An In-Depth Analysis of Putin's Biography, Views and Personality

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Who is Putin

“We don't need a weakened government but a strong government that would take responsibility for the rights of the individual and care for the society as a whole.” Vladimir Putin

Putin is Russian politician and a former intelligence officer who is now serving as President of Russia for the fourth time while he has served as the Prime Minister of the country from 2008 to 2012. Putin has been a significant figure regarding the matters of Eurasia specifically and of the world generally. The return of Russia into world matters is credited to Putin especially after the fall of USSR and a decade of disappointment for the Russians. Due to remaining in the power for a long time, Putin has understood the mindset of the public and the results of all the elections give clear explanation to why Putin survived so long. His experience in the secret service agencies in the former Soviet Union and over-the-time maturity in policies became salient features of his reign. Today, any foreign policy in any major power of the world cannot be formulated without thinking about Russia and Putin.

Family Background

Vladimir Putin was born on Oct 7, 1952 in Leningrad, a city in the former USSR, renamed St Petersburg afterwards. At the time of birth of Putin, Leningrad was just recovering from the massive destruction of the Second World War as it was besieged and heavily bombarded by Germans for almost 900 days.” …a city of hunger, poverty, destruction, aggression and death”. (Gessen, 2012). Residents of Leningrad were living in flats locally called kommunalka and here’s where Putin and his family lived in his early childhood days along with other families of the city.

His parents Maria and Putin were among the survivors of the siege. His father (Vladimir Spiridonovich Putin) was a former military man and was wounded in the early Soviet-German war. He was badly wounded during this war while fighting against Germans to save their city, Leningrad. Later on he worked as toolmaker and foreman in many industries. His mother (Maria Ivanovna Putina (Shelomova)) was a factory worker. Putin was the third son of his parents but unfortunately neither of the other two could live longer enough.

Marriage

Lyudmila was a student of philology at Leningrad University. Putin met Lyudmila when she was a flight attendant in domestic airlines. They married after sometime and welcomed their first daughter Maria before Putin’s departure to Germany. Their second daughter Ekaterina was born in Dresden in 1986. They named their daughter in honor of their grandmas. Putin and his wife Lyudmila parted their ways after 30 years in 2013 when they announced their separation in an interview.

Education

During the time of 1960-1968 he went to Primary School No. 193 and then to High School No. 281in Leningrad. The High School Putin was attending was a Chemistry-directed school. During the school years, Putin was more a thug than a student as he in his interview to his biographers he told: “of course I was not a pioneer, I was a hooligan.” But this was his status until the sixth grade. From hereon he pushed himself harder academically as well in discipline perspective as was ultimately rewarded by being included in “Young Pioneers” and ultimately to be elected its chairman. At the age of ten or eleven he got interested in martial arts but his parents did not like it at first. (Vladimir Putin)

His determination to work for the state secret services intelligence got him through difficult scrutiny of a prestigious university, State University of Leningrad and finally he was admitted as law student. He did his under graduate thesis on “The Most Favored Nation Trading Principle in International Law”. He completed his graduation in International Law in 1975. (Hoffman, 2000)

KGB

What is KGB

Komitet Gosudarstvennoy Bezopasnosti, KGB was a secret service intelligence agency created in 1954. It was considered “sword and shield of the Communist Party”. It became the counter-acting agency of USA’s CIA during the Cold War. It not only conducted foreign operations but also watched over the activities of its nationals in order to secure the political benefits of the Communist Party. KGB hired a very large number of young people as spies and undercover agents to work for it. Mostly they were appointed within the country to keep an eye on the activities of political opponents. Senior KGB officials including its head were involved in a coup against reformer Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev. After the decline of USSR, KGB was succeeded by FSB, which was operated by the state. Before becoming Prime Minister, Putin also became the head of FSB.

