Political portrait of Vladimir Putin
Putin was born in Leningrad (now Saint Petersburg) on October 7, 1952. His mother, Maria Ivanovna Putina, was a factory worker and his father, Vladimir Spiridonovich Putin, was conscripted into the Soviet Navy, where he served in the submarine fleet in the early 1930s. His father subsequently served with NKVD in a sabotage group 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. His paternal grandfather, Spiridon Putin, had been Lenin's and Stalin's personal cook.
Putin graduated from the International Branch of the Law Department of the Leningrad State University in 1975 and was recruited into the KGB. In the University he also became a member of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union, where he remained until the ban on it imposed in August 1991.
He worked in the Leningrad and Leningrad region Directorate of KGB, where he was acquainted with Sergei Ivanov.
In 1976 he completed KGB retraining courses. In 1978 he entered other retraining courses in foreign intelligence in Moscow. After completing the training he served in the First Department of the Leningrad Directorate (foreign intelligence) until 1983. In 1983-1984 he studied at the KGB High School in Moscow. In 1984 Putin was appointed Major.
From 1985 to 1990 the KGB stationed Putin in Dresden, East Germany, in what he regards as a minor position. Following the collapse of the East German regime, Putin was recalled to the Soviet Union and returned to Leningrad, where in June 1990 he assumed a position with the International Affairs section of Leningrad State University, reporting to Vice-Rector Yuriy Molchanov. At his new position, Putin was reacquainted with Anatoly Sobchak (1937-2000), then Mayor of Leningrad. Sobchak served as an Assistant Professor during Putin's university years and was one of Putin's lecturers. Putin formally resigned from the state security services on August 20, 1991, during the KGB-supported abortive putsch against Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev.
In May 1990 Putin was appointed Mayor's adviser for international affairs. On June 28, 1991 he was appointed head of the Committee for External Relations of the St. Petersburg Mayor's Office, with responsibility for promoting international relations and foreign investments. The Committee was also used to register business ventures in St. Petersburg. During the time Putin led this Committee, Alexei Miller the current CEO of Gazprom, also served on it from (December 15, 1991 1996) and was a Deputy Head of the Committee from 1992 1996. Less than one year after taking control of the committee, Putin was investigated by a commission of the city legislative council. Commission deputies Marina Salye and Yury Gladkov concluded that Putin understated prices and issued licenses permitting the export of non-ferrous metals valued at a total of $93 million in exchange for food aid from abroad that never came to the city. The commission recommended Putin be fired, but there were no immediate consequences. Putin remained Head of the Committee for External Relations until 1996. While heading the Committee for External Relations, from 1992 to March 2000 Putin was also on the advisory board of the German real estate holding St. Petersburg Immobilien und Beteiligungs AG (SPAG) which has been investigated by German prosecutors for money laundering.
From 1994 to 1997 Putin was appointed to additional positions in the St. Petersburg political arena. In March 1994 he became First Deputy Head of the Administration of the city of Saint Petersburg. In 1995 (through June 1997) Putin led the St. Petersburg branch of the pro-government Our Home Is Russia political party. During this same period from 1995 through June 1997 he was also the Head of the Advisory Board of the JSC Newspaper Sankt-Peterburgskie Vedomosti.
In 1996 Anatoly Sobchak lost the St. Petersburg mayoral election to Vladimir Yakovlev. Putin was called to Moscow and in June 1996 assumed position of a Deputy Chief of the Presidential Property Management Department headed by Pavel Borodin. He occupied this position until March 1997. On March 26, 1997 President Boris Yeltsin appointed Putin Deputy Chief of Presidential Staff, where he remained until May 1998, and Chief of the Main Control Directorate of the Presidential Property Management Department (until June 1998).
On June 27, 1997 at the Saint Petersburg Mining Institute Putin defended his Candidate of Science dissertation in economics titled "The Strategic Planning of Regional Resources Under the Formation of Market Relations". According to Clifford G Gaddy, a senior fellow at The Brookings Institute, 16 of the 20 pages that open a key section of Putins work were copied either word for word or with minute alterations from a management study, Strategic Planning and Policy, written by US professors William King and David Cleland. The study was translated into Russian by a KGB-related institute in the early 1990s.
On May 25, 1998 Vladimir Putin was appointed First Deputy Chief of Presidential Staff for regions, (replacing Viktoriya Mitina), and on July 15 of the same year - the Head of the Commission for the preparation of agreements on the delimitation of power of regions and the federal center attached to the President (replacing Sergey Shakhray). After Putin's appointment, the commission completed no such agreements, although during Shakhray's term as the Head of the Commission there were 46 agreements signed.
