Russia profile

President: Vladimir Putin

Russian President Putin Mr Putin has devoted a good deal of effort to burnishing his image as a strong leader

Vladimir Putin has been Russia's dominant political figure since his election as president in 2000.

He served two terms as president before becoming prime minister for a four-year spell and subsequently resuming the presidency in May 2012.

His re-election as president was accompanied by months of protests fuelled by allegations of electoral fraud and driven by an embryonic, primarily urban, civil society determined to challenge Mr Putin's rule.

Mr Putin presents himself as a strong leader who took Russia out of the economic, social and political crisis of the 1990s. He also casts himself as a staunch defender of Russia's national interests, particularly against what he portrays as Western attempts to foist alien cultural and political values on Russia.

Russia's annexation of Crimea from Ukraine in March 2014 - a move that Mr Putin said was taken in order to protect Russian speakers in the territory after the ousting of the pro-Russian Ukrainian leader Viktor Yanukovych - was seen by many analysts as part of the Russian president's long-term plan to restore Russian national pride at the same time as boosting his own position.

Critics say that the revival of Russia's economy under Mr Putin is almost wholly based on raw material exports and that little has been done to truly modernise the country's industry and infrastructure. They also say that corruption has flourished under Mr Putin, with much of the new wealth ending up in top officials' pockets and dissent often suppressed to protect the interests of the powerful.

Mr Putin and his allies dismiss his opponents as a small, if vocal, minority without support in the wider population, reliant on Western backing.

Several of Mr Putin's rivals and opposition activists have sought safety abroad or ended up in prison, most prominently the former oligarch Mikhail Khodorkovsky, who spent 10 years in jail following his arrest on tax evasion and fraud charges in 2003.

Some analysts have suggested that Mr Putin's tough response to the February 2014 revolution in Ukraine was driven by the fear that a successful revolt against an authoritarian pro-Russian government in a neighbouring country could bolster opposition groups in Russia itself.

KGB background

Born in St Petersburg in 1952, Vladimir Putin began his career in the KGB, the Soviet-era secret police. From 1990 he worked in the St Petersburg administration before moving to Moscow in 1996. By August 1999 he was prime minister.

Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin rides a horse during his vacation outside the town of Kyzyl in southern Siberia on 3 August 2009 Russian TV famously showed a bare-chested Mr Putin riding a horse in 2009

He was named acting president by his predecessor, Boris Yeltsin, and went on to win presidential elections in May 2000, having gained widespread popularity for his pledge to take a tough line against Chechen rebels. He won again in 2004.

Barred by the constitution from running for a third consecutive presidential term in 2008, he made way for his prime minister, Dmitry Medvedev. On Mr Putin's return to the presidency in 2012, he duly reappointed Mr Medvedev to the premiership. Most observers believe that Mr Putin remained effectively in control throughout Mr Medvedev's presidency.

By the time Mr Putin resumed his old job in 2012, the Russian parliament had extended presidential terms from four to six years, so that he need not seek re-election until 2018.

Russian TV frequently features choreographed macho antics - such as riding horseback bare-chested and shooting a tiger with a tranquilliser gun - meant to bolster Mr Putin's image in the eyes of a domestic audience.

Although still high, Mr Putin's popularity has been dented - at least in the major cities - by claims that the austere persona projected in public conceals a luxury lifestyle, as well as by opposition insinuations about the personal wealth acquired by close associates during his time in office.

Mr Putin married Lyudmila Shkrebneva in 1983, and the couple have two daughters, Maria and Yekaterina. In 2013, after years of rumours about the state of the Putins' marriage, fanned in part by Mrs Putin's increasingly rare public appearances, the couple announced on state TV that they were divorcing.

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