Friday, December 2, 2011

Vladimir Putin

Vladimir Vladimirovich Putin (born 7 October 1952) served as the second President of the Russian Federation and is the current Prime Minister of Russia, as well as chairman of United Russia and Chairman of the Council of Ministers of the Union of Russia and Belarus. He became acting President on 31 December 1999, when president Boris Yeltsin resigned in a surprising move. Putin won the 2000 presidential election and in 2004 he was re-elected for a second term lasting until 7 May 2008.

Because of constitutionally mandated term limits, Putin was ineligible to run for a third consecutive presidential term. After the victory of his successor, Dmitry Medvedev, in the 2008 presidential elections, Putin was nominated by Medvedev to be Russia's Prime Minister; Putin took the post on 8 May 2008. In September 2011, Putin officially announced that he will seek a third non-consecutive term in the 2012 presidential elections.

Putin is credited with bringing political stability and re-establishing the rule of law in the country. He successfully restored the territorial integrity of Russia in the Second Chechen War. During Putin's presidency, Russia's economy bounced back from crisis, growing for nine straight years and seeing GDP increase by 72% in PPP (sixfold in nominal), poverty decrease by more than 50%, and average monthly salaries increase from $80 to $640. These achievements were ascribed to strong macroeconomic management, important fiscal policy reforms and a confluence of high oil prices, surging capital inflows and access to low-cost external financing, and were described as impressive by analysts.

During his presidency, Putin passed into law a series of fundamental reforms, including a flat income tax of 13%, a reduced profits tax, and new land and legal codes. He put much effort into development of the energy policy of Russia, affirming Russia's position as an energy superpower. This included the renaissance of the nuclear industry in the country and the initiation of construction of several major export pipelines, including ESPO and Nord Stream, among other megaprojects in Russia.

While many reforms and actions made during the Putin presidency have been criticized by Western observers and domestic opposition as un-democratic, Putin's leadership over the return of order, stability, and progress has won him widespread popularity in Russia. Although, recent events and polls show that popularity of Putin is on the decline. Putin often supports a tough guy image in the media, demonstrating his physical capabilities and taking part in unusual or dangerous acts, such as extreme sports and interaction with wild animals. A judoka and a Champion of Leningrad in his youth, Putin has played a major role in development of sport in Russia, notably, helping the city of Sochi to win the bid for the 2014 Winter Olympics.

Early life and education
Putin was born on October 7, 1952, in Leningrad, RSFSR, USSR (now Saint Petersburg, Russian Federation), to parents Vladimir Spiridonovich Putin (1911–1999) and Maria Ivanovna Putina (1911–1998). His mother was a factory worker, and his father was a conscript in the Soviet Navy, where he served in the submarine fleet in the early 1930s, Two elder brothers were born in the mid-1930s; one died within a few months of birth, while the second succumbed to diphtheria during the siege of Leningrad. His paternal grandfather, Spiridon Ivanovich Putin (1879–1965), was employed at Vladimir Lenin's dacha at Gorki as a cook, and after Lenin's death in 1924, he continued to work for Lenin's wife, Nadezhda Krupskaya. He would later cook for Joseph Stalin when the Soviet leader visited one of his dachas in the Moscow region. Spiridon later was employed at a dacha belonging to the Moscow City Committee of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union, at which the young Putin would visit him.

His autobiography, Ot Pervogo Litsa (English: In the First Person), which is based on Putin's interviews, speaks of humble beginnings, including early years in a communal apartment in Leningrad. On 1 September 1960, he started at School No. 193 at Baskov Lane, just across from his house. By fifth grade he was one of a few in a class of more than 45 pupils who was not yet a member of the Pioneers, largely because of his rowdy behavior. In sixth grade he started taking sport seriously in the form of sambo and then judo. In his youth, Putin was eager to emulate the intelligence officer characters played on the Soviet screen by actors such as Vyacheslav Tikhonov and Georgiy Zhzhonov.

Putin graduated from the International Law branch of the Law Department of the Leningrad State University in 1975, writing his final thesis on international law. While at university he became a member of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union, and remained a member until the party was dissolved in December 1991. Also at the University he met Anatoly Sobchak who later played an important role in Putin's career. Anatoly Sobchak was at the time an Assistant Professor and lectured Putin's class on Business Law (khozyaystvennoye pravo).

