Vladimir Vladimirovich Putin (Russian: Влади́мир Влади́мирович Пу́тин;IPA: [vɫɐˈdʲimʲɪr vɫɐˈdʲimʲɪrəvʲɪt͡ɕ ˈputʲɪn] ( ), born 7 October 1952 inLeningrad, Russian SFSR) has been the President of Russia since 7 May 2012. Putin previously served as President from 2000 to 2008, and as Prime Minister of Russia from 1999 to 2000 and again from 2008 to 2012. During his last term as Prime Minister, he was also the Chairman of United Russia, the ruling party.
For 16 years Putin was an officer in the KGB, rising to the rank of Lieutenant Colonel before he retired to enter politics in his native Saint Petersburg in 1991. He moved to Moscow in 1996 and joined President Boris Yeltsin‘s administration where he rose quickly, becoming Acting President on 31 December 1999 when Yeltsin unexpectedly resigned. Putin won the subsequent 2000 presidential election and was reelected in 2004. Because ofconstitutionally mandated term limits, Putin was ineligible to run for a third consecutive presidential term in 2008. Dmitry Medvedev won the 2008 presidential election and appointed Putin as Prime Minister, beginning a period of so-called “tandemocracy”. In September 2011, following a change in the law extending the presidential term from four years to six, Putin announced that he would seek a third, non-consecutive term as President in the 2012 presidential election, an announcement which led to large-scale protests in many Russian cities. He won the election in March 2012 and is serving a six-year term.
Many of Putin’s actions are regarded by the domestic opposition and foreign observers as undemocratic. The 2011 Democracy Index stated that Russia was in “a long process of regression [that] culminated in a move from a hybrid to an authoritarian regime” in view of Putin’s candidacy and flawed parliamentary elections. In 2014, Russia was excluded from the G8 group as a result of its annexation of Crimea.
During Putin’s first premiership and presidency (1999–2008), real incomes increased by a factor of 2.5, real wages more than tripled; unemployment and poverty more than halved, and the Russians’ self-assessed life satisfaction rose significantly. Putin’s first presidency was marked by high economic growth: the Russian economy grew for eight straight years, seeing GDP increase by 72% in PPP (as for nominal GDP, 600%). As Russia’s president, Putin and the Federal Assembly passed into law a flat income tax of 13%, a reduced profits tax, and new land and legal codes. As Prime Minister, Putin oversaw large-scale military and police reform. His energy policyhas affirmed Russia’s position as an energy superpower. Putin supported high-tech industries such as the nuclear and defence industries. A rise in foreign investment contributed to a boom in such sectors as theautomotive industry. However, capital investment recently dropped 2.5% because of the crisis in Ukraine according to forecasts by economists from theIMF. Putin has cultivated an image of a strongman and a popular cultural icon in Russia.
First Presidential term (2000–2004)
The first major challenge to Putin’s popularity came in August 2000, when he was criticized for his alleged mishandling of the Kursk submarine disaster. That criticism was largely because it was several days before he returned from vacation, and several more before he visited the scene.
Between 2000 and 2004, Putin set about reconstruction of the impoverished condition of the country, apparently winning a power-struggle with the Russian oligarchs, reaching a ‘grand-bargain’ with them. This bargain allowed the oligarchs to maintain most of their powers, in exchange for their explicit support – and alignment with – his government. A new group of business magnates, such asGennady Timchenko, Vladimir Yakunin, Yury Kovalchuk, Sergey Chemezov, with close personal ties to Putin, also emerged.
Many in the Russian press and in the international media warned that the death of some 130 hostages in the special forces’ rescue operation during the 2002 Moscow theater hostage crisis would severely damage President Putin’s popularity. However, shortly after the siege had ended, the Russian president was enjoying record public approval ratings – 83% of Russians declared themselves satisfied with Putin and his handling of the siege.
A few months before elections, Putin fired Prime Minister Kasyanov’s cabinet and appointed Mikhail Fradkov to his place.Sergey Ivanov became the first civilian in Russia to take the Defense Minister position.
In 2003, a referendum was held in Chechnya adopting a new constitution which declares the Republic as a part of Russia. Chechnya has been gradually stabilized with the establishment of the parliamentary elections and a regional government.
Second Presidential term (2004–2008)
Speaking at the 2005 Victory DayParade on Red Square
Putin with Chancellor of GermanyAngela Merkel in March 2
On 14 March 2004, Putin was elected to the presidency for a second term, receiving 71% of the vote. The Beslan school hostage crisis took place in September 2004, in which hundreds died. In response, Putin took a variety of administrative measures.