On July 25, 1998 Yeltsin appointed Vladimir Putin Head of the FSB (one of the successor agencies to the KGB), the position Putin occupied until August 1999. He became a permanent member of the Security Council of the Russian Federation on October 1, 1998 and its Head on March 29, 1999. In April 1999, FSB Chief Vladimir Putin and Interior Minister Sergei Stepashin held a televised press conference in which they discussed a video that had aired nationwide March 17 on the state-controlled Russia TV channel which showed a naked man very similar to the Prosecutor General of Russia, Yury Skuratov, in bed with two young women. Putin claimed that expert FSB analysis proved the man on the tape to be Skuratov and that the orgy had been paid for by persons investigated for criminal offences. Skuratov had been adversarial toward President Yeltsin and had been aggressively investigating government corruption.
On July 28, 1983 Putin married Lyudmila Shkrebneva (now Putina), at that time an undergraduate student of the Spanish branch of the Philology Department of the Leningrad State University and a former airline stewardess, who had been born in Kaliningrad (formerly Königsberg) on January 6, 1958. They have two daughters, Maria Putina (born 1985) and Yekaterina (Katya) Putina (born 1986 in Dresden). The daughters attended the German School in Moscow (Deutsche Schule Moskau) until his appointment as prime minister.
Since 1992, Putin had owned a dacha of about 7 thousand square meters in Solovyovka, Priozersky district of the Leningrad region, which is located on the eastern shore of the Komsomol'skoye lake on the Karelian Isthmus near St. Petersburg. His neighbours there are Vladimir Yakunin, Andrei Fursenko, Sergey Fursenko, Yuriy Kovalchuk, Viktor Myachin, Vladimir Smirnov and Nikolay Shamalov. On November 10, 1996, together they instituted the co-operative society Ozero (the Lake) which united their properties. This was confirmed by Putin's income and property declaration as a nominee for the presidency in 2000. However, this real estate was not listed in his income and property declaration for 1998 - 2002 submitted prior to the 2004 elections.
Putin is a practicing member of the Russian Orthodox Church, led by Patriarch Alexius II. His conversion, which most observers agree was sincere, followed a life-threatening fire at his dacha in August 1996. Very unusual for communist Russia, his mother had been a regular church-goer. His father was a communist and atheist (although he seems not to have objected to his wife's beliefs).
The nickname given to Vladimir Putin by U.S. President George W. Bush is "Pootie-Poot."
On August 9, 1999, Vladimir Putin was appointed one of three First Deputies Prime Minister, which enabled him later on this day, as the previous government led by Sergei Stepashin had been sacked, to be appointed acting Prime Minister of the Government of the Russian Federation by President Boris Yeltsin. Yeltsin also announced that he wanted to see Putin as his successor. Later, that same day, Putin agreed to run for the presidency. On August 16 State Duma approved his appointment as Prime Minister with 233 votes in favour (vs. 84 against, 17 abstained), while a simple majority of 226 was required, making him Russia's fifth PM in less than eighteen months. On his appointment, few expected Putin, virtually unknown to the general public, to last any longer than his predecessors. Yeltsin's main opponents and would-be successors, Moscow Mayor Yuriy 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. Putin's law-and-order image and his unrelenting approach to the renewed crisis in Chechnya (see also below) soon combined to raise his popularity and allowed him to overtake all rivals. While not formally associated with any party, Putin pledged his support to the newly formed Unity party, which won the second largest percentage of the popular vote (23,32%) in the December 1999 Duma elections, and in turn was supported by it. Putin seemed ideally positioned to win the presidency in elections due the following summer.
His rise to Russia's highest office ended up being even more rapid: on December 31, 1999, Yeltsin unexpectedly resigned and, according to the constitution, Putin became (acting) President of the Russian Federation.
While his opponents were preparing for an election later that year in June, Yeltsin's resignation resulted in the elections being held within three months, in March. This put all of his opponents at a disadvantage, giving him the element of surprise and an eventual victory. Presidential elections were held on March 26, 2000; Putin won in the first round.
In December 2000 Putin sanctioned the change of the National Anthem of Russia to restore the music of the pre-1991 Soviet anthem, but with new words.
