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President Putin - 1999-2008

In August 1999, Putin was appointed Prime Minister. On December 31, 1999, he became acting President. On March 26, 2000, he was elected President of Russia and was inaugurated as president on May 7, 2000. On March 14, 2004, he was elected President of Russia for the second term.

Just a year later, in 1998, Yeltsin appointed Vladimir Putin to head the Russian security services – the FSB. Yet again, his career at this post lasted for only a year – on 9 August 1999 Vladimir Putin was appointed Russia’s prime minister. In those years of political uncertainty, he became the country’s 5th head of government in less than eighteen months. Few expected Putin, who was virtually unknown to the general public, to last any longer than his predecessors. Moreover, his first premiership came amid a worsening crisis in the North Caucasus, where militants from Chechnya had invaded the neighboring Dagestan Republic – that’s when Putin said his memorable phrase about his “firm intention to kill militants even when they’re in a toilet.”

The Chechen military campaign and Putin’s tough stance against it forged his image in – and outside – Russia, and despite hard-fought campaigns by other candidates for the presidency, Putin's hard-line politics, his law-and-order image and his unrelenting approach to the crisis in Chechnya soon propelled him to victory over all his rivals.

Just hours before the clock marked the New Year in 2000, Boris Yeltsin unveiled a big sensation – in a televised address to the nation he announced his early retirement and recommended Vladimir Putin as his successor - another career change in less than a year. On 31 December 1999, in accordance with the Russian Constitution, Putin became acting president upon Boris Yeltsin's resignation. Putin was now a stand-in president of the Russian Federation – a status that changed to president after a presidential election on 26 March 2000 that Putin won in the first round with 52.94 percent of the vote to Communist Gennady Zyuganov's 29 percent.

Major stories from his first term included bringing the oligarchs to heel (Berezovsky went into exile, Khodorkovsky jailed); the sinking of the submarine Kursk; the resurrection of certain Soviet symbols (including the national anthem); terror attacks, including one at Moscow’s Dubrovka Theater in which at least 129 died; steady economic growth and rising living standards; a clampdown on the media, notably the seizure of the NTV television station by Kremlin allies in 2000-2001; an increasingly assertive foreign policy that was critical of the West; and increased military spending.

Vladimir Putin’s first chapter as Russia’s president could be better described as “an up-and-down period in modern Russian history.” Russia’s economy was booming and Putin implemented major changes to the country’s power structure. He also made sure that influential tycoons of the Yeltsin-era, sometimes called oligarchs, would no longer control politics in their favor. Such steps were greeted with support from Russians, most of whom blamed the wealthy businessmen – not always with legitimate backgrounds – for the severe economic crisis of the late 1990s.

Amid a growth in the quality of living, Russia went through a difficult and violent time dealing with Chechen terrorists. On several occasions – like the Moscow theater siege, bombings of metro and apartment buildings in the Russian capital and the hostage taking in a Beslan school – the militants made it clear that they were willing to take the Chechen war beyond the republic’s borders.

The whole country was gripped by fear. In these circumstances, Putin had to react with tough measures. His hard-line policies towards building security in the country were sometimes criticized by the Western media, but after the militant movement in the Northern Caucasus was suppressed and Chechnya finally saw peace, the Russian public openly declared their loyalty to Vladimir Putin. At the start of his second presidential term (which he again won in the first round with 71 percent of the vote), he enjoyed his all-time highest approval rating of more than 80 percent.

On 14 March 2004 Puting was re-elected president in a landslide. He defeated the second-place candidate, Communist Nikolai Kharitonov, 71 percent to 14 percent. Major stories from his second term include: the Beslan hostage crisis, which prompted the abolishment of direct elections for regional governors; concerns about Russia's low birthrate; the growing domination of Putin's United Russia party; tense relations with the West, particularly NATO and Britain; and continued economic growth buoyed by high raw material prices.

Two outspoken critics of Putin, journalist Anna Politkovskaya and ex-spy Alexander Litvinenko, were murdered in 2006, raising concerns in Russia about the stability Putin has been credited with enforcing after the chaos of the 1990s.