The continued criminal prosecution of Russia’s then richest man, President ofYUKOS company Mikhail Khodorkovsky, for fraud and tax evasion was seen by the international press as a retaliation for Khodorkovsky’s donations to both liberal and communist opponents of the Kremlin. The government said that Khodorkovsky was corrupting a large segment of the Duma to prevent tax code changes such as taxes on windfall profits and closing offshore tax evasion vehicles. Khodorkovsky was arrested, Yukos was bankrupted and the company’s assets were auctioned at below-market value, with the largest share acquired by the state companyRosneft. The fate of Yukos was seen in the West as a sign of a broader shift of Russia towards a system of state capitalism. This was underscored in July 2014 when shareholders of Yukos were awarded $50 billion in compensation by thePermanent Arbitration Court in The Hague.
A study by Bank of Finland‘s Institute for Economies in Transition (BOFIT) in 2008 found that state intervention had made a positive impact on the corporate governance of many companies in Russia: the governance was better in companies with state control or with a stake held by the government.
Putin was criticized in the West and also by Russian liberals for what many observers considered a wide-scale crackdown on media freedom in Russia. On 7 October 2006, Anna Politkovskaya, a journalist who exposed corruption in the Russian army and its conduct inChechnya, was shot in the lobby of her apartment building. The death of Politkovskaya triggered an outcry in Western media, with accusations that, at best, Putin has failed to protect the country’s new independent media. When asked about the Politkovskaya murder in his interview with the German TV channel ARD, Putin said that her murder brings much more harm to the Russian authorities than her writing. By 2012 the performers of the murder were arrested and named Boris Berezovsky and Akhmed Zakayev as possible clients.
In 2007, “Dissenters’ Marches” were organized by the opposition group The Other Russia, led by former chess champion Garry Kasparov and national-Bolshevist leaderEduard Limonov. Following prior warnings, demonstrations in several Russian cities were met by police action, which included interfering with the travel of the protesters and the arrests of as many as 150 people who attempted to break through police lines. The Dissenters’ Marches have received little support among the Russian general public, according to polls.
On 12 September 2007, Putin dissolved the government upon the request of Prime Minister Mikhail Fradkov. Fradkov commented that it was to give the President a “free hand” in the run-up to the parliamentary election. Viktor Zubkov was appointed the new prime minister.
In December 2007, United Russia won 64.24% of the popular vote in their run for State Duma according to election preliminary results. United Russia’s victory in December 2007 elections was seen by many as an indication of strong popular support of the then Russian leadership and its policies.
In his last days in office Putin was reported to have taken a series of steps to re-align the regional bureaucracy to make the governors report to the prime minister rather than the president. Putin’s office explained that “the changes… bear a refining nature and do not affect the essential positions of the system. The key role in estimating the effectiveness of activity of regional authority still belongs to the President of the Russian Federation.”
Third Presidential term (2012–present)
Putin taking the presidential oath at his 3rd inauguration ceremony, 7 May 2012
On 4 March 2012, Putin won the 2012 Russian presidential elections in the first round, with 63.6% of the vote. While efforts to make the elections transparent were publicized, including the usage of webcams in polling stations, the vote was criticized by the Russian opposition and by international observers from theOrganization for Security and Co-operation in Europe for procedural irregularities.
Anti-Putin protests took place during and directly after the presidential campaign. The most notorious protest was the Pussy Riot performance on 21 February, and subsequent trial. Also, an estimated 8,000–20,000 protesters gathered in Moscow on 6 May, when eighty people were injured in confrontations with police, and 450 were arrested, with another 120 arrests taking place the following day.
Anti-Putin protesters march in Moscow, 2012
Putin’s presidency was inaugurated in the Kremlin on 7 May 2012. On his first day as President, Putin issued 14 Presidential decrees, which are sometimes called the “May Decrees” by the media, including a lengthy one stating wide-ranging goals for the Russian economy. Other decrees concerned education, housing, skilled labor training, relations with the European Union, the defense industry, inter-ethnic relations, and other policy areas dealt with in Putin’s program articles issued during the presidential campaign.
In 2012 and 2013, Putin and the United Russia party backed stricter legislation against the LGBT community, in Saint Petersburg, Archangelsk and Novosibirsk; a law against “homosexual propaganda” (which prohibits such symbols as the rainbow flag as well as published works containing homosexual content) was adopted by the State Duma in June 2013. Responding to international concerns about Russia’s legislation, Putin asked critics to note that the law was a “ban on the propaganda of pedophilia and homosexuality” and he stated that homosexual visitors to the 2014 Winter Olympics should “leave the children in peace” but denied there was any “professional, career or social discrimination” against homosexuals in Russia. He publicly hugged openly bisexual ice-skater Ireen Wust during the games.
Also in June 2013, Putin attended a televised rally of the All-Russia People’s Front where he was elected head of the movement, which was set up in 2011. According to journalist Steve Rosenberg, the movement is intended to “reconnect the Kremlin to the Russian people” and one day, if necessary, replace the increasingly unpopular United Russiaparty that currently backs Putin.