Putin: Ladies' Man And Autocrat
When Vladimir Vladimirovich Putin, the president of Russia, celebrated his 60th birthday on October 7, 2012, his website published a video portraying him as "the ultimate ladies' man, waited on by a gaggle of adoring, long-legged women." So the news of his divorce from Lyudmila Putina, to whom he was married for almost 30 years, did not come as a surprise. Although Russian politicians rarely speak about their private lives, Putin announced in a televised interview that Lyudmila and he had not lived together for a while and are getting a divorce. Each of them needed to pay a fee of only 400 rubles ($12) at the registry office and wait four weeks for the divorce to become legal.
After graduating from Leningrad State University in 1975, Putin advanced fairly fast in Russia's political hierarchy. As an intelligence officer for the KGB, the Committee for State Security, he was stationed in the Russian-controlled sector of Germany until 1989.
After the demise of the Soviet Union in 1991, Putin returned to Leningrad and became deputy mayor three years later. In 1996 Boris Yeltsin appointed him first deputy head of management, soon afterwards head of the Federal Security (a division of the former KGB), and prime minister in 1999. When Yeltsin resigned, he made him acting president. In 2000, he won the presidential election and was re-elected in 2004.
By Russia's new constitution, Putin was ineligible to run for a third consecutive presidential term in 2008. So he had his friend Dmitry Medvedev run for president--with the understanding that he would appoint Putin prime minister. Eager to be president again, Putin concocted a change in the law and promptly announced that in 2012 he would seek a third term of six years as president. In spite of large-scale protests over his machinations, he again won reelection in March 2012.
During Putin's first eight years as Russia's leader, the country's gross national product (GNP) grew by 72 percent. Real wages more than tripled, while unemployment and poverty decreased by more than 50 percent. The five-fold rise of the price of oil and gas helped to sustain Russia's position as an energy superpower.
While Putin was president, Russia's 450-member Duma (the lower house) and the 178-member Federation Council (the upper house) passed a flat 13 percent income tax and a reduced profits tax. Increasing investments by foreign companies contributed to an industrial boom, particularly in automobile production.
Although early on Putin enjoyed high approval ratings, domestic and foreign critics found his leadership style increasingly "undemocratic." The 2011 Democracy Index of the British Economist found that "a long process of regression culminated in a move from a hybrid to an authoritarian regime" under Putin. WikiLeaks even quoted American diplomatic cables calling Russia a "virtual mafia state" due to corruption under Putin's leadership.
Since Putin first came to power in 2000, Russia's population shrunk by 2.5 million. So he made increasing the country's birth rate with the aid of government incentives one of his key election pledges. In a bid to boost the population numbers from 143 to an ambitious 154 million, he vowed for the government to offer more free kindergarten places, cheaper housing, and a $218 monthly bonus to mothers who have a third child.
Putin opposed the U.S. invasion of Iraq, unless a United Nations Security Council resolution explicitly authorized the use of military force. Putin's unwavering support for the Assad regime in Syria may be based on his opposition to breaking up states and upsetting the Sunni majority, the same fears he is now confronting with his policy of brutally suppressing Chechnya's attempted secession from Russia.On Wednesday, some 15,000 of Russia's activist opposition marched through Moscow again, denouncing Putin's authoritarian rule and calling for the release of 27 people arrested after a protest turned violent on the eve of Putin's re-inauguration more than a year ago. Sixteen of the defendants have remained in jail pending trial on charges that could send them to prison for up to ten years.