Putin was named Time magazine's "Person of the Year" for 2007 for bringing stability and renewed status to his country. Dmitry Peskov, the deputy press secretary for Putin, told ABC News about Time's choice. "It's quite positive news, this choice for 2007. It's a kind of acknowledgement of the vital role that he has played over the last eight years, helping to pull Russia out of the chaos of the '90s and restoring national pride. Undoubtedly, under the leadership of President Putin during these eight years, Russia has re-emerged as a constructive and active voice in shaping the course of international relations and has expanded influence around the globe."

During his time as president, Putin established the Public Chamber of Russia, a committee which reviews draft legislation. He also changed the selection system for governors and presidents of Russia’s regions, introducing presidential nomination followed by approval or disapproval by regional legislatures.

Putin enjoyed high levels of popularity among the Russian public, with many crediting him with bringing economic and political stability to Russia. He is seen as a strong leader and ran the country during a period of high oil prices and capital inflow. He oversaw the recovery from the 1998 crisis and impressive GDP growth. The resulting dependence on commodities, does, however pose a real risk to the economic stability of the country today.

Despite his popularity, Putin was strongly criticized by human rights’ groups for restricting freedom of expression in Russia and the decision to launch the Second Chechen War, during which there were reports of widespread human rights’ abuses. The rise of his close associates and the severe treatment of his opponents, such as Boris Berezovsky, Mikhail Khodorkovsky, have also led to criticism. In a statement released after his death, poisoned dissident Alexander Litvinenko directly accused Putin of orchestrating his assassination.

Putin also agreed to the establishment of US bases in Central Asia ahead of the US-led invasion of Afghanistan in 2001 but opposed the US invasion of Iraq without approval from the United Nations Security Council. Putin opposes the expansion of US and NATO influence in the former Soviet Union, and condemned the US decision to place a missile shield in Poland and the Czech Republic.

As the country continued its vast economic growth during Putin’s second term, which started in 2004, Russia’s foreign policy came into the spotlight. Despite being strongly criticized by the Western media during his second term for what it called “autocracy” and “strangling the freedom of the press,” Putin managed to mend the greatest drawback of the Yeltsin-era – Russia finally had its voice heard in the international arena and became an important player in the global decision-making processes. Putin was strongly critical of US foreign policies. In 2007 he gave a memorable speech during a security conference in Munich, where the Russian leader lashed out at Washington’s attempts to govern the whole planet and called for the creation of a democratic multi-polar world, with the rule of international law.

Some had spoken of Vladimir Putin's "creeping coup" against the forces of democracy and market capitalism in Russia. Putin eliminated independent media by imposing restrictive laws. These led to the takeover or arbitrary closing of all independent national television channels. The international media watchdog group Reporters Without Borders ranked 166 countries in its annual World Press Freedom report. Russia came in 148th.

Security enforcement in the "war against terrorism" consists of harassment of those perceived as "persons of Caucasian nationality" - a blurry category of assorted non-Russians. The "war against corruption" has focused on a series of high profile prosecutions of wealthy Jewish Russian oligarchs [such as Berezovskiy or Khodarkovskiy], for alleged violations of commercial and tax laws. And the "war on drugs" gradually degenerated during the 1990s, focused on the drug dealer (baryga in popular slang), namely, the "Gypsy" [roma].

The administrative and legal obstacles to civil society organizations reduce the prospects for human rights. In 2004, Putin triggered an offensive against human rights organizations when a presidential speech on 26 May 2004 used language reminiscent of the Soviet era. Putin said that foreign "political, economic and media pressure" was being used to weaken Russia's ability to competing globally. Rather than defending "the real interests of the people", Putin said that the priority of some independent groups is "getting financing from influential foreign and domestic foundations, while others serve dubious group and commercial interests".

Putin asserted control over Russia's energy industry and used government power - including imprisonment - against executives who oppose him. The world has watched with concern over his single-handed attempt to put Russia's largest privately held oil company out of business.

With the quagmire of the war in Chechnya and a series of terrorist attacks -- of which the most serious to date had been the October 2003 hostage taking in a Moscow theater and the September 2004 school hostage massacre in Beslan, North Ossetia -- an increased preoccupation with security at all levels of public life was taken for granted by the public.

After Beslan, the coup was no longer creeping - it was running full steam ahead. President Putin used the horrific Beslan attack to consolidate autocratic rule. Putin's reforms were not a result of Beslan, but were a directed effort to expand the power of an already top-heavy presidential administration. The measures that were announced by Putin and were described as anti-terrorist measures were in fact planned long before Beslan. The President had planned for months to centralize political authority, and merely took advantage of the Beslan seizure to unveil the decision.

