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Young & Kent: International Relations since 1945 2e

Vladimir Putin

Vladimir Putin was born in Leningrad on October 7, 1952. He graduated in law from Leningrad State University in 1975 and later earned a Ph.D. in economics. After graduation, Mr. Putin was assigned to work in the KGB. From 1985 to 1990, he worked in East Germany.

In 1990, he became assistant to the rector of Leningrad State University responsible for international affairs.

In June 1991, Mr. Putin was appointed chairman of the St. Petersburg City Council’s International Relations Committee and, from 1994, he combined this post with that of First Deputy Chairman of the St. Petersburg City Government (First Deputy Mayor).

In March 1997, he became deputy head of the Executive Office of the President (Presidential Administration) and head of the Central Supervision and Inspections Directorate.

In May 1998, he was promoted to first deputy head of the Presidential Administration.

In July 1998, he was appointed director of the Federal Security Service and, as of March 1999, he combined this position with that of Secretary of the Security Council.

In August 1999, Mr Putin was appointed Prime Minister of the Russian Federation.

From December 31, 1999, he served as acting President.

On March 26, 2000, Mr Putin was elected President of the Russian Federation and then re-elected on March 14, 2004.

He is married to Lyudmila Putina. They have two daughters: Maria (1985), Katerina (1986).

In the weeks that followed his taking control as acting president, Putin sent out a number of conflicting signals. In January Putin fired Tatyana Dyachenko, Yeltsin's daughter and a powerful Kremlin adviser, and seven days later he dismissed Pavel Borodin, controller of the Kremlin's property empire. Both Dyachenko and Borodin had been at the centre of allegations of corruption under investigation by Swiss and Russian authorities. Meanwhile, Putin continued to prosecute the war against Chechnya despite increasing pressure from the West, with both the EU and the IMF threatening to withdraw financial aid to Russia. Grozny finally fell to the Russian troops after a devastating siege in February 2000, but the war continued in the southern mountains of the breakaway republic. The Russian government came under increasing criticism for alleged atrocities committed in the course of the war and for the treatment of prisoners.

Progress was made in relations with the United States when, during President Bill Clinton’s fifth visit to Moscow, both leaders signed a pact on a joint early warning system, the Centre for Monitoring Missile Launches, and also agreed on the timing and manner of disposing of 34 tonnes each of weapons-grade plutonium.

On August 12, 2000, the world’s attention was captivated by the sinking of a Russian nuclear submarine, the Kursk, with 118-man crew, during a naval exercise in the Barents Sea. Putin faced severe internal and international criticism and anger for his handling of the tragedy, which left no survivors. Reports from Moscow were indicative of a power struggle over the fate of the Kursk between reformers and hardliners, especially since Moscow initially refused Western help.

In a move that was interpreted as a further attempt to centralize power, the Duma passed a new law, in February 2001, reducing the number of political parties by banning small groupings. Parties of fewer than 10,000 members with branches in fewer than 45 provinces would no longer be legal. The move outlawed about 90 out of the estimated 180 political groupings in Russia.

Later in 2001 there were also signs of Russia’s increased interest in a closer relationship with the European Union (EU). At a summit in May, Russia declared its openness to an integration with - though not membership of - the organization. Partly in connection with this, a package of anti-corruption laws and legislation aimed at combating money laundering were introduced.

In the aftermath of terrorist attacks on the United States in September 2001, Russia declared its full assistance in the international campaign against terrorism. In particular, the authorities decided to share with the United States their intelligence information concerning Afghanistan, to open Russia’s airspace for “humanitarian purposes”, and to cooperate with Afghan opposition forces. The support for military action concentrated, however, mainly on combating Chechen rebels, some of whom, Russian authorities claimed, were connected to the Al-Qaeda terrorist and military network. Consequently, on the one hand, the relationship between Russia and the United States appeared to have warmed considerably; on the other hand, there was also a major shift in the Western diplomatic perception of the conflict in Chechnya.

President Putin has continued to strengthen his grip on power. The closure in June 2003 of TVS, the last independent television channel, officially as a result of financial considerations, was viewed by many observers as a bid to curb the freedom of the media in Russia. In October, Mikhail Khodorkovsky, the head of the giant Yukos oil company, was arrested and jailed, accused of fraud and tax evasion. Khodorkovsky had been a key supporter of the opposition to President Putin.

In February 2004 Mr. Putin took the drastic step of sacking his entire government, replacing Prime Minister Mikhail Kasyanov with Mikhail Fradkov, the former Russian envoy to the European Union. The move was seen as a further purging of officials of the Yeltsin era ahead of the presidential election scheduled for March. The election brought a landslide victory for Putin, who received 71.2 per cent of the vote.