Why KGB

Why did he join KGB, remains an unanswered question. But one can get a clue from the era when KGB was fully operative in USSR. In 1970s, KGB was considered as “the sword and the shield” of the revolution. Then it was very common for the boys of Putin’s age to get attracted by the shows and movies of that time. Moreover, KGB had a dark side. It had its spies and working machinery in all those places where youth could have an attachment; in schools, factories and different institutions to allure young people. Two perspectives can be helpful to understand why Putin went to KGB. First one is that Putin and youth like him had an urge to fight against the prevailing imperialism at that time. Second is Putin’s strong patriotism that pushed him to go against those who were, in his thinking, doing wrong to motherland by aiding foreign powers remaining within Russia. Whether internal or external factors mattered, he was pleased to join KGB at once. (Kipp, 2001)

His Desire to Join

A year before finishing his high school, probably at 16, he went to KGB headquarters and asked for his recruitment. Officials told him that the best way to get recruited was to serve in the military or to study law. (Sakwa, 2007). When he was in fourth year in the university, he was contacted by and was assigned to work for KGB, because he was “energetic, flexible and brave but most importantly he was good at connecting with people and that was a good quality for an officer of KGB”. After university, Putin spent 6 months in KGB officer training in Leningrad and a year’s training in Moscow. In 1984, he joined Andropov Red Banner Institute a spy school in Moscow for his trip to Germany. He worked in counter-intelligence section and afterwards he was transferred to First Chief Directorate where his job was to do surveillance on foreigners and consular officials. (Hoffman, 2000).

Posting to Dresden

He was assigned to work for KGB in Dresden, an industrial city in East Germany. Putin and other staff of KGB worked against West Germany and US military bases. Their common enemy was NATO. They recruited young agents for KGB (Putin I). Putin’s stay in Dresden was marked with mostly office work and report writing like most of the agents of KGB. “My ideas about the KGB were based on romantic stories about the work of intelligence agents. Without any exaggeration you could say I was the successful product of the Soviet patriotic upbringing”. Putin was not a spy that is often quoted in the books embedded with romantic stories of espionage and colorful events but his job was to spy on dissidents and German citizens to recruit more informers for KGB. That was not much of a lofty work. (Knight, 2000) He was promoted to the rank of major in the KGB. He was awarded with bronze medal in German Democratic Republic for his Faithful Service to the National Peoples’ Army.

Recall from Dresden

At the fall of Berlin Wall, huge demonstrations broke out in Communist Germany that ultimately led to collapse of Communist government in East Germany. Mass protests were staged round the KGB headquarters and officials had to burn their files and all the data. (Gessen, 2012). Putin came back from East Germany and got a new job, nevertheless different from what he loved to do i.e. spying, in the Leningrad University from where he had graduated. The title of his job was Assistant Chancellor for the foreign relations. Putin was on his Active Reserve from KGB so it seemed a perfect job for Putin. His duty was to report to vice-rector of the university. (Hoffman, 2000). Though he was back from Germany, he was still secretly working for KGB in order to recruit new agents and to closely observe the student activities in the university. (Sakwa, 2007, p. 10)

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Resignation

In Aug 1991, there was a coup against the president Gorbachev by senior officials of the government and security agencies. This led to the devastation of USSR and end of Gorbachev. As soon as Putin found that some of the officials of KGB were involved in the coup, he resigned from KGB as Lieutenant Colonel on 20th August 1991. (Sakwa, 2007)

Political Influence of Antony Sobchak

Mikhail Gorbachev had come into power in 1985 he had some different plans than what the KGB had expected or wanted to pursue. Due to his loose policies towards all dissidents and a lot of sanctions were softened if not completely lifted. This made people to gather around and resulted in mass protests and various riots in East Germany as well as in other parts of Soviet Union. New system of governance and partial democratic procedure was appreciated by Gorbachev and that is why Leningrad had to choose its new mayor (head of the city council). Anatoly Sobchak, law professor at Leningrad University was elected as mayor of St Petersburg (Leningrad). He had taught at police academy in Leningrad. Sobchak was a forceful and mesmerizing speaker who was a member of interregional group of Sakharov’s Supreme Soviet. Sakharov was a democratic-mind politician. Later, Sobchak joined the Communist Party. He became the head of the city council of St Petersburg. Putin came back from East Germany and got a new job, nevertheless different from what he loved to do i.e. spying, in the Leningrad University from where he had graduated. The title of his job was Assistant Chancellor for the foreign relations. Putin was on his Active Reserve from KGB so it seemed a perfect job for Putin. Putin was a former student of Sobchak and had attended lectures in 70s. Sobchak offered Putin, his former student a job to work as an adviser and Putin accepted happily.