The total effect of President Putin's new proposals was to move Russia a long way down the road to autocratic rule.

  • He eliminated the popular election of Russia's 89 regional governors, and instead appoint them himself, subject to confirmation by regional legislatures. If a regional legislature fails to confirm the president's nominee three times, the legislature may be dissolved. Regional leaders in power whenthe law entered into force in 2004 were given the option of either serving out their elected terms or resigning early and seeking a presidential appointment to serve a new term. . Putin's initiative to take control over the appointment of regional leaders could lead to future problems because Russia does not have effective political parties that act as transmission belts for the rising generation. The problem with having the presidential administration vet every key leadership position in Russia is that it is very easy to tell the leader what he wants to hear. It eliminates an important check and balance against corruption.
  • He eliminated independent members of parliament, so that Russians could vote only for political parties rather than specific candidates. Political parties - like the powerful one headed by Mr. Putin - would determine the slates. In the December 2003 elections, district races accounted for every independent and liberal serving in the Duma. Under Mr. Putin's plan, these races were abolished. The 2005 election law specified that, for future national elections, the State Duma will be chosen strictly on the basis of party lists. Electoral blocs will be banned and the threshold for a party to be represented in the State Duma will be raised to 7 percent of the vote. According to some experts, the laws worked to the disadvantage of parties not currently represented in the State Duma.

Both of these initiatives expanded the already strong ability of Putin to recruit a new power elite.

Supporters of Putin's policy of "recreating the vertical system of power" said that they would abandon skin-deep facade democracy in the name of genuine democracy that would facilitate the political and spiritual recuperation of Russia. After destroying the Soviets in 1993, Boris Yeltsin created elected authoritarianism with a democratic facade. And now Putin was trying to rationalize democracy in order to control the country and save the social fabric. In Russia, which has never had civil society before and where the living standards of the majority of the population are poor, elections often became a farce. Public politics and electoral democracy outstripped the real interests and requirements of the bulk of population. Thus the nation was largely been indifferent to the debates on the election procedure and the appointment of heads of Federation entities, as it had no bearing on the life of ordinary people.

By 2007 there was some disquiet and a fair measure of embarrassment within the hothouse of Moscow politics over the trappings of the cult of personality that had begun to form around Putin. Raising eyebrows have been the ubiquitous "Putin's Plan - Russia's Victory" billboards that blanket the country; the 10,000 youth activists who celebrated the President's October 7 birthday in downtown Moscow, undissuaded by pouring rain.

Whether it was the "degeneration of the Russian elite" or a real grass-roots swell to secure the continuation of the one post-Soviet leader whose rule is associated with stability and economic growth, the fact of Putin's outsized personality and domination of the political scene was viewed by political opposites as a paralyzing distortion of Russian politics.

On 01 October 2007 President Vladimir Putin said he could become prime minister in 2008, if the United Russia party wins the December 2007 parliamentary elections, and that he will head the pro-presidential party's list. "Heading the government is realistic, but it is too early to consider it," Putin said at a party congress in reply to a proposal from United Russia to head the government. He added that this would be possible under two conditions. He said the first condition was United Russia's victory in the lower house, State Duma, elections in December 2007, and the second is the election of an efficient person to the post of Russian president in March 2008.

In a news conference at the Kremlin on 10 December 2007, Putin sat at a table with Medvedev, United Russia party leader Boris Gryzlov, A Just Russia leader Sergei Mironov, the leader of the Civil Force Party and the Agrarian Party. Gryzlov said he offered his support for Medvedev and Putin assented. "I fully support this candidacy," he said. The next day, Medvedev said, if elected, he would ask Putin to serve as his prime minister.

Vladimir Putin was Prime Minister of Russia from May 8, 2008. Putin was widely expected to return to the job for a third term after President Dmitry Medvedev in September 2011 agreed to step aside, in a job swap with Putin. The Putin-Medvedev job swap plan was unveiled 24 September 2011 at a congress of Russia’s ruling United Party. The congress immediately rubber stamped it.

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Page last modified: 10-04-2019 11:56:08 ZULU