on support from the siloviki. (The latter group are defined as members of Russia's still-powerful security services, who regard themselves as the defenders of Russia's permanent national interests in the face of rapacious politicians and officials, and who are also well-informed about all aspects of Russia's political and economic life.) The tension -- and cooperation -- between these various groups was a central feature of Putin's first term in office.

Upon his election, Putin undertook measures to restore the primacy of the Kremlin in Russia's political life. Under Yeltsin, Russia's 89 sub-federal political territories (republics, oblasts, krai, and Moscow and St Petersburg) had been granted unprecedented autonomy. While this move had been intended to help Yeltsin break the hold of the old Communist party over Russia in the early 1990s, it also led to a highly irregular federalism and contributed to the growth of separatist movements, most notably in Chechnya. One of Putin's first acts, therefore, was to attempt to restore what he referred to as the "power vertical" -- i.e. a return to the traditional top-down federal system. As a first step, Putin announced the appointment of seven presidential "plenipotentiary representatives" who were explicitly charged with coordinating federal activity in newly-defined super-regions. While billed as a seminal break with Yeltsin-era federalism, for a variety of reasons the plenipotentiary system never really took hold. Of more lasting significance, Putin also instituted a major reform of Russia's upper house of parliament, the Federation Council. Putin and his team also entered into head-on confrontations with several uncooperative governors accused of corruption, though with only mixed success.

The first months of Putin's first term were also marked by a settling of scores among elite financial-industrial groups, whose monetary resources and media empires had been critical weapons in the domestic political war that had been waged over the previous year. Leading members of the old Yeltsin group - known informally as "the Family" - were determined to punish the losing camp, headed by Vladimir Gusinsky, which had backed the Primakov/Luzhkov ticket. Within a year of Putin's election, Gusinsky went from being a would-be kingmaker to living in self-imposed exile; his once-influential media conglomerate (Media-MOST) disintegrated in the face of a withering assault by state-owned and state-allied businesses and under the weight of criminal and civil court decisions.

Putin faced his first acute crisis in August 2000, when the Russian nuclear submarine Kursk sank off the Kola peninsula, killing all of the over 120 sailors on board. His government's handling of this tragedy engendered significant criticism across a wide spectrum of Russian society. Many Russians were angered by the failure of the government and the military to release credible information about the scale and certainty of the disaster. After several days of mounting public confusion and anger, Putin cut short his vacation and returned to Moscow to take charge of the crisis. A careful public relations campaign brought the matter to closure, though it would be many months before the Kremlin dropped its whisper campaign that a collision with a "NATO submarine" was to blame for the disaster.

Putin has been unenthusiastic about erasing Russia's Soviet past from memory. He has stated his belief that whatever the massive crimes of the Communist regime, it was nevertheless an important part of Russian history and has 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) -- all of which have resonated well with the majority of Russia's population.

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. Domestic and foreign critics accuse Putin of having orchestrated the trials of oligarchs such as Boris Berezovsky, Vladimir Gusinsky, and later Mikhail Khodorkovsky as part of an effort by his Kremlin to gain control over the media and large sectors of the Russian economy.

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

Vladimir Putin with U.S. President George W. Bush.
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Vladimir Putin with U.S. President George W. Bush.

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 proposed by the President and approved or disapproved 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 the new proportional, and not mixed system, as before. In the previous system half of the 450 deputies in the Duma were 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.

On April 25, 2005, Putin caused some controversy when, in a nationally televised speech before the Duma, he referred to the collapse of the Soviet Union as "the greatest geopolitical catastrophe of the century." This remark was poorly received in the West and in some neighbouring states; Putin subsequently repeated earlier protestations that he was not praising the former Soviet Union but rather highlighting in an altogether objective fashion the dramatic impact the collapse of the USSR had had on the world.

Chechnya

Putin's rise to public office coincided with an aggressive resurgence of the war in Chechnya in August 1999. Both in Russia and abroad, Putin's public image was forged by his tough handling of the dire challenge posed by Chechen extremists and their foreign supporters. During the bitter autumn 1999 campaign for the Duma, pro-Kremlin politicians and media accused Putin's chief rivals of being soft on terrorism, and ratcheted up accusations that the Chechens' military campaign was being supported and supplied by Western intelligence agencies bent on humiliating and weakening Russia. On assuming the role of acting President on December 31, 1999, Putin proceeded on a previously scheduled visit to Russian troops in the North Caucasus; carefully orchestrated public relations coverage showed him presenting hunting knives to soldiers. Throughout the winter of 2000, Putin's government regularly claimed that victory was at hand. In recent years, Putin has distanced himself from the management of the continuing conflict.

Foreign policy

While President Putin is criticized as an autocrat by some of his Western counterparts, his relationships with US President George W. Bush, German chancellor Gerhard Schröder, French President Jacques Chirac, and Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi are apparently friendly.

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.

