Vladimir Putin is renowned as one of the world’s most powerful and influential leaders. Starting his career as a KGB intelligence officer, he rose the ranks and became a politician, held vital government positions before eventually being appointed as Prime Minister in 1999. Since then, Putin has taken a stronghold of Russia’s leadership, leading and asserting the country’s authority and political policies worldwide. Today, he serves as the longest-serving leader in Russia after Joseph Stalin and the second-longest serving president in Europe after Alexander Lukashenko from Belarus. In this article, let’s discover about Vladimir Putin, life, career, and supremacy and how he steered the Russian Federation under his helm for now over the past two decades.
Born on October 7, 1952, Vladimir Vladimirovich Putin hailed from Leningrad, Russia (today’s St. Petersburg, Russia). He was the youngest among the three children of Maria Ivanovna Putina, a factory worker, and Vladimir Spiridonovich Putin, a metal factory foreman and an enlisted Navy personnel. However, Putin never had the chance to bond with his sibling, with his older brothers, Viktor and Albert, dying even before his birth. The former died in infancy and the latter due to diphtheria.
From 1960 to 1968, Putin attended ‘Primary School No. 193’ near their family’s communal apartment residence. At age 12, he started practicing the martial arts forms, sambo, and judo, mastering them at age 16. In 1970, Putin entered the Leningrad State University (now Saint Petersburg State University) and graduated in 1975 with a law degree. During his stay at the university, he met his law professor Anatoly Sobchak, who would then play an influential role in his political career.
Career in KGB
Putin joined the KGB (Komitet Gosudarstvennoy Bezopasnosti) or the Committee for State Security immediately after graduation. He first trained in Okhta, St. Petersburg, and worked as Second Chief Directorate in the counter intelligence department after completing his training.
Soon, Putin was promoted to the First Chief Directorate position and underwent further training in Yuri Andropov Red Banner Institute (now the Academy of Foreign Intelligence) in Moscow. In 1985, he was sent to Dresden, East Germany, with the rank of lieutenant colonel. Putin served as a spy on NATO member nations while “stealing” technology from the West.
He mainly worked as an undercover agent, hiding his identity as a translator, feeding Moscow valuable information. With the fall of the Berlin Wall and the Communist East German Government’s collapse in 1989, Putin had to return home in 1990 and resigned from his active service in the KGB.
Early Political Career
After his retirement, he went back to Leningrad State University and held an administrative position concerning external relations. During this time, Putin was reacquainted with his former professor, Anatoly Sobchak, helping Sobchak win as St. Petersburg’s first liberally elected mayor in 1991, after the collapse of the Soviet Union.
Acting as Sobchak’s advisor allowed Putin to be in the limelight and gain a reputation as an effective politician. It was no surprise that in 1994, he quickly rose to the position of the first deputy mayor. Sobchak lost his re-election bid in 1996, leading to Putin’s decision to resign from the post and move to Moscow.
In the same year, Putin became a part of the administrative staff of Boris Yeltsin, the country’s first President. He worked at the Presidential Property Management Department until 1997. Putin became responsible for transferring the property of the Communist Party and the Soviet Union’s property and assets to the Russian Federation. Acknowledging Putin’s skills, Yelstin then appointed him as Federal Security Service director, KGB’s post-communism version, and as Security Council head in 1998.
First Premiership (1999)
In August 1999, Yelstin dismissed his cabinet, including his prime minister, Sergey Stapashin, and appointed Putin as an acting prime minister. By then, Putin already expressed his intention of running for the highest post in the 2020 national elections.
During his term as prime minister, Putin’s popularity and public-approval ratings catapulted when he led a well-strategized military operation amidst the armed conflict between the Russian Federation and the partially recognized Chechen Republic of Ichkeria.
Furthermore, Putin’s grace and quick decisiveness under pressure served as a breath of fresh air from Yeltsin’s uncanny behavior. Thus, gaining support, Unity, a newly established political party, and seemingly ensuring Putin’s success in the upcoming elections.
Putin as Acting President (1999-2000)
Yet, Putin never had to wait for the election to get a hold of the presidency. Yelstin unexpectedly declared his resignation from his post in December 1999. He appointed Putin as the acting president until the election of the new president.
Yeltsin’s resignation was marred by corruption and bribery issues, but Putin approved a presidential decree upon his appointment, which protected Yeltsin against any prosecution.
While the regular election was slated to happen in June 2020, it was conducted three months earlier, on March 26, 2000. Putin won his first term with his immense popularity against his rivals, earning 53% of the total votes. His promised reforms centered on ending corruption and restructuring the government, and establishing a well-regulated market economy.
First Presidential Term (2000-2004)
After his inauguration in May 2000, Putin started enacting his reforms, first by establishing control over the country, which then had over 89 republics and regions. He designated new seven federal districts instead, with each district having a presidential-appointed representative. Meanwhile, he began to crack down on the influence of financiers, high-profile Russian citizens, and media tycoons by launching criminal investigations and closing down many media outlets.
