President Vladimir Putin has ruled Russia since 1999. He first served as the prime minister in 1999 before becoming president in 2000 until 2008 and then prime minister again until 2012. Since May 2012, he has ruled as president.
Putin was born in Leningrad in the Soviet Union and had dreams of being in the KGB. He was recruited into the security agency after finishing a law degree at the Saint Petersburg State University in 1975. It was there that he worked his way up the ranks to Lieutenant Colonel before entering politics, working for the St Petersburg Mayor’s Office.
During this stint, Putin, then in his early forties, used his power to help his friends in the private sector and structure monopolies. He quickly became a friend of oligarchs.
He then became deputy head of the city administration before moving to Moscow in 1996 and becoming Deputy Chief of the Presidential Property Management Department. In 1997, then president Boris Yeltsin appointed Putin the deputy chief of presidential staff and in 1998 the head of the FSB.
But it was in 1999 that Putin really made his mark. Yeltsin made Putin prime minister and following a series of bomb attacks from Chechen rebels, Putin promised to avenge the deaths.
Russia launched a crushing attack on Chechnya which saw Putin’s popularity soar. In December 1999, Yeltsin resigned and Putin was made acting president and he continued to visit the war in Chechnya. Yeltsin’s resignation resulted in an early presidential election in 2000 where Putin won with a majority.
Enter Putin’s first term as president where he was popular for cracking down on corruption and taming oligarchs – allowing them to keep their wealth in exchange for support of his regime. Those who didn’t support him were quickly suppressed. He took office in the wake of an economic crisis and was credited for helping stabilize a struggling economy, bringing unemployment down and increasing foreign investment.
The 2002 Moscow theater hostage crisis, which saw Dubrovka Theater stormed by 40 to 50 armed Chechens and the death of at least 170 people, only helped bolster Putin’s popularity, with his tough guy image reinforced through his handling of the event.
In 2004 Putin was elected for a second term, receiving 71 percent of the vote. Another crisis saw hundreds killed when Islamist terrorists took a school hostage. This prompted Putin to launch an initiative where the governors and presidents of Russia’s federal subjects would be nominated by the Kremlin.
Because the Russian constitution disallows a president to serve two consecutive terms, Putin went back to his role of prime minister while Dmitry Medvedev became president. Relations at this point were reasonably warm with the U.S. but in 2008, the country invaded Georgia and annexed two parts of the country – drawing criticism from the West.
Putin again announced his candidacy for president in 2012 and comfortably won. Since then, he has invaded Ukraine – annexing Crimea – and backed Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad, supplying the country with arms and troops.
The president has been accused of meddled in the U.S. 2016 elections and stoked propaganda in the West in favour of right-wing candidates.
Putin has also been labelled authoritarian – which he denies – and is regarded by some as a threat to Western liberal democracy.
Russia’s upcoming elections in March 2018 are likely to see Putin have a firm grip over the country once again.