On February 12 2001, Putin signed a federal law on guarantees for former presidents and their families. In 1999 Yeltsin and his family were under scrutiny for charges related to money-laundering by the Russian and Swiss authorities.
On September 13, 2004, following the Beslan school hostage crisis, Putin suggested the creation of the Public Chamber of Russia and launched an initiative to replace the direct election of the governors and presidents of Federal subjects of Russia with a system whereby they would be proposed by the President and approved or disapproved by regional legislatures.
A significant amount of Putin's second term has been focused on domestic issues. According to various Russian and western media reports, Putin is extremely concerned about the ongoing demographic problems, such as the death rate being higher than birth rate and immigration rate, cyclical poverty, and housing concerns within the Russian Federation. In 2005, four "national projects" were launched in the fields of health care, education, housing and agriculture. In his May 2006 annual speech, Putin proposed increasing maternity benefits and prenatal care for women. Putin has also been quite strident about the need to reform the judiciary. He refers to the federal judiciary as being "Sovietesque" and wants a judiciary that interprets and implements the code rather than the current situation, where many of the judges hand down the same verdicts as they would have under the old Soviet judiciary structure. In 2005, the responsibility for the federal prisons was transferred from the Interior Ministry to the Ministry of Justice.
One of the most controversial aspects of Putin's second term was the prosecution of Russia's richest man, Mikhail Khodorkovsky, President of Yukos oil company, for fraud and tax evasion. While much of the international press saw this as a reaction against a man who was funding political opponents of the Kremlin, both liberal and Communist, the Russian government has argued that Khodorkovsky was in fact engaged in corrupting a large segment of the Duma to prevent changes in the tax code aimed at taxing windfall profits and closing offshore tax evasion vehicles. Certainly, many of the initial privatizations, including that of Yukos, are widely believed to have been fraudulent (Yukos, valued at some $30bn in 2004, had been privatized for $110 million), and like the other oligarchic groups, the Yukos-Menatep name has been frequently tarred with accusations of links to criminal organizations.
In the recent years, the political philosophy of Putin's administration has been described as "sovereign democracy". The political term recently gained wide acceptance within Russia itself and unified various political elites around it. According to its supporters, policy of the President must above all be supported by the popular majority in Russia itself and not be governed from outside of the country; such popular support constitutes the founding principle of a democratic society.
In international affairs, Putin has been trying, with some success, to re-establish the strong and independent role once played by the Soviet Union. However, this has been done without returning to the Cold War-like relations with the West. For example, on February 2007 at annual Munich Conference on Security Policy, he criticised the United States' unipolar dominance in global relations, and pointed out that the United States displayed an "almost uncontained hyper use of force in international relations". He said the result of it is that "no one feels safe! Because no one can feel that international law is like a stone wall that will protect them. Of course such a policy stimulates an arms race."
Instead he called for "fair and democratic world order that would ensure security and prosperity not only for a select few, but for all". He proposed certain initiatives such as establishing international centres for the enrichment of uranium and prevention of deploying weapons in outer space. In his January 2007 interview Putin said Russia is in favor of democratic multipolar world and strengthening the system of international law.
At the same time, Putin's Russia has been seeking stronger and more constructive ties with Europe and the United States. Thus, Russia has become a full-fledged member of the G8 and chaired the group in the calendar year of 2006 (which has now passed on to Germany). At the same time, Putin's attention was equally focused on Asia, in particular China and India.
While President Putin is criticized as an autocrat by some Western politicians, his relationships with US President George W. Bush, British Prime Minister Tony Blair, former German Chancellor Gerhard Schröder, French President Jacques Chirac, and the former Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi are reported to be friendly. Putin's relationship with Germany's new Chancellor, Angela Merkel, is expected to be "cooler" and "more business-like" than his partnership with Gerhard Schröder.
Putin surprised many Russian nationalists and even his own defense 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 invasion of 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 authorizing 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.
In 2005, Putin and former German Chancellor Gerhard Schröder negotiated the construction of a major gas pipeline over the Baltic exclusively between Russia and Germany. Schröder also attended Putin's 53rd birthday in Saint Petersburg the same year. The end of 2006 brought strained relations between Russia and Britain in the wake of the murder of a former FSB officer in London by poisoning. Press reports suggest that Putin's government is providing only limited cooperation with the investigation.
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.
