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Vladimir Putin (born 07.10.1952) - Russian politician.

 / putin photoPutin was born in Leningrad (Saint Petersburg since 1991 and before 1914). His biography, translated into English under the title First Person and based on interviews conducted with Putin in 2000 was paid for by his election campaign. It speaks of humble beginnings, including early years in a rat-infested tenement in a communal apartment. According to his biography, 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.

In the same book, Putin notes that his paternal grandfather, a chef by profession, was brought to the Moscow suburbs to serve as a cook, at one of Stalin's dachas. In "The Court of the Red Tsar" by Simon Sebag Montefiore, a footnote on page 300 cites Putin as saying that while his grandfather did not discuss his work very often, he recalled serving meals to Rasputin as a boy and also prepared food for Lenin. His mother was a factory worker and his father was conscripted into the navy, where he served in the submarine fleet in the early 1930s. His father subsequently served with the land forces during the Second World War. Two older 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.

Putin graduated from the International Department of the Law Faculty of the Leningrad State University in 1975 and was recruited into the KGB. In First Person, Putin described to journalists his early duties in the KGB, which included suppressing dissident activities in Leningrad.

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 1990 he assumed a position with the International Affairs section of Leningrad State University, reporting to the Vice-Rector. In June 1991, he was appointed head of the International Committee of the St Petersburg Mayor's office, with responsibility for promoting international relations and foreign investments.

Putin formally resigned from the state security services on August 20, 1991, during the KGB-supported abortive putsch against Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev. In 1994 he became First Deputy Chairman of the city of Saint Petersburg, a position he retained until he was called to Moscow, in August 1996, to serve in a variety of senior positions in Boris Yeltsin 's second Administration. He was the first civilian head of the FSB (the successor agency to the KGB) from July 1998 to August 1999, and also served as Secretary of the Security Council from March to August 1999.

During the 1990s, Putin received a sub-doctoral level degree in economics from a mining institute in St Petersburg. His dissertation was titled "The Strategic Planning of Regional Resources Under the Formation of Market Relations."

Putin was appointed Chairman (predsedatel', or prime minister) of the Government of the Russian Federation by President Boris Yeltsin in August 1999, making him Russia's fifth prime minister in less than eighteen months. On his appointment, few expected Putin, a virtual unknown, to last any longer than his predecessors. Yeltsin's main opponents and would-be successors, Moscow Mayor Yuriy Luzhkov and former Chairman of the Russian Government Yevgeniy Primakov, were already campaigning to replace the ailing president, and fought hard to prevent Putin's emergence as a potential successor. Putin's law-and-order image and his unrelenting approach to the renewed crisis in Chechnya (see below) soon combined to raise his popularity and allowed him to overtake all rivals. While not formally associated with any party, Putin was supported by the newly formed Edinstvo (unity) faction, which won the largest percentage of the popular vote in the December 1999 Duma elections. Putin was reappointed as Chairman of the Government, and seemed ideally positioned to win the presidency in elections due the following summer. 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 was appointed as the second (acting) President of the Russian Federation. Presidential elections were held March 26, 2000, which Putin won in the first round. Later Putin granted the former president and his family full immunity from prosecution (via presidential decree). Shortly before, Yeltsin and his family had been und scrutiny for charges related to money-laundering by the russian and swiss authorities.

After many years of scandal, erratic policy making and a general sense of national malaise under the aged, awkward and ailing Yeltsin, Putin's election appeared to mark a new beginning in Russia's post-Soviet history. However, the new president's election was due in no small measure to Yeltsin's inner circle, who had selected and supported Putin with a view to maintaining their own power and privilege. As Putin's new administration took shape, members of the Yeltsin-era nomenklatura including Chief of Staff Alexander Voloshin and Prime Minister Mikhail Kasyanov retained significant control over the policies and direction of the new government. On the other hand, Putin was also backed by a team of economic reformers from his native St Petersburg, and could rely as well on support from the siloviki. (The latter group are defined as members of Russia's still-powerful security services, who regard themselves as the defenders of Russia's permanent national interests in the face of rapacious politicians and officials, and who are also well-informed about all aspects of Russia's political and economic life.) The tension and cooperation between these various groups was a central feature of Putin's first term in office.

Upon his election, Putin undertook measures to restore the primacy of the Kremlin in Russia's political life. Under Yeltsin, Russia's 89 sub-federal political territories (republics, oblasts, krai, and Moscow and St Petersburg) had been granted unprecedented autonomy. While this radical move had been intended to help Yeltsin's political maneuvers in the early 1990s, it also led to a highly irregular federalism and contributed to the growth of separatist movements, most notably in Chechnya. One of Putin's first acts, therefore, was to attempt to restore what he referred to as the "power vertical" i.e. a return to the traditional top-down federal system. As a first step, Putin announced the appointment of seven presidential "plenipotentiary representatives" who were explicitly charged with coordinating federal activity in newly-defined super-regions. While billed as a seminal break with Yeltsin-era federalism, for a variety of reasons the plenipotentiary system has encountered mixed success. Of more lasting significance, Putin also instituted a major reform of Russia's upper house of parliament, the Federation Council. Putin and his team also entered into head-on confrontations with several uncooperative governors accused of corruption, though with only mixed success.

