Putin, Vladimir Vladimirovich (vlŭdēmˈyĭr vlŭdēmˌyĭrˈəvyĭch pōˈtyĭn) [key], 1952–, Russian government official and political leader, b. Leningrad (now St. Petersburg). After graduating from the Leningrad State Univ. law school in 1975 (he also holds a doctorate in economics), he served in the KGB for 15 years, rising to the rank of lieutenant colonel. From 1990 to 1996 he held several posts in the Leningrad (from 1991, St. Petersburg) city government. Moving to Moscow and the national government in 1996, he held high staff positions in the Yeltsin administration and in 1998 became head of the Federal Security Service (FSB), the KGB's successor.
Regarded as intelligent, tough, and hard-working, Putin was chosen by Yeltsin to succeed Sergei Stepashin as prime minister in Aug., 1999. Putin quickly became popular with many Russians for his September invasion of Chechnya in response to terrorism and the invasion of Dagestan by Chechen militants. After parties aligned with Putin won solid support in the Dec., 1999, parliamentary elections, Yeltsin resigned, and Putin became acting president. In the elections of Mar., 2000, Putin bested ten other candidates to become Russia's president.
Putin moved quickly to reassert the central government's authority over the various republics, regions, and other administrative units and has sought to exert control over elements of the independent media. He also has worked to revamp, and reduce the size of, the military. He won enactment of liberal economic reforms and ratification of international arms agreements, while also renewing ties with former Soviet client states and maintaining Russia's strong opposition to proposed U.S. ballistic missile defenses (see Strategic Defense Initiative).
Although Putin has been, in the main, popular with the Russian public, his reputation suffered when he was perceived to have acted belatedly after the Russian submarine Kursk sank in Aug., 2000. By the end of his second year in office, however, the Russian president's position had visibly strengthened, as he became apparently successful in stabilizing the government and the economy, the latter achieved in part through banking, labor, and private-property reforms and in part through a fortuitous rise in oil prices (Russia's principal export). Legal reforms gave greater protection to the accused and increased powers to judges, bringing Russian judicial practice more in line with that of the West. In 2001 and 2002, Putin criticized, but accepted, the U.S. withdrawal from the ABM treaty as it proceeded with its development of its missile defense system, while signing a treaty reducing the number of U.S. and Russian nuclear warheads and establishing closer relations with the United States and NATO.
Many reforms that had been enacted faltered in their enforcement in the second half of Putin's term, or were not built upon, and Russia's regions and provinces managed to resist central government control in many instances. Putin was reelected in Mar., 2004, in an election that European observers criticized as unfair. Putin subsequently obtained changes that allowed him to appoint regional and provincial governors, increasing the central government's control over the federation's constituents, and a number of republics and other ethnic areas were merged into their surrounding regions. Chechnya, however, remained an ongoing problem. Putin's second term was marked also by increasing government control over Russian oil and gas (often obtained through questionable legal means), the use of economic retaliation against nations that clashed politically with Russia, and the gradual contraction of press freedoms. Relations with the NATO and Western nations, especially the United States and Great Britain, became more confrontational during the same period.
In Dec., 2007, he was elected to the State Duma on the United Russia ticket but postponed taking his seat. Dmitri Medvedev, Putin's handpicked successor, was elected president in Mar., 2008, and Putin became prime minister again and chairman of the United Russia party when Medvedev assumed the presidency in May. Despite stepping down from the presidency, Putin continued to be regarded as Russia's most powerful government official. United Russia's diminished parliamentary victory in 2011 was a setback for Putin and his party, which had come increasingly to be seen as corrupt, but Putin won election to a new, six-year term as president in Mar., 2012. The parliamentary and presidential elections were marred by irregularities and accusations of fraud. Putin stepped down as United Russia's chairman in Apr., 2012, prior to his inauguration as president. The beginning of Putin's third time was marked by increased government suppression of opposition groups, and the reversal of modest human-rights reforms adopted under Medvedev. Putin subsequently became head of the Popular Front, a new political movement.
See his First Person (tr. 2000); biographies by M. Gessen (2012) and A. Roxburgh (2012); F. Hill and C. G. Gaddy, Mr. Putin: Operative in the Kremlin (2012); B. Judah, Fragile Empire: How Russia Fell in and out of Love with Vladimir Putin (2013).
The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.