KGB career
Putin joined the KGB in 1975 upon graduation from university, and underwent a year's training at the 401st KGB school in Okhta, Leningrad. He then went on to work briefly in the Second Chief Directorate (counter-intelligence) before he was transferred to the First Chief Directorate, where among his duties was the monitoring of foreigners and consular officials in Leningrad, while using the cover of being a police officer with the CID[vague].

From 1985 to 1990, the KGB stationed Putin in Dresden, East Germany. Following the collapse of the East German regime, Putin was recalled to the Soviet Union and returned to Leningrad, where in June 1991 he assumed a position with the International Affairs section of Leningrad State University, reporting to Vice-Rector Yuriy Molchanov. In his new position, Putin maintained surveillance on the student body and kept an eye out for recruits. It was during his stint at the university that Putin grew reacquainted with Anatoly Sobchak, then mayor of Leningrad. Sobchak served as an assistant professor during Putin's university years and was one of Putin's lecturers. Putin resigned from the active state security services at the beginning of 1992, after the defeat of the KGB-supported abortive putsch against Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev.

Early political career
In May 1990, Putin was appointed Mayor Sobchak's advisor on international affairs. On 28 June 1991, he was appointed head of the Committee for External Relations of the Saint Petersburg Mayor's Office, with responsibility for promoting international relations and foreign investments. The Committee was also used to register business ventures in Saint Petersburg. Less than one year after taking control of the committee, Putin was investigated by a commission of the city legislative council. Commission deputies Marina Salye and Yury Gladkov concluded that Putin understated prices and issued licenses permitting the export of non-ferrous metals valued at a total of $93 million in exchange for food aid from abroad that never came to the city. The commission recommended Putin be fired, but there were no immediate consequences. Putin remained head of the Committee for External Relations until 1996.

From 1994 to 1997, Putin was appointed to additional positions in the Saint Petersburg political arena. In March 1994 he became first deputy head of the administration of the city of Saint Petersburg. In 1995 (through June 1997) Putin led the Saint Petersburg branch of the pro-government Our Home Is Russia political party. During this same period from 1995 through June 1997 he was also the head of the Advisory Board of the JSC Newspaper Sankt-Peterburgskie Vedomosti.

In 1996, Anatoly Sobchak lost the Saint Petersburg mayoral election to Vladimir Yakovlev. Putin was called to Moscow and in June 1996 assumed position of a Deputy Chief of the Presidential Property Management Department headed by Pavel Borodin. He occupied this position until March 1997. During his tenure Putin was responsible for the foreign property of the state and organized transfer of the former assets of the Soviet Union and Communist Party to the Russian Federation.

On 26 March 1997 President Boris Yeltsin appointed Putin deputy chief of Presidential Staff, which he remained until May 1998, and chief of the Main Control Directorate of the Presidential Property Management Department (until June 1998). His predecessor on this position was Alexei Kudrin and the successor was Nikolai Patrushev both future prominent politicians and Putin's associates.

On 25 May 1998, Putin was appointed First Deputy Chief of Presidential Staff for regions, replacing Viktoriya Mitina; and, on 15 July, the Head of the Commission for the preparation of agreements on the delimitation of power of regions and the federal center attached to the President, replacing Sergey Shakhray. After Putin's appointment, the commission completed no such agreements, although during Shakhray's term as the Head of the Commission there were 46 agreements signed. Later, after becoming President Putin canceled all those agreements.

On 25 July 1998 Yeltsin appointed Vladimir Putin head of the FSB (one of the successor agencies to the KGB), the position Putin occupied until August 1999. He became a permanent member of the Security Council of the Russian Federation on 1 October 1998 and its Secretary on 29 March 1999. In April 1999, FSB Chief Vladimir Putin and Interior Minister Sergei Stepashin held a televised press conference in which they discussed a video that had aired nationwide 17 March on the state-controlled Russia TV channel which showed a naked man very similar to the Prosecutor General of Russia, Yury Skuratov, in bed with two young women. Putin claimed that expert FSB analysis proved the man on the tape to be Skuratov and that the orgy had been paid for by persons investigated for criminal offences. Skuratov had been adversarial toward President Yeltsin and had been aggressively investigating government corruption.

On 15 June 2000, The Times reported that Spanish police discovered that Putin had secretly visited a villa in Spain belonging to the oligarch Boris Berezovsky on up to five different occasions in 1999.

