Russia profile - Leaders

  • 25 February 2015
  • From the section Europe
Russian President Vladimir Putin gestures after signing a treaty to incorporate Crimea into Russia in the Kremlin in Moscow on 18 March 2014.
After the annexation of Crimea from Ukraine in early 2014, Mr Putin rode a wave of nationalistic fervour

President: Vladimir Putin

Vladimir Putin has been Russia's dominant political figure since his election as president in 2000, serving two terms and then a four-year stint as prime minister, before resuming the presidency in 2012.

Since his re-election against only token opposition, Russia's authorities have further tightened control over the media, muffled an embryonic opposition movement and adopted a stridently nationalist and anti-Western course to shore up domestic support, in contrast to a previous emphasis on stability and growing prosperity.

The last process accelerated with Mr Putin's tough response to the toppling of the pro-Russian government in Ukraine by pro-EU protests in early 2014.

Russia subsequently seized Crimea from Ukraine - a move that prompted Mr Putin's domestic approval rating to soar - and Ukraine alleges that the Kremlin is closely engaged in the violent pro-Russian rebellion in its far east. Moscow denies the accusation.

Mr Putin's government claims that the West's involvement in Ukraine encroaches on Russia's sphere influence in the post-Soviet states and near its borders, and forms part of a wider US-led plot to weaken both his rule and Russia as a whole.

Russian President Vladimir Putin and Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev at a a wreath-laying ceremony at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier in Moscow on 23 February 2015.
Mr Putin swapped jobs with Dmitry Medvedev (l) to return to the presidential office in 2012, prompting protests.

Some analysts believe the Kremlin fears that a successful revolt against an authoritarian government in a neighbouring country could bolster opposition in Russia itself.

The president presents himself as a strong leader who took Russia out of the economic, social and political crisis of the 1990s and defends Russia's national interests, particularly against what he portrays as Western to corner Russia and foist its cultural values on it.

Critics say that since taking power, Mr Putin has created an almost neo-feudal system of rule by patronage and endemic corruption that concentrates control over key economic resources in the hands of a narrow circle of close associates, and is smothering economic dynamism, democratic development and a nascent civil society to protect itself.

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.

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.

A bare-chested 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 has at time cultivated a macho image of Mr Putin, including - most famously - footage of him riding a horse bare-chested.

He was named acting president by his predecessor, Boris Yeltsin, and went on to win presidential elections in May 2000, having gained popularity for launching a successful offensive against Chechen rebels, following a mysterious series of deadly explosions in Russian cities. 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, before the two swapped roles in 2012.

By this time, the Russian parliament had extended presidential terms from four to six years, so that Mr Putin - already one of Europe's longest-serving leaders - could potentially stay in power until 2024.

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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