Kremlin Years

In 1996, mayor of St Petersburg, Sobchak, ran for re-election but lost. So Putin left Sobchak and moved to country capital to find a job in the presidential staff as deputy head of the presidential property management. During the work in the Kremlin, he also completed his PhD thesis on economics at the St Petersburg State Mining Institute. In March 1997, he became the deputy Chief of the staff to Pavel Borodin who was Chief Administrator in the Kremlin; in July 1998 he was the head of the FSB, the successor of the former KGB. And ultimately, head of the National Security in March 1999.

In the summer of 1999(August 1999), Yeltsin appointed Putin as prime minister of the country. Meanwhile, terrorist activities in the country were in full swing, even the capital was not secured from their effect. Putin worked diligently to uproot the outlaws and was, soon, in the eyes of the whole public. As Boris Yeltsin developed more and more confidence in Putin due to his strong background in the intelligence services combined with his straight-forward action plan towards the unity and integration of Russia, he believed in Putin to be his next successor as President. So right before the start of a new millennium, on Dec 31 1999, Putin became the Acting President of Russia.

Factors Involved in Shaping the Outlook of Putin

Putin’s current persona has been influenced by a lot of factors throughout his life. Many of them are like Soviet and Russian background and contexts in which Putin grew, lived and worked. His keen interest in history and literature of Russia, his law studies at Leningrad University, his training and work at KGB in Russia and then in East Germany, his companions and colleagues in Moscow, his days in St Petersburg as a senior official, his experience of 90s and then in bureaucratic years; from deputy to prime minister and then president. All this added little or more to Putin’s vision and ideological development. (Gaddy, 2013)

Domestic Implications

Putin followed what may be called “Liberal Nationalism”, in order to stabilize endangered society that was left perished after the shameful incident of 90s. He tried to eliminate the center-opposing elements though he partially succeeded in early years but he put an iron hand policy towards administrative matters to ensure a strong hold on those elements. He hit the Russians at the core of their heart and highlighted most imminent issues like the lost national prestige, shattered economy, social demoralization, separatist elements and terrorism. The events that made Putin famous and known among public during his years of premiership were terrorism in Chechnya, strengthening the nation and imposition of law and order on pig-headed elite of the society. (Chufrin, 2002) Putin has been undermining the needs of a modern nation needs while pursuing his heroics during his long regime. Need for social welfare state and fulfillment of basic human rights which a modern state ought to accomplish has been a loophole in Putin’s colorful adventure of Russian prestige building. His journey continued to circle around foreign policy and “make Russia great again”. But people began to be disillusioned as state failed to provide the public with what became more important to masses after Putin reaped the fruits of strong trust of the people. Russia started to come out of the economic darkness and grew well. Russia began to restore its global prestige and made prominent developments. It coped with the issue of terrorism, separatist dilemmas, it overcame the center-peripheral problems, it rehabilitated the law and order situation, it decreased the influence of the oligarchs, it tried to present a better picture to the world to catch investments from foreign, it boosted its gas industry but what remains, up to now, the most under-developed area is public welfare and facilities. Putin wants to start different projects regarding this situation like health, employment reforms and spending a reasonable amount of the GDP on the people but his administration lacks behind as compared to the countries of the same lot like China. (Bershidsky, 2019)