The initial months of Putin's first term were also marked by a settling of scores among elite financial-industrial groups, whose monetary resources and media empires had been critical weapons in the domestic political war that had been waged over the previous year. Leading members of the old Yeltsin group known informally as "the Family" were determined to punish the losing camp, headed by Vladimir Gusinsky, which had backed the Primakov/Luzhkov ticket. Gusinsky had rendered himself vulnerable since his media empire was a chronic money loser and was deeply indebted, surviving on loans from Gazprom and the Luzkhov-controlled Bank of Moscow. Within a year of Putin's election, Gusinsky went from being a would-be kingmaker to living in self-imposed exile; his once-influential media conglomerate (Media-MOST) dissolved into bankruptcy due to a cut off in credits by state-owned and state-allied businesses and under the weight of criminal and civil court decisions.

The first acute crisis which Putin faced as president arose in August 2000, when the Russian nuclear submarine Kursk sank off the Kola peninsula, killing 118 sailors on board. Many people across a wide spectrum of Russian society were angered by the failure of the government and the military to release credible information about the scale and certainty of the disaster in first days of the tragedy. After several days of mounting public confusion and anger, Putin cut short his vacation and returned to Moscow to take charge of the crisis. Until the submarine was raised, the governmental commission of investigation into the disaster took into account various versions including a collision with a "NATO" submarine (a theory that was never supported by evidence and which was denied by the Alliance states). While Putin was criticised by the Russian media for his inaction during the initial stages of the crisis, it did not have a lasting effect on his image and popularity.

Putin has been unenthusiastic about erasing Russia's Soviet past from memory the previous policy of Boris Yeltsin aimed primarily at his Communist rivals. He has stated his belief that whatever the crimes of the Communist regime, it was nevertheless an important part of Russian history and has a formative influence on the creation of modern Russian society. As a result, some Soviet-era symbols have been allowed to return to Russia, such as the trademark red military flag, the "Soviet Star" crest, and the Soviet national anthem (although with revised lyrics) all of which have resonated well with the majority of Russia's population. In responding to critics of these moves, Putin has argued that he is the president of all Russians including those such as the retirees who lost out in the post-Soviet transformation, and who understandably cling to symbols of the past.

A pro-Putin United Russia party won a landslide victory in the 2003 parliamentary elections. Official foreign observers called the election itself free, but noted that the largely government-run media, especially Russian national TV, had massively and unfairly campaigned for the governing party only. Indeed, most Russian TV stations are now controlled directly or indirectly by the Kremlin. While reaching a much more limited audience, newspapers are more diverse; some are critical of the Kremlin, while others promote the government line. One of the two main business newspapers, Kommersant, is controlled by Boris Berezovsky, while the other the highly respected Vedomosti is co-owned by the Financial Times and the Wall Street Journal.

Domestic and foreign critics accuse Putin of having orchestrated the trials of oligarchs such as Boris Berezovsky, Vladimir Gusinsky, and later Mikhail Khodorkovsky as part of an effort by his Kremlin to gain control over the media and large sectors of the Russian economy. For its part, Putin's administration has argued that its actions against the oligarchs are founded in the letter and spirit of the law, and are intended to contain and reverse serious damage inflicted on Russia's economy by years of insider capitalism.

On 24 February 2004, less than a month prior to the elections, Putin dismissed Prime Minister Kasyanov and the entire Russian cabinet and appointed Viktor Khristenko acting prime minister. On March 1, he appointed Mikhail Fradkov to the position.

On March 14, 2004, Putin won re-election to the presidency for a second term, earning 71 percent of the vote. Again, there was massive and one-sided campaigning for Putin by Russian television channels, most of which are state owned and controlled. Nevertheless, the election campaign and the actual balloting were both declared "free and fair" by an international observation mission run by the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe's Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights.

On September 13, 2004, following the Beslan school hostage crisis, and nearly-concurrent Chechen terrorist attacks in Moscow, Putin launched an initiative to replace the election of regional governors with a system whereby they would be proposed by the President and approved or disapproved by regional legislatures. Opponents of this measure, including Mikhail Gorbachev, Boris Yeltsin, and Colin Powell, criticised it as a step away from democracy in Russia and a return to the centrally run political apparatus of the Soviet era. On that same day, Putin also publicly backed a plan by the Central Elections Commission for the election of Duma deputies based entirely on proportional representation, ending the election of half of the legislators from single-member constituencies.

