Vladimir Putin: A profile

Analysing a former KGB spy is no easy task. The profession makes him a closed character. But peels begin to come off, when the man suddenly finds himself in the limelight - as the president of one of the most powerful nations on Earth. In this case, on the hot seat is Vladimir Putin – the President of Russia. Akrita Reyar delves into the past of this enigmatic personality and conjectures about the print he could leave behind on the Russian matrix.

Akrita Reyar

Born in the erstwhile Leningrad (now St Petersburg) on October 7, 1952, Vladimir Vladimirovich Putin was the only living child of his parents; his two brothers died young. Although, it was officially prohibited by Communist law, Putin was baptized in Russian orthodox faith. Putin, since childhood, was an energetic lad fond of sports, especiallly wrestling, Russian Sambo and judo. He studied law at Leningrad State Universituy and graduated in 1975. Soon after, he joined KGB’s foreign service and operated mainly from Germany. On his return to the former USSR, Putin was back at his alma mater. He became an aide to the Vice-President of Leningrad State University. Putin left the KGB in the 1990 to become an advisor to the chairman of the Leningrad City Council, Anatoly Sobchak. Between 1991-94, he served as the chairman of the committee for foreign relations of St Petersburg Mayor Office and went on to become the deputy mayor in March 1994. In 1996, Deputy Prime Minister Anatoly Chubais recommended him for a job in the presidential administration, where he worked in the capacities of deputy presidential business manager (96-97), and head of the president’s Main Audit Directorate and presidential deputy chief of staff (97-98). In July 1998, Putin was asked to take over as the director of the Federal Security Service. Subsequently, President Boris Yeltsin appointed him as the head of the powerful Security Council. After Yeltsin sacked Sergei Stephashin from the post of Prime Minister on Aug 9, 1999, Putin was appointed the first vice prime minister. He was elevated to the post of acting PM on the same day. The promotion meant that Putin would be the heir apparent to Yeltsin’s throne. So when Boris Yeltsin stepped down, Putin became the acting President. Presidential elections were held on March 26, 2000. Putin got 52.94% votes and was inaugurated on May 7. Vladimir Putin took over as President at a time Yeltsin was on the verge of retirement and had turned the post of the Prime Minister into a game of musical chairs. Putin, a fierce Yeltsin loyalist had no experience of elected office. Very little was known about him. So much so, that when an official biography was released by the Kremlin, it gave only 4 lines of chronological information on him and included a gap of 21 years, from 1975-96. Not one to forget favours, Putin guaranteed Yeltsin immunity for alleged crimes soon after he became the President. His colleagues remember him as a quiet, behind the scenes man, known as the “Grey Cardinal” in his KGB days. But Putin surprised his detractors with his talent of effective public speaking. His deft handling of the Chechen imbroglio established him as man capable of taking tough decisions. Putin infused fresh spirit into the Russian army cowering under the burden of sagging morale. The military force that was beginning to give up the fight, crushed the rebel movement and romped back home – victorious! This single success made him a darling of the masses. Getting the Duma to ratify the CTBT and the Start II treaty was another master-stroke. It was a classic case of turning weakness into strength. Ratifying was not only a respectable way for Russians to open doors for economic aid, it also put egg on America’s face for pursuing its anti-missile shield programme. The downfall, however, was soon to follow. Putin’s mishandling of the Kursk submarine crisis exposed him to a lot of the stick. His misjudging the situation cost Russia 118 lives. But the incident confirmed his zeal as a self-respecting Russian struggling to keep the honour of his country alive. What he learnt from the experience was how vulnerable his country had become. Ironically, the very characteristics that make Putin controversial also make him unique. His ability to take problems head on and his stubborn doggedness to fight the odds give him an edge to steer the Russian ship out of troubled waters. And perhaps go down in the annals of history as one of the greatest leaders ever.

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