To improve the country’s dwindling economy, Putin became open to negotiating bargains with the various business oligarchs who gained massive control of the country’s wealth after the fall of the Soviet Union. The “deal” entails the latter keeping much of their power and letting their business flourish in exchange for supporting and playing by the government’s rules.
Yet, like any other officials, Putin’s government was never exempted from challenges and controversies early in his term. On August 12, 2000, the Kursk submarine disaster took the lives of 118 personnel. He was highly criticized for continuing his vacation at a seaside resort and refusing to return and visit the scene of tragedy for over two weeks.
In 2001, Putin threw his support to the United States after the 9/11 attacks and promised to cooperate and assist in its anti-terror campaign. He also offered to help in search-and-rescue operations and became welcoming to the usage of the Russian airspace for humanitarian deliveries. Yet, things changed after the U.S. decided to withdraw from the 1972 Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty and shifted to expelling Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein. Putin strongly objected and joined French Pres. Jacques Chirac and German Chancellor Gerhard Schröder to resist the plans of the U.S. to use force in Iraq.
Another challenging situation tested Putin in 2002 when about 50 Chechnya rebels staged a terrorist attack at Moscow’s Dubrovka Theater and held 850 hostages. Special forces enforced a gas attack by pumping a chemical agent into the theater’s ventilation system, killing 40 insurgents and 130 rebels. While it ended the siege, the press heavily spurned what was deemed a heavy-handed solution to the incident.
After the incident, Putin recalled the initial plans to withdraw Russian troops from Chechnya and launched sweeping attacks and harsh military measures to combat the separatists. In the same year, Putin announced the end of the military campaign, but at the cause of a high number of casualties. In 2003, the people from the Republic of Chechnya voted and adopted a new constitution, keeping their region as a part of Russia but maintaining their political sovereignty.
Second Presidential Term (2004 to 2008)
Russia’s unprecedented growth under his government easily gave Putin the victory in the 2004 Presidential election, earning 71% of the vote. This time, Putin shifted on reverting the economic and social damage brought by the Soviet Union’s fall to the Russian people.
In a speech, he called the Soviet Union’s collapse the 20th century’s greatest geopolitical catastrophe, which desecrated the country, characterized by a failing social safety net and declining life expectancy in the county. In response, National Priority Projects were established in 2005, aiming to improve Russia’s education, housing, agriculture, and health care systems.
In the 2007 parliamentary elections, his political party, United Russia, secured the majority of the seats, allowing them to control the State Duma (lower house). Despite allegations of corruption in the Russian army, criticisms of Putin’s failure to protect the newly independent media, massive opposition protests, and questions on the fairness of the elections, the election results strongly avered Putin’s influence and power. Due to term limits stated in the Russian constitution, Putin was forced to step down in 2008, but not without securing the presidency for Dmitry Medvedev, his protege, and predecessor.
Second Premiership (2008 to 2012)
After his inauguration, Medvedev immediately appointed Putin to be Russia’s Prime Minister. Under the Russian system, the president and prime minister have shared responsibilities as the heads of the government and state. Thus, keeping Putin’s stronghold of power, dominance, and influence in the country for the next four years.
Putin cited two significant achievements in his second premiership. The first was withstanding the effects of the global economic crisis from 2007 to 2008. Second, was finally establishing the country’s population size from 2008 to 2011, finally answering the Russian demographic collapse which began in the 1990s.
In 2011, President Medvedev proposed Putin to run for the 2012 presidential elections, which the latter accepted. With United Russia controlling nearly the entirety of the country’s political system, many people deemed that Putin’s victory was surefire.
Third Presidential Term (2012 to 2018)
Putin once again contested in the presidential election, winning his third term on March 4, 2021, by gaining 63.6% of the votes. Though efforts were made to offer utmost transparency in the elections, his victory was still criticized by the public, opposition, and international observers, citing procedural irregularities and vote-rigging. Amidst the massive protests and fraud accusations, Putin’s inauguration happened on May 7, 2012, at the Moscow Kremlin. As highly expected, he then immediately appointed former president Medvedev as the prime Minister.
On his first day back at the helm, Putin released the “May Decrees,” as fondly called by the media, which included fourteen decrees concerning controversial changes in the economy, housing, education, inter-ethnic relations, domestic affairs, defense industry, and foreign policy.
Two other laws signed into law under Putin’s approval stirred international controversies. In December 2012, a new law prohibited United States citizens from adopting Russian children, citing that it was an action made to make the process easier for Russian citizens to adopt native Russian orphans. It halted the adoption of about 50 Russian children to U.S. citizens after it took effect in 2013.
Russian Gay Propaganda Law and the 2014 Olympic Games
Putin approved the “Russian Gay Propaganda Law,” in June 2013, which banned gay couples from adopting Russian children and banned the use of LGBT symbols and sharing other content or materials to minors that describes sexual relationship outside the traditional norms.
The anti-gay law sparked various protests around the globe from both the straight and LGBT and straight communities. It also led to the call for international boycotts of the 2014 Winter Olympics. Putin said that homosexual attendees and visitors of the major multi-sport event should leave Russian children in peace.