During the 2004 Ukrainian presidential election, Putin twice visited Ukraine before the election to show his support for Ukrainian Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovych. Yanukovych's alleged victory was rejected as fraudulent soon after. Putin's direct support for Yanukovych was criticized by some commentators as unwarranted interference in the affairs of post-Soviet Ukraine.

Putin surprised many Russian nationalists and even his own defence minister when, in the wake of the September 11 attacks in the United States, he agreed to the establishment of coalition military bases in Central Asia before and during the US-led attack on the Taliban government in Afghanistan. Russian nationalists objected to the establishment of any US military presence on the territory of the former Soviet Union, and had expected Putin to keep the US out of the Central Asian republics, or at the very least extract a commitment from Washington to withdraw from these bases as soon as the immediate military purpose had passed.

During the Iraq crisis of 2003, Putin opposed Washington's move to invade Iraq without the benefit of a United Nations Security Council resolution explicitly authorising the use of military force. 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.

Family and personal life

Putin is married to Liudmila Putina, a former airline stewardess and teacher of German. They have two daughters, Yekaterina (Katya) (born 1985) and Maria (born 1986 in Dresden). The daughters attended the German School in Moscow (Deutsche Schule Moskau) until his appointment as prime minister.

Putin 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.

Putin speaks German with near-native fluency, and passable English.

Activities

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Putin_judo.jpg
Putin in a Judo uniform
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), 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.

 

Quotations

Template:Wikiquote In response to US and EU leaders who have criticised Putin on taking a hardline in dealing with the Chechens "Why don't you meet Osama bin Laden, invite him to Brussels or to the White House and engage in talks, ask him what he wants and give it to him so he leaves you in peace? You find it possible to set some limitations in your dealings with these bastards, so why should we talk to people who are child-killers? No one has a moral right to tell us to talk to childkillers."

Putin, deadpan, said of the very recently and thoroughly briefed US President Bush, "This is a man who reads."

When a reporter asked Putin why his government didn't negotiate with the leaders of Chechen rebels, Putin answered "Russia doesn't negotiate with terrorists. It destroys them."

After the tragedy of Beslan, Putin explained the failure of Russia's Security Services with the sentence "We were weak. And the weak are being beaten."

Putin on Chechen rebels: "We'll follow terrorists everywhere. Should we catch them in a shithouse, we'll kill them in a shithouse." ("мочить в сортире" in Russian): [1] (http://www.timesonline.co.uk/article/0,,3-1397914_2,00.html)

In response to criticism from US journalist Mike Wallace that his plan to end the direct election of governors and simply appoint them ran counter to the spirit of democracy, Putin replied:

"The principle of appointing regional leaders is not a sign of a lack of democracy. For instance, India is called the largest world democracy. But their governors have always been appointed by the central government and nobody disputes that India is a democracy."
"In the United States, you first elect the electors and then they vote for the presidential candidates. In Russia, the president is elected through the direct vote of the whole population. That might be even more democratic," Putin says. "And you have other problems in your elections," he tells Wallace. "Four years ago your presidential election was decided by the court. The judicial system was brought into it. But we're not going to poke our noses into your democratic system because that's up to the American people."
After saying the US shouldn't have gone into Iraq in the first place: "But if the U.S. were to leave and abandon Iraq without establishing the grounds for a united and sovereign country, that would definitely be a second mistake." [2] (http://www.drudgereport.com/flash9.htm)

Putin-related humor

  • Weekly TV-show Kukly showed the most known and powerful Russian politicians as puppets, a puppet-president having been the head of them. It started in 1994, and was shut down in 2002 or 2003. The success of Kukly was to a great extent due to its scriptwriter Victor Shenderovich.
  • Short humorous stories about Vladimir Vladimirovich's everyday life and work, by the journalist Maxim Kononenko, popularly known under the internet handle of "Mr. Parker". In them Parliament is depicted as consisting of androids, a Deputy Chief of Staff being both their constructor and programmer; Vladimir Vladimirovich is fond of collecting things concerned with important historical events or people; etc. The stories are daily published on the Web and weekly go on Ekho Moskvy radio. Their translation in German (http://vladimir.vladimirovich.ru/deutsch) and English (http://vladimir.vladimirovich.ru/english) is available as well.

Some particular jokes can also be mentioned:

  • In early 2003, a comparison was made between the looks of Putin and Harry Potter character Dobby. [3] (http://news.bbc.co.uk/cbbcnews/hi/world/newsid_2677000/2677981.stm)

See also

Reference

  • 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. Conversations with Vladimir Putin), Moscow, Vagrius, 2000.

External links


Preceded by:
Sergei Stepashin
Prime Minister of Russia
August 8, 1999—May 7, 2000
Succeeded by:
Mikhail Kasyanov
Preceded by:
Boris Yeltsin
President of Russia
December 31, 1999—present
Succeeded by:
Incumbent

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