Putin’s Political Ideology

There has been ambiguity about the political ideology of Putin whether Putin wanted to lead Russia to a highly opposed state to that of West or to make it concurrent to Western lines of democracy. But Putin seems to have his own set of norms and values and he tries to reshape Russia’s ideology according to his own criteria. His actions, decisions and policies have reflected considerable response to what he wants to change in Russia and what he wants to pursue regarding the Russian identity. Both Gorbachev and Yeltsin tried to westernize the Russian society and political path and did well though Yeltsin was a little inconsistent as compared to former. But for Putin, Russia’s economic interests are more important than its political linkages with Europe and the world. Putin seems to pursue a Hobbesian ideology with respect to Russia’s place in the outer world. “In Putin’s opinion, economic strength is the basis of survival in that harsh competition; to inferior economically is to be vulnerable politically and militarily.” Indeed Putin wants Russia to be a part of globalized world but only in economic perspective, not in political or social sense. “.. Isolation from the world economy is a recipe for underdevelopment”. (Evans, 2008). He admits that promulgation of democracy in the world is a part of globalization but he also emphasizes that in case of Russia, there has to be made certain adaptations because the atmosphere and historical timeline of Russia gives unprecedented picture of what Russia has been in the past and how and in which way it is possible to intermix global values in the Russian society. He, actually, doesn’t want demolition of centralization of power in the hands of smaller groups or common people because of certain reservations. He stresses that existence of a strong center is very necessary for stability of Russia in the hostile environment of destabilizing forces. He does not see West or US or the whole world as his enemies if economic aspect is taken into account, but he shifts his ideas to another side if political inside of Russia is discussed or criticized openly. He sees Russian people as the light bearers of a strong far-past. They have a strong moral character. But they fell to certain disunity in the 90s and that led to devastation of Russia and pushed it back very badly. He claims that decentralization of power may tend to bring that black era back once again and Russia cannot be able to withstand another crisis this time. He denotes those who want to see the people of Russia instigated against the government as traitors who have sold their loyalties to foreign enemies. He thinks those people have no room in this sacred country and hopes to outcast them with the help of the public. In 2007, while speaking to an election rally of the United Russia party, he spoke, “Those who oppose us need a weak, sick state, a disoriented, divided society, so that behind its back they can get up to their dirty deeds and profit at your and my expense”. (Evans, 2008)

Putin and Conspiracy Theories:

Conspiracy theories have been a useful tool for the politicians, leaders like Putin to stay in power for the maximum time by using them to alter the public opinion against their political competitors. Using America or West based conspiracy theories or undercover long-term plans to divert public narrative from domestic problems, leaders like Putin, deliberately play nationalistic card to ensure their stay for a longer term. As the case was upside-down when America blamed Russia for Election-meddling in 2016. It is not the first time either for U.S or Russia. In Russia, such theories are spread by the virtue of local and second class journalists or analytics through public media. Public opinion is directed towards the hidden plans of so-called enemies of Russia and then targeted political opponents are connected to those ideas and hence to the foreign agencies or powers who are always planning to destruct Russia. In this way, authoritarianism is maintained in the countries like Russia. Examples of such cases are Aleksei Navalny (opposition leader) and Golos (the election monitoring NGO in Russia). Both have been accused of fraud and the former has been arrested many times. “When a worker from Novosibirsk in Siberia asked Putin in 2007 if he believed that former US secretary of state Madeleine Albright had suggested splitting Russia into several regions under international control, Putin admitted that, while he never heard it from Albright herself, he believed these ideas do exist in the minds of Western politicians.” (Yablokov, 2019)

Leadership Qualities

By a brief analysis of Putin’s personality, we come to know that Putin has some great qualities that make him the utmost choice to be a leader.

