Putin's Rise To Power Quick, Steady
On May 7, Vladimir Putin began the fourth year in his third term as president of Russia. Born 62 years ago in what was then the city of Leningrad (now again Saint Petersburg), he had served from 1975 to 1991 in the internal security agency — KGB — of the former Soviet ,where he advanced to the rank of lieutenant colonel. From 1985 to 1990, he was stationed in Dresden, then in the Soviet-controlled part of Germany, where he learned German and was busy recruiting undercover agents.
In 1996, he moved to Moscow and joined the administration of President Boris Yeltsin. He succeeded Yeltsin in 2000 and served the permissible two consecutive terms. In 2008, his friend Dmitry Medvedev followed him as president and appointed Putin prime minister.
In 2012, Russia's parliament extended the presidential term from four to six years. Putin gained this term in office in spite of large-scale protests, while Medvedev returned as prime minister. The Democracy Index of 2011 described contemporary Russia as being in "a long process [that] culminated in a move from a hybrid to an authoritarian regime."
Little is known about Putin's ancestors, although two Russian journalists speculated that his forebears were linked to the Putyanin clan, "one of the oldest clans in Russian history." At age 18 he began studying law at Leningrad State University, from which he graduated in 1975. He also became a member of the Communist Party and remained in it until its dissolution in 1991.
Following his career in the KGB, Putin's friend Mayor Anatoly Sobchak gave Putin several positions in the administration of Saint Petersburg. After Sobchak lost his bid for reelection, the ailing eltsin called Putin into his administration in Moscow and indicated that he wanted Putin to succeed him.
This occurred late in 1999. In spite of opposition to Putin among Yeltsin's opponents, his "law-and-order" image prevailed over his rivals.
When in 2014 a revolt broke out in Ukraine, Putin was authorized by Russia's parliament to deploy Russian armed forces throughout the southeastern Ukraine and the Crimean peninsula. In a referendum in March 2014, 93 percent of the Crimean voters decided to secede from the Ukraine and become a part of Russia.
Western governments declared the referendum illegal and began punishing Russia with economic sanctions. Putin called the ousting of Ukrainian President Yanukovich a "coup" organized by "nationalists, neo-Nazis, Russophobes and anti-Semites." Two days later, Putin and the new leaders of the Crimea signed a document that made the annexation of the peninsula Russian law.
In August, the president of Russia met in Minsk with the new president of the Ukraine, Petro Poroshenko, urging him to negotiate rather than escalate their military activities. On Dec. 4, Putin called the Russian annexation of Crimea an "historic event" because the area is "Russia's spiritual ground … the same as Temple Mount in Jerusalem for those who confess Islam and Judaism. And this is exactly how we will treat it forever."
Domestically, Putin changed Russia's administrative structure from 89 to seven federal districts. His successor, Medvedev, re-introduced in 2012 the direct election of administrative governors.
From 2001 to 2007, Russia's economy produced average annual gains of 7 percent and thus made its purchasing power the seventh largest economy in the world. A fund for revenues from oil production enabled Russia by 2005 to rid itself of all of the Soviet Union's debts. The income from fuel and energy production were almost half the revenues flowing into the federal budget. During the years of Putin's presidency, many of the world's largest automobile producers opened plants in Russia, encouraged by tax incentives and measures to discourage imports.
Since the turn into this century, the government of Russia also has been spending more funds for the country's defense industry. By 2008, full-scale reforms began in the military, aimed at improving and modernizing it. This included reducing Russia's armed forces to a personnel of about 1 million and augmenting their presence in the Arctic, particularly their submarines.
In recognition of Putin's preeminent role as Russia's leaders, Time magazine made him its "Person of the Year for 2007" and in April 2008 placed him on the list of Time's most influential people in the world. In 2013 and 2014, he was named as the world's most powerful individual.