Support and popularity
According to public opinion surveys conducted by Levada Center, Putin's approval rating was 81% in June 2007, and the highest of any leader in the world. His popularity rose from 31% in August 1999 to 80% in November 1999 and since then it has never fallen below 65%. Observers see Putin's high approval ratings as a consequence of the significant improvements in living standards and Russia's reassertion of itself on the world scene that occurred during his tenure as President. Most Russians are also deeply disillusioned with the West after all the hardships of 90s, and they no longer trust pro-western politicians associated with Yeltsin that were removed from the political scene under Putin's leadership. According to the JTA, Putin is popular amongst the Russian Jewish community who see him as a force for stability. Russia's chief rabbi, Berel Lazar said, Putin “paid great attention to the needs of our community and related to us with a deep respect.”

In early 2005, a youth organization called Nashi (meaning 'Ours' or 'Our Own People') was created in Russia, which positions itself as a democratic, anti-fascist organization. Its creation was encouraged by some of the most senior figures in the Administration of the President, and by 2007 it grew to some 120,000 members (between the ages of 17 and 25). One of Nashi's major stated aims was to prevent a repeat of the 2004 Orange Revolution during the Russian elections: as its leader Vasily Yakemenko said, "the enemies must not perform unconstitutional takeovers". Kremlin adviser, Sergei Markov said about the activists of Nashi: "They want Russia to be a modern, strong and free country... Their ideology is clear — it is modernization of the country and preservation of its sovereignty with that."

A joint poll by World Public Opinion in the US and NGO Levada Center  in Russia around June–July 2006 stated that "neither the Russian nor the American publics are convinced Russia is headed in an anti-democratic direction" and "Russians generally support Putin’s concentration of political power and strongly support the re-nationalization of Russia’s oil and gas industry." Russians generally support the political course of Putin and his team. A 2005 survey showed that three times as many Russians felt the country was "more democratic" under Putin than it was during the Yeltsin or Gorbachev years, and the same proportion thought human rights were better under Putin than Yeltsin.

Putin was Time magazine's Person of the Year for 2007. Time said that "TIME's Person of the Year is not and never has been an honor. It is not an endorsement. It is not a popularity contest. At its best, it is a clear-eyed recognition of the world as it is and of the most powerful individuals and forces shaping that world—for better or for worse". The choice provoked sarcasm from one of Russia's opposition leaders, Garry Kasparov, who recalled that Adolf Hitler had been Time's Man of the Year in 1938, and an overwhelmingly negative reaction from the magazine's readership.

On 4 December 2007, at Harvard University, Mikhail Gorbachev credited Putin with having "pulled Russia out of chaos" and said he was "assured a place in history", "despite Gorbachev's acknowledgment that the news media have been suppressed and that election rules run counter to the democratic ideals he has promoted".

In 2007, the tabloid Komsomolskaya Pravda published a huge photograph of a bare-chested Putin vacationing in the Siberian mountains under the headline: "Be Like Putin." In 2010, Russian TV broadcast video of Putin co-piloting a firefighting plane to dump water on a raging wildfire. Such photo ops are part of a public relations approach that, according to Wired, "deliberately cultivates the macho, take-charge superhero image".

Putin's name and image are widely used in advertisement and product branding. Among the Putin-branded products are Putinka vodka, the PuTin brand of canned food, the Gorbusha Putina caviar and a collection of T-shirts with his image.

In April 2008, Putin was put on the Time 100 most influential people in the world list.

Family and personal life
On 28 July 1983 Putin married Kaliningrad-born Lyudmila Shkrebneva, at that time an undergraduate student of the Spanish branch of the Philology Department of the Leningrad State University and a former Aeroflot flight attendant. They have two daughters, Mariya Putina (born 28 April 1985 in St. Petersburg) and Yekaterina Putina (born 31 August 1986 in Dresden). The daughters grew up in East Germany and attended the German School in Moscow until his appointment as Prime Minister. After that they studied international economics at the Finance Academy in Moscow, although it was not officially reported due to security reasons. Putin also owns a black Labrador Retriever named Koni, who has been known to accompany him into staff meetings and greeting world leaders. In 2010 his Bulgarian colleague, Boyko Borisov, gave him a Karakachan Dog who then was named Buffy. Vladimir's cousin Igor Putin is a director of Master Bank.