  • Responsibility
  • Decision Taking
  • Dealing with Facts
  • Optimism
  • Resilience
  • Excellence
  • Macho Personality Cult

Timeline of Events

  • 2000: He became the youngest leader after the Stalin to rule Russia. In a summit in Moscow, he signed arms control agreements with Clinton, though never observed by either state.
  • 2001: Expulsion of 50 of the each other’s diplomats by Russia and US.
  • 2002: Putin opposes the US policy in Iraq.
  • 2003: Last of the independent TV channels was closed by the government in order to suppress the opposition.
  • 2004: Re-election as president passed a law to appoint regional governors by the president.
  • 2006: Putin asks Hamas to acknowledge the existence of Israel. Later, he invited them to Moscow.
  • 2007: Putin was named as person of the year by Time magazine.
  • 2008: Two consecutive terms of Putin came to an end. Dmitri Medvedev was elected as new president. Putin was announced as prime minister soon after the inauguration of the president.
  • 2009: Putin remains in the limelight through his excessive outdoor activities and photo-shoots.
  • 2010: Putin is seen on media in the Volga city of Nizhny Novgorod comforting the sufferers of fatal wildfires. “Before winter, all the houses will be standing” was his famous dialogue.
    (Nikolsky, 2010)
  • 2011: Massive protests are held by the public accusing the government of ballot stuffing and voter fraud in parliamentary elections.
  • 2012: Putin is elected as president for the third time.
  • 2013: Putin writes in the New York Times to appealing the US to avoid use of force in Syria.
  • 2014: Crimea is annexed and war on eastern border of Ukraine takes place. In response, West imposes sanctions on Moscow, Putin replies with banning import of food from European countries.
  • 2015: Putin gives a political life to his ally Bashar Al Assad by intervening into war in Syria. Russia launches airstrikes, deploys special troops and supplies food and medical aid to Syrian forces.
  • 2016: The Kremlin is accused for medalling into US presidential elections. Putin was blamed for favoring the Republican candidate Donald Trump. Putin denies the allegations. (History.com, 2019)
  • 2017: Putin and Trump meet in the sideline of G-20 summit in Germany. Putin announces to expel 755 US diplomats from Russia in response to new sanctions from West.
  • 2018: Theresa May, British Prime Minister accuses Russian government for poisoning a former Russia spy in England and gives an ultimatum to Putin government to explain its action. The Kremlin, however, denied the involvement and missed the due date. Britain expelled 23 Russian diplomats and in response same number of British diplomats was ordered to be expelled. (Simmons, 2018)

In the Office

Years 2000-2004

On March 26, 2000, he was elected as the President of Russia (he secured 53 percent of the vote). His motto was to eradicate corruption and to establish a free market economy in the devastated Russia. Almost 89 percent of the Russia’s regions came under control very soon. He divided the 89 federal subjects of the country into 7 districts and appointed his representatives to assist the administration. Putin appointed his representatives in each of the newly created federal districts. He drastically reduced the influence of the so called oligarchs of the country which included businessmen and media house owners. His term was marked with strong action against the rebels of Chechnya and opposition of the US policies regarding proliferation of nukes. After a despairing and ruthless economic as well as social failure, Russian people felt a little relieved during the first term of Putin. Living standards were rising once again and people viewed Putin a new hope for the uplift of Russia and that’s why Putin was easily re-elected for the next term as president on March 14 2004.

Years 2004-2008

His second term began on 14th of March 2004 when he got 71% of the vote and got re-elected. He introduced National Priority Projects which included plans for public health, education, housing and agriculture.

PM Years 2008-2012

Putin’s political party, United Russia, gained a one-sided victory in the parliamentary elections in 2007. Due to constitutional barrier, Putin could not be elected as president for the third consecutive time in 2008. Dmitry Medvedev became his successor while Putin was made the prime minister on May 7 2008. Moreover Putin accepted the chairmanship of United Russia party.

Years 2012-2018

On March 4, 2012, Putin was once again elected as president for the third time whereas he abandoned the chairmanship of the party. His third term is remarkable for some of the events that took place for example, crackdown against suspected foreign agents, tension between US and Russia regarding matters related to Edward Snowden, War in Syria and crisis in Ukraine.

2018-Present

Putin won the presidential elections held in March 2018 with a decisive majority of popular votes once again showing his popularity among the people. He aims at developing Russian economy after it has been facing many sanctions from the West. Moreover, he is determined to take strong social measures to make the life of Russians better. Putin has given clear signal to contest the presidential elections of 2024.

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