During the 2004 Ukrainian presidential election, Putin visited Ukraine twice before the election to show his support for Ukrainian Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovych and congratulated him on his alleged victory before the official election results had been announced. Putin's direct support for pro-Russian Yanukovych was widely criticized as unwarranted interference in the affairs of post-Soviet Ukraine. More recently, a crisis has emerged in Russia's relations with Georgia and Moldova, both former Soviet republics accusing Moscow of supporting separatist entities in their territories.
Putin's rise to public office in August 1999 coincided with an aggressive resurgence of the near-dormant conflict in the North Caucasus, when Chechen separatists regrouped and invaded neighboring Daghestan. Both in Russia and abroad, Putin's public image was forged by his tough handling of the war. On assuming the role of acting President on December 31, 1999, Putin proceeded on a previously scheduled visit to Russian troops in Chechnya. In recent years, Putin has distanced himself from the management of the continuing conflict. In 2003, a referendum was held in Chechnya adopting a new constitution which declares the Republic as a part of Russia. The situation has been gradually stabilized with the parliamentary elections and the establishment of a regional government.
Since the early 1990s, a number of Russian reporters who have covered the situation in Chechnya, contentious stories on organized crime, state and administrative officials, and large businesses have been killed. According to the Committee to Protect Journalists, 44 journalists were murdered in Russia since 1992: 30 of them while Boris Yeltsin was a president, and 14 after Vladimir Putin became president.
On October 7, 2006, Anna Politkovskaya, a journalist who ran a campaign exposing corruption in the Russian army and its conduct in Chechnya, was shot in the lobby of her apartment building. The death of this Russian journalist triggered an outcry of criticism of Russia in the Western media, with accusations that, at best, Putin has failed to protect the country's new independent media. When asked about Politkovskaya's murder on October 10, Putin said it was a "disgusting crime" and there is "no forgiveness" for those who had committed it. He added that Politkovskaya's assassination brought much more harm to the Russian authorities than her publications.
According to the Committee to Protect Journalists, "All three major television networks are now in the hands of Kremlin loyalists." Indeed, while "Сhannel Russia" was state-owned since its foundation in 1991, major shareholders of ORT and NTV (Boris Berezovsky and Vladimir Gusinsky, respectively) sold their stocks to the government and Gazprom under questionable circumstances in 2000-2001. Moreover, TV6, a media outlet owned by Berezovsky, was closed in 2003 due to financial problems.  Along with that, plenty of media outlets actively develop now while state participation in them is minimal.  Private TV networks Ren-TV and TVC which cover 80% and 64% of population respectively, broadcast independent analytical programms like "25th hour", "Week" with Marianna Maksimovskaya, "Postscriptum", "Moment of truth". Gazprom-owned NTV airs "Real Politics" with Gleb Pavlovsky and "Sunday Evening" with Vladimir Solovyov. In 2006 Putin commented that in the period of 1990s freedom of press in Russia "was indeed under threat, not from the former state ideology that once held a monopoly on expression, but from the dictates of oligarchic capital".
The actual influence of Kremlin on the media space remains the matter of pure speculations, causing even harsh debates between journalists of "liberal" (e.g. Shenderovich) and "patriotic" (e.g. Oleg Kashin) persuasions. According to journalist Maxim Kononenko, "People invent censorship for themselves, and what happens on some TV channels, some newspapers, happens not because Putin dials them and says: No, this mustn't go. But because their bosses are fools."
SORM, a System of Ensuring Investigative Activity, an amendment signed into law by Putin. SORM allowed law enforcement bodies to monitor Internet traffic and required ISPs to assist law enforcement in their investigations. In late 2000, Russian Supreme Court ruled that the law enforcement bodies are required to obtain a warrant and inform ISPs when law enforcement agents were using the system.
While many reforms taken in modern Russia under Putins rule were generally criticized by Western media, a joint poll by World Public Opinion in the U. S. and the Levada Center in Russia around June-July 2006 stated that "neither the Russian nor the American publics are convinced Russia is headed in an anti-democratic direction" and "Russians generally support Putins concentration of political power and strongly support the re-nationalization of Russias oil and gas industry". Russians generally support reforms initiated by Putin's team.
According to public opinion surveys conducted by Levada Center, Putin's approval rating is 81% as of February 2007. It started at 31% in August 1999, rose to 80% by November 1999 and never fell below 65% since then.
In late 2006 and early 2007, opposition forces under the umbrella organization the Other Russia mounted demonstrations in Moscow, St. Petersburg and other cities. The Russian police disrupted the demonstrations and detained some demonstrators.
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