Recently, Vladimir Putin – the President of the Russian Federation – went missing for 10 days and had the whole world in uproar. He was either dead, had a stroke or was in Switzerland witnessing the birth of his love child. Now that he has resurfaced, and is vehemently denying anything quite so interesting was going on, all these rumours seem a little foolish. What this does show us, is that the world senses an air of mystery around President Putin. So who, really, is this judoing, barechested-horseriding President?
Putin spent 15 years, from the age of 23, working for the KGB – The Committee for State Security for the USSR – and to this day still defends the actions of this agency, including the purges on direction of Joseph Stalin. Once the Berlin Wall had fallen in 1989 he entered the public service. By mid 1999 he was Prime Minister and on the last day of the millennium (less than six months later) he became President.
As a man from humble means and with such a quick ascension; one wonders if it was his outstanding skills, unwavering loyalty to his country or something else entirely. Sadly, despite doing extensive research, I cannot find an explanation clear and cohesive enough to convince me of the manner in which Putin managed to become President after only four years in Moscow. Curiously, Putin previously stated he decided not to pursue a higher rank within the KGB because it would mean moving his family to Moscow, something he was later quite willing to do for a career in politics. Oddly enough, despite being recently divorced, having two children and parents with an interesting story, nothing compels me to include these things in the story of President Putin – his life seems revolve around one man alone.
On the 26th of March 2000, after having been acting President for three months, Putin won the presidential election and did so again in 2004. But at the beginning of 2008, Putin’s time seemed to be up. In Russia the constitutions states that nobody can consecutively be President for more than two terms and Putin seemed to honour Russia’s laws by stepping down. What this in fact inspired is now known as a Tandemocracy where Medvedev, a former deputy prime minister and Putin loyalist, became President and Putin Prime Minister:
“He (Putin) also personally led the candidate list of the ruling United Russia party to a landslide win in the 2007 parliamentary elections, orchestrated the election of his younger protégé Medvedev as presidential successor, and then assumed the formal leadership of United Russia. Medvedev closed the circle by nominating Putin to be prime minister, a choice quickly ratified by the comfortable United Russia majority in parliament.” – Henry E. Hale and Timothy J. Colton
This Tandemocracy, which left Putin at least largely in control, screams illegitimacy. However one cannot neglect to mention that support for Putin during the 2008 elections (and thus for Medvedev as his representation) was higher than for any other candidate. This, of course, may be largely due to the fact that many Russians either primarily or solely rely on state sponsored news and information. Information which was predominantly seen as unbiased towards Medvedev and Putin – something which objective analysis has found to be false.
Once the Medvedev’s presidential term was up, Putin once again entered the race to become Russia’s president in 2012 and, as most of us will be aware of, he was successful. Both opposition to Putin and the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe have voiced their problems with this election.
“There was no real competition and abuse of government resources ensured that the ultimate winner of the election was never in doubt.” – OSCE
Fast-forward to 2014 and, despite widespread condemnation of his re-election to the Presidency in 2012, Putin seems to be more popular than ever.
This is surprising enough, considering the manner in which he has managed to keep himself in power throughout the 21st Century. However, when you consider his stringent anti-gay (propaganda) legislation, his role in the MH17 disaster and the plummeting of the Russian Ruble, even more sceptical eyebrows should be raised.
Maybe, all a long, it has been his fierce defence of and commitment to the Motherland – extending all the way back to the USSR – which has kept him at the centre of Kremlin control. In a country where the majority thinks that the USSR did more good than harm to the people of Russia and the annexation of Crimea is celebrated as nationalist.
Maybe, certainly alongside critical manipulations and propaganda, that is what really defines him and is the reason for Vladimir Putin’s success.
Sources and Further Reading:
A CBC News timeline of Putin’s Life
Academics Hale & Colton on Russia’s Tandemocracy
Washington Post’s description of Putin’s KGB Career
The Guardian explains Putin’s everlasting popularity
NPR recounts Putin’s younger years
Academics Bacon, Renz and Cooper discuss Putin’s Domestic Politics
Academic Richard Sawka describes Putin’s Rise to Power
Reuters chronicles the first two terms of Putin’s Presidency
The Guardian stating the 2012 Presidential Election was skewed
Gallup’s statistical research describes political opinion in Russia
The Guardian depicts celebrations of the annexations of Crimea