Putin, Vladimir Vladimirovich

Putin, Vladimir Vladimirovich
▪ 2000

      In an announcement that surprised the locals as much as the rest of the world, Russia's Pres. Boris Yeltsin resigned on Dec. 31, 1999. To serve as acting president until the presidential election, which was scheduled for March 26, 2000, Yeltsin left in his place a rather mysterious man named Vladimir Putin, whom Yeltsin had elevated to the post of prime minister a scant five months earlier. A career foreign intelligence officer by background, Putin was described as austere, reserved, and disciplined. A deeply private person, he had the reputation of a man who got things done quietly and efficiently and who inspired respect, even fear, in those with whom he came in contact.

      Putin was born in Leningrad, U.S.S.R. (now St. Petersburg, Russia) on Oct. 7, 1952. He studied in the law faculty of Leningrad State University, where his tutor was Anatoly Sobchak, later one of the leading reform politicians of the perestroika period. Putin spent 15 years as a foreign intelligence officer for the Committee for State Security (KGB), including six years in Dresden, E.Ger. He retired from active KGB service with the rank of lieutenant colonel. In 1990 he returned to Russia to become prorector of Leningrad State University with responsibility for the university's external relations. Soon afterward, Putin became an adviser to Sobchak, the first democratically elected mayor of St. Petersburg. He soon won Sobchak's confidence and became known as “the man to see” to get things done in the city; by 1994 he had risen to the post of first deputy mayor. Putin moved to Moscow in 1996, where he joined the presidential staff as deputy to Pavel Borodin, the Kremlin's chief administrator. Putin grew close to fellow Leningrader Anatoly Chubais and moved up quickly in administrative positions. In July 1998 Yeltsin made Putin director of the Federal Security Service (the KGB's domestic successor), and shortly thereafter he became secretary of the influential Security Council. At that time, Yeltsin's entourage (commonly known as “the family”) was casting about with increasing urgency for an heir to assume Yeltsin's mantle. Although virtually unknown to the general public, Putin was appointed prime minister, and Yeltsin later endorsed him as his chosen presidential successor.

      Prime Minister Putin's public-approval ratings soared when he launched a well-organized military operation against the secessionist Chechen rebels. Wearied by years of Yeltsin's increasingly erratic behaviour, the population relished Putin's coolness and decisiveness under pressure. According to one pollster, “People don't want miracles, they want order, and Putin has given the impression that he can provide that.” Putin's support for the new electoral bloc, Unity, was enough to ensure its success in the December parliamentary elections. Russia needed “new leaders for the new millennium,” Yeltsin declared in his resignation speech, and Putin could provide “intelligent, strong, energetic leadership.”

      Almost all that was known about Putin personally was that he was married and had two daughters and that his hobbies included judo and skiing. Even when, at the end of December, he published on the Internet a manifesto of his vision for Russia—an unprecedented step for a Russian leader—the precise nature of his economic, social, and foreign policies remained shrouded in mystery.


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Universalium. 2010.

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