On April 25, 2005, Putin caused some controversy when, in a nationally televised speech before the Duma, he referred to the collapse of the Soviet Union as "the greatest geopolitical catastrophe of the century." This remark was critically received in the West and in some neighboring states; Putin subsequently clarified that he was not praising the former Soviet Union but rather highlighting in an altogether objective fashion the dramatic impact the collapse of the USSR had had on the world, particularly on the economic and social well-being of the populace from countries making up the former USSR and the displacement of people caused in part by the anti-Russian backlash in many of these countries.

One of the most controversial aspects of Putin's second term was the prosecution of Russia's richest man, Mikhail Khodorkovsky, President of Yukos oil company. While much of the international press saw this as a reaction against a man who was funding political opponents of the Kremlin, both liberal and Communist, the Russian government has argued that Khodorkovsky was in fact 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. Certainly, many of the initial privatizations, including that of Yukos, are widely believed to have been fraudulent (Yukos, valued at some $30bn in 2004, had been privatized for $110 million), and like the other oligarchic groups, the Yukos-Menatep name has been frequently tarred with accusations of links to criminal organisations. Oligarchs who have been more willing to toe the Kremlin line, such as Roman Abramovich and Vladimir Potanin, have not had their fortunes subjected to the same intense and critical examination.

Putin's rise to public office in August 1999 coincided with an aggressive resurgence of the near-dormant conflict in the North Caucasus, when Chechen extremists regrouped and invaded neighbouring Daghestan. Both in Russia and abroad, Putin's public image was forged by his tough handling of this dire challenge. During the autumn 1999 campaign for the Duma, Kremlin-controlled or allied media accused Putin's chief rivals of being soft on terrorism. On assuming the role of acting President on December 31, 1999, Putin proceeded on a previously scheduled visit to Russian troops in Chechnya; one of the earliest images Russians saw of their new leader was the acting president presenting hunting knives to soldiers. Throughout the winter of 2000, Putin's government regularly claimed that victory was at hand. In recent years, with the situation stalemated, Putin has distanced himself from the management of the continuing conflict.

While President Putin is criticized as an autocrat by some of his Western counterparts, his relationships with US President George W. Bush, former German Chancellor Gerhard Schroder, French President Jacques Chirac, and the former Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi are apparently friendly. Putin's relationship with Germany's new Chancellor, Angela Merkel, is expected to be "cooler" and "more business-like" than his partnership with Gerhard Schroder.

During his time in office, Putin has attempted to strengthen relations with other members of the CIS. The "near abroad" zone of traditional Russian influence has again become a foreign policy priority under Putin, as the EU and NATO have grown to encompass much of Central Europe and, more recently, the Baltic states. While tacitly accepting the enlargement of NATO into the Baltic states, Putin attempted to increase Russia's influence over Belarus and Ukraine.

Putin surprised many Russian nationalists and even his own defense minister when, in the wake of the September 11 attacks in the United States, he agreed to the establishment of coalition military bases in Central Asia before and during the US-led invasion of Afghanistan. Russian nationalists objected to the establishment of any US military presence on the territory of the former Soviet Union, and had expected Putin to keep the US out of the Central Asian republics, or at the very least extract a commitment from Washington to withdraw from these bases as soon as the immediate military purpose had passed.

During the Iraq crisis of 2003, Putin opposed Washington's move to invade Iraq without the benefit of a United Nations Security Council resolution explicitly authorizing the use of military force. After the official end of the war was announced, American president George W. Bush asked the United Nations to lift sanctions on Iraq. Putin supported lifting of the sanctions in due course, arguing that the UN commission first be given a chance to complete its work on the search for weapons of mass destruction in Iraq.

In 2005, Putin and former German Chancellor Gerhard Schroder negotiated the construction of a major oil pipeline over the Baltic exclusively between Russia and Germany. Schroder also attended Putin's 53rd birthday in Saint Petersburg the same year.

Putin was married to Lyudmila Putina, a former airline stewardess and teacher of German, who was born in Kaliningrad, (formerly Konigsberg). They have two daughters, Maria (born 1985) and Yekaterina (Katya) (born 1986 in Dresden). The daughters attended the German School in Moscow (Deutsche Schule Moskau) until his appointment as prime minister.

Putin is a practicing member of the Russian Orthodox Church. His conversion, which most observers agree was sincere, followed a life-threatening fire at his dacha in the early 1990s. Very unusual for communist Russia, his mother had been a regular church-goer. His father was a communist and atheist (although he seems not to have objected to his wife's beliefs).

Putin speaks German with near-native fluency, and has passable English.



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