Putin speaks fluent German. His family used to speak German at home as well. After becoming President he was reported to be taking English lessons and could be seen conversing directly with Bush and native speakers of English in informal situations, but he continues to use interpreters for formal talks. Putin spoke English in public for the first time during the state dinner in Buckingham Palace in 2003 saying but a few phrases while delivering his condolences to the Queen on the death of her mother. He made a full fluent English speech while addressing delegates at the 119th International Olympic Committee Session in Guatemala City on behalf of the successful bid of Sochi for the 2014 Winter Olympics and the 2014 Winter Paralympics. Putin enjoys watching football and he supports FC Zenit Saint Petersburg.

Martial arts
One of Putin's favorite sports is the martial art of judo. Putin began training in sambo (a martial art that originated in the Soviet Union) at the age of 14, before switching to judo, which he continues to practice today. Putin won competitions in his hometown of Leningrad (now Saint Petersburg), including the senior championship of Leningrad. He is the President of the Yawara Dojo, the same Saint Petersburg dojo he practiced at when young. Putin co-authored a book on his favorite sport, published in Russian as Judo with Vladimir Putin and in English under the title Judo: History, Theory, Practice (2004).

Though he is not the first world leader to practice judo, Putin is the first leader to move forward into the advanced levels. Currently, Putin holds a 6th dan (red/white belt) and is best known for his Harai Goshi (sweeping hip throw). Putin earned Master of Sports (Soviet and Russian sport title) in judo in 1975 and in sambo in 1973. At a state visit to Japan, Putin was invited to the Kodokan Institute, the judo headquarters, where he showed different judo techniques to the students and Japanese officials.

Personal wealth
According to the data submitted during the legislative election of 2007, Putin's wealth was limited to approximately 3.7 million rubles (approximately $150,000) in bank accounts, a private 77.4-square-meter (833 sq ft) apartment in Saint Petersburg, 260 shares of Bank Saint Petersburg (with a December 2007 market price $5.36 per share and two 1960s Volga M21 cars that he inherited from his father and does not register for on-road use. Putin's 2006 income totalled 2 million rubles (approximately $80,000). According to the data Putin did not make it into the 100 wealthiest Duma candidates of his own United Russia party.

There have also been allegations that Putin secretly owns a large fortune. According to former Chairman of the Russian State Duma Ivan Rybkin in 2004 and Russian political scientist Stanislav Belkovsky, Putin allegedly controlled a 4.5% stake (approx. $13 billion) in Gazprom, 37% (approx. $20 billion) in Surgutneftegaz and 50% in the oil-trading company Gunvor. Gunvor's turnover in 2007 was $40 billion. The aggregate estimated value of these holdings would easily make Putin Russia's richest person. In December 2007, Belkovsky elaborated on his claims: "Putin's name doesn't appear on any shareholders' register, of course. There is a non-transparent scheme of successive ownership of offshore companies and funds. The final point is in Zug, Switzerland, and Liechtenstein. Vladimir Putin should be the beneficiary owner." Asked at a press conference on 14 February 2008 whether he was the richest person in Europe, as some newspapers claimed; and if so, to state the source of his wealth, Putin said "This is true. I am the richest person not only in Europe, but also in the world. I collect emotions. And I am rich in that respect that the people of Russia have twice entrusted me with leadership of such a great country as Russia. I consider this to be my biggest fortune. As for the rumors concerning my financial wealth, I have seen some pieces of paper regarding this. This is plain chatter, not worthy discussion, plain bosh. They have picked this in their noses and have smeared this across their pieces of paper. This is how I view this."

Evidence in support of the allegations of Belkovsky and others was provided in December 2010 and the early months of 2011 by Sergei Kolesnikov, a businessman with ties to Putin dating from his time in St. Petersburg. In an open letter to Dmitri Medvedev and in media interviews he claimed that he and other named individuals had participated in a scheme that involved a proportion of donations from businessmen including Roman Abramovich and Alexei Mordashov, ostensibly intended for health infrastructure projects, being siphoned off into a Switzerland-based investment fund managed for Putin's benefit. Besides more conventional investments, the fund was allegedly used for the construction of a large Italianate palace for Putin's personal use, nicknamed Putin's Palace, located on the Black Sea coast near the village of Praskoveevka in Krasnodar Krai, Russia. Kolesnikov also claimed that state resources were illegitimately used for the palace's construction. The Kremlin issued a denial of the allegations, which has subsequently been undermined by the investigative journalism of Novaya Gazeta, which found a paper trail leading to the Kremlin.

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