To alleviate rising concerns, Putin then declared in an interview that Russia would strive to make sure that everyone joining and witnessing feel comfortable whatever their race, ethnicity, or sexual preference is. The 2014 Sochi Olympic Games took place from February 7 to 23, with Russia projected to have shelled out $50 to $55 billion for the event.
The Russian-Ukrainian Conflict
In 2014, at the height of the extensive chaos brought by Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych’s ousting and the Euromaidan protests, Putin ordered Russian troops to enter Crimea, a peninsula located in the Black Sea and took control of infrastructure and strategic locations in the region. The Crimean Peninsula was originally part of the Russian Soviet Federative Socialist Republic before it was transferred to Ukraine SSR in February 1954.
Russia then annexed Crimea after the Crimean status referendum. The local population was asked whether they want Crimea to stay as part of Ukraine or be a part and reunite with Russia. The vote results showed that 97% of the people favored Crimea’s integration into Russia. However, the legitimacy referendum to secede the peninsula to Russia was highly criticized, as it was made during Russia’s strong implementation of military presence and at the peak of widespread political unrest in Ukraine.
Putin backed up his decision to send soldiers into Ukraine, claiming it was only done to stabilize Russia’s Black Sea Fleet, which happened to have a headquarters in Crimea. Various countries, international organizations, and communities denounced Russia’s actions, claiming that the country violated Ukraine’s autonomy. Some nations even enacted economic sanctions on Russia due to the event.
However, Putin repudiated allegations by different nations, especially from the United States, that he plans to get into war with Ukraine. He further claimed that while he had the support of the Parliament’s upper house to use force in Ukraine, he deemed that such an approach would be the country’s last measure.
Russia’s Intervention in Syria
Russia has politically backed President Bashar al-Assad’s government since the start of the Syrian conflict in 2011. In September 2015, Russia shocked the world when it declared that it will start providing military aid to Syria and begin airstrikes against the extremist Islamic state after heeding to the Syrian government’s request. It was the first time Russia engaged in direct military involvement after the Cold War in 1991.
However, Russia’s goals were questioned by many international observers, saying that the military assistance was actually aimed at the opposition groups trying to put an end to Bashar al-Assad’s notorious tyrannical rule. In 2017, Putin said he was withdrawing Russian troops from Syria, as the vanquishment of ISIS was already accomplished. Yet, Putin said that he was open to sending back in Russian forces should any terrorist conflict rise again in the region. Nevertheless, Putin’s declaration was denounced by the U.S.’s Pentagon, claiming that such declaration didn’t actually imply actual withdrawal of troops in Syria.
Russian interference in the United States’ 2016 Election
In 2017, Various claims emerged that Russia “meddled” in the 2016 U.S. Presidential Election. A combined report from the U.S. intelligence community released January that year revealed that Putin personally commanded an influence campaign aimed to stain Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton’s image and hurt her chances of winning the presidency against Republican Donald Trump. Meanwhile, there were also allegations that Trump’s campaign organization connived with Russian officials to “sway” the elections in Trump’s favor. Both leaders consistently denied the accusations.
In October 2017, social media giant Facebook revealed that Russia-backed content and political ads reached over 126 million American weeks before the elections. In 2018, the Department of Justice indicted 12 Russian intelligence operatives for federal crimes relating to interference in the 2016 election. Despite the charges filed, Trump implied he was pleased with the Russian leader’s strong refute of the allegations.
Fourth Presidential Term (2018 to present)
Putin won his fourth presidential bid on March 18, 2018, garnering 76 percent of the total from the 67 percent voter turnaround. While many opposed his leadership, his closest rival only won 13 percent of the vote. After his inauguration on May 7, he declared that he would no longer run for the presidency in 2024 in line with the term limits set by the Russian constitution.
In 2020, almost 78% of voters approved the amendments packages in the Russian constitution, including one that boots Putin’s term limit back to zero. This, enabling him to run for two more six-year terms and possibly extending his rule and power in Russia until 2036.
Putin’s Life Outside the Presidency
Putin remains a man of enigma when it comes to his personal life, with little is known about his life outside being leader of Russia. In 1980, Putin met Lyudmila Shkrebneva, a flight attendant and married her on July 28, 1983.
They lived in East Germany and gave birth to two daughters, Mariya Putina, born in 1985, and Yekaterina Putina born in 1986. Both girls were named after their grandmothers. Despite his image, Lyudmila said Putin was a loving father and the one who spoiled her daughters, while she was the one who was more of a disciplinarian.
On June 6, 2013, the couple revealed the end of their marriage, after almost 30 years of being together. In April the following year, their divorce was finalized. The first couple didn’t provide much details about the decision, but assured that it was a mutual choice and that they are civil with each other.
Fond of outdoor activities, Putin is known to do fishing, skiing, ice hockey, horse riding, and whitewater rafting, while also promoting sports and having a healthy lifestyle to his fellowmen. He is also a protector of wildlife and nature, being actively engaged in programs and projects that saves rare species and their natural habitat.
As a believer and member of the Russian Orthodox Church, Putin has been known to promote the restoration and construction of churches in Russia. He also has defended traditional morality, and involved the church in his speeches, setting Christianity in a more notable status in the country.