Vladimir Vladimirovich Putin


Vladimir Vladimirovich Putin (born October 7, 1952,) was President of the Russian Federation. He became an acting President on December 31, 1999, succeeding Boris Yeltsin, and then won the 2000 presidential election. In 2004, he was re-elected for a second term, which expires on May 7, 2008.

Putin was born in Leningrad (now Saint Petersburg) on October 7, 1952. According to him, in his youth, he was eager to emulate the intelligence officer characters played on the Soviet screen by actors such as Vyacheslav Tikhonov and Georgiy Zhzhonov.

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. Putin’s father subsequently served with the NKVD in a sabotage group during the Second World War. Two elder 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 Vladimir Lenin's and Joseph Stalin's personal cook. Putin's surname translates "man of path" into English.

Putin graduated from the International Law branch of the Law Department of the Leningrad State University in 1975. Thereafter he was recruited to the KGB. At the University he also became a member of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union, and remained a member until the party was dissolved in December 1991.

He worked in Leningrad and Leningrad region Directorate of the KGB, where he became acquainted with Sergei Ivanov.

In 1976 he completed the KGB retraining course in Okhta, Leningrad. The available information about his first years at the KGB is somewhat contradictory; according to some sources, he completed the other retraining course at the Dzerzhinsky KGB Higher School in Moscow and then in 1985 - the Red Banner Yuri Andropov KGB Institute in Moscow (now the Academy of Foreign Intelligence), whereupon (or earlier) he joined the KGB First Chief Directorate (Foreign intelligence branch).

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 1991 he assumed a position with the International Affairs section of Leningrad State University, reporting to Vice-Rector Yuriy Molchanov. In his new position, Putin grew reacquainted with Anatoly Sobchak, 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 Sobchak's advisor on 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), as well as a number of other prominent politicians and businesspeople, 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, which 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 Putin’s 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 and translated into Russian by a KGB-related institute in the early 1990s.

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 Secretary 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.

Under the Putin administration the Russian economy saw increases in GDP (2000:10%, 2001: 5.7%, 2002: 4.9%, 2003: 7.3%, 2004: 7.1%, 2005: 6,5%, 2006: 6.7%, 2007: 8.1%), industrial and agricultural production, construction, real incomes, the volume of consumer credit (between 2000-2006 increased 45 times), and other economic measures. The number of people living below the poverty line decreased from 29% in 2000 to 15.8% in 2007. A number of large-scale reforms in retirement (2002), banking (2001 - 2004), tax (2000 - 2003), the monetization of benefits (2005) and others have taken place.

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.

The first Decree that Putin signed December 31, 1999, was the one "On guarantees for former president of the Russian Federation and members of his family". This ensured that "corruption charges against the outgoing President and his relatives" would not be pursued, although this claim is not strictly verifiable. Later on February 12, 2001 Putin signed a federal law on guarantees for former presidents and their families (See Vladimir Putin legislation and program), which replaced the similar decree. In 1999, Yeltsin and his family were under scrutiny for charges related to money-laundering by the Russian and Swiss authorities.

While his opponents had been preparing for an election in June 2000, 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. Vladimir Putin was inaugurated president on May 7, 2000. He appointed Financial minister Mikhail Kasyanov as his Prime minister. Having announced his intention to consolidate power in the country into a strict vertical, in May 2000 he issued a decree dividing 89 federal subjects of Russia between 7 federal districts overseen by representatives of him in order to facilitate federal administration. In July 2000, according to a law proposed by him and approved by the Russian parliament, Putin also gained the right to dismiss heads of the federal subjects.

In December 2000, Putin sanctioned the law to change the National Anthem of Russia. At the time the Anthem had music by Glinka and no words. The change was to restore (with a minor modification) the music of the post-1944 Soviet anthem by Alexandrov, while the new text was composed by Mikhalkov.

A few months before the elections, Putin fired Kasyanov's cabinet and appointed relatively obscure Mikhail Fradkov to his place. Sergey Ivanov became the first civilian in Russia to take Defense Minister position.

On March 14, 2004, Putin was re-elected to the presidency for a second term, earning 71 percent of the vote.

On September 13, 2004, following the Beslan school hostage crisis, Putin suggested the creation of a 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. He also initiated the merger of a number of federal subjects of Russia into larger entities.

According to various Russian and western media reports, one of the major domestic issue concerns for President Putin were the problems arising from the ongoing demographic and social trends in Russia, such as the death rate being higher than the birth 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. One of the most controversial aspects of Putin's second term was the continuation of the criminal 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 Khodorkovsky's funding for political opponents of the Kremlin, both liberal and communist, the Russian government has argued that Khodorkovsky was 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. Khodorkovsky's arrest was met positively by the Russian public, who see the oligarchs as thieves who were unjustly enriched and robbed the country of its natural wealth. Since February 2006, the political philosophy of Putin's administration has often been described as "sovereign democracy", the term being used both with positive and pejorative connotations. First proposed by Vladislav Surkov in February 2006, the term quickly gained currency within Russia and arguably unified various political elites around it. According to its proponents' interpretation, the government's actions and policies ought above all to enjoy popular support within Russia itself and not be determined from outside the country.

During the term, Putin was widely criticized in the West and also by Russian liberals for what many observers considered a wide-scale crackdown on media freedoms. 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. 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. In January 2008, Oleg Panfilov, head of the Center for Journalism in Extreme Situations, maintained that a system of "judicial terrorism" had started against journalists under Putin and that more than 300 criminal cases had been opened against them over the past six years.

In a 2007 interview with newspaper journalists from G8 countries, Putin spoke out in favor of a longer presidential term in Russia, saying "a term of five, six or seven years in office would be entirely acceptable". According to the constitution of Russia, the President is elected for a term of four years.

Public Opinion (criticism and support)

According to public opinion surveys conducted by Levada Center, Putin's approval rating was 81% in June 2007, and the highest of any leader in the world. His popularity rose from 31% in August 1999 to 80% in November 1999 and since then it has never fallen below 65%. Observers see Putin's high approval ratings as a consequence of higher living standards that improved during his rule and Russia's reassertion of itself on the world scene. Most Russians are also deeply disillusioned with the West after all the hardships of 90s, and they no longer trust pro-western politicians associated with Yeltsin that were removed from the political scene under Putin's leadership. Critics of Putin are seldom seen on two major national TV channels, Channel One and RTR. Despite widespread public support in Russia, Putin has also been the target of much criticism. Several reforms made under Putin’s presidency have been criticized by some privately owned Russian media outlets and many Western commentators as anti-democratic. At the same time, a joint poll by World Public Opinion in the U. S. and NGO 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 Putin’s concentration of political power and strongly support the re-nationalization of Russia’s oil and gas industry." Russians generally support political course of Putin and his team.

Putin was Time Magazine's Person of the Year for 2007, given the title for his "extraordinary feat of leadership in taking a country that was in chaos and bringing it stability". Time said that "TIME's Person of the Year is not and never has been an honor. It is not an endorsement. It is not a popularity contest. At its best, it is a clear-eyed recognition of the world as it is and of the most powerful individuals and forces shaping that world—for better or for worse". The choice provoked sarcasm from one of Russia's opposition leaders, Garry Kasparov, who recalled that Adolf Hitler had been Time's Man of the Year in 1938 and an overwhelmingly negative reaction from the magazine's readership.

On December 4, 2007, at Harvard University, Mikhail Gorbachev credited Putin with having "pulled Russia out of chaos" and said he was "assured a place in history", "despite Gorbachev's acknowledgment that the news media have been suppressed and that election rules run counter to the democratic ideals he has promoted". Nevertheless, on January 28, 2008, Gorbachev in his interview to Interfax "sharply criticized the state of Russia’s electoral system and called for extensive reforms to a system that has secured power for President Vladimir Putin and the Kremlin’s inner circle." Following Gorbachev's interview The Washington Post's editorial said: "No wonder that Mikhail Gorbachev, the Soviet Union's last leader, felt moved to speak out. «Something wrong is going on with our elections», he told the Interfax agency. But it's not only elections: In fact, the system that Mr. Gorbachev took apart is being meticulously reconstructed."

Personal Life

On July 28, 1983 Putin married Lyudmila Shkrebneva, 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 on January 6, 1958. They have two daughters, Maria Putina (born 1985) and Yekaterina Putina (born 1986 in Dresden). The daughters attended the German School in Moscow until his appointment as prime minister.

Putin speaks German with near-native fluency. His family used to speak German at home as well. After becoming President he was reported to be taking English lessons and could be seen conversing directly with Bush and other native speakers of English in informal situations, but he continues to use interpreters for formal talks. Putin spoke English in public for the first time during the state dinner in Buckingham Palace in 2003 saying but a few phrases while delivering his condolences to the Queen. He made a full English speech while addressing delegates at the 119th International Olympic Committee Session in Guatemala City on behalf of the successful bid of Sochi for the 2014 Winter Olympics.

Putin is not included in the world list of billionaires compiled by Forbes or the list of Russian billionaires compiled by the Finance magazine.

One of Putin's favorite sports is the martial art of judo. Putin began training in sambo (a martial art that originated in the Soviet Union) at the age of 14, before switching to judo, which he continues to practice today. Putin won competitions in his hometown of Leningrad (now Saint Petersburg), including the senior championship of Leningrad. He is the President of the Yawara Dojo, the same St. Petersburg dojo he practiced at when young. Putin co-authored a book on his favorite sport, published in Russian as Judo with Vladimir Putin and in English under the title Judo: History, Theory, Practice.

Though he is not the first world leader to practice judo, Putin is the first leader to move forward into the advanced levels. Currently, Putin is a black belt (6th dan) and is best known for his Harai Goshi (sweeping hip throw). Vladimir Putin earned Master of Sports (Soviet and Russian sport title) in Judo in 1975 and in Sambo in 1973. After a state visit to Japan, Putin was invited to the Kodokan Institute where he showed the students and Japanese officials different judo techniques.

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