Vladimir Putin: The Russian President and the Autocrat. - Seeker's Thoughts

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Vladimir Putin: The Russian President and the Autocrat.



The Russian President and the Autocrat

President Boris Yeltsin appointed Vladimir Putin first deputy chief of staff, then in 1998 he became director of the Federal Security Service Bureau (FSB - KGB's domestic successor). Additionally he served as secretary for Security Council meetings.


In his first term, President Vladimir Putin restored central control over Russia's 89 regions and republics, consolidating power while lessening the influence of unfavorable financiers and media tycoons.


Putin’s Personal Life


Putin, as a former KGB operative, is adept at subterfuge and disinformation tactics used by his agency. Additionally, he can switch persona depending on the situation - often hiding behind layers of secrecy surrounding his private life while trying to present multiple selves when necessary. Unfortunately, Russia's war in Ukraine may make keeping up these facades more challenging.


After 15 years in the KGB (including six in Dresden, East Germany), he moved into local politics in Leningrad and rose quickly through its ranks - ultimately becoming prorector of Leningrad State University and also providing advice and counsel to Anatoly Sobchak, St Petersburg's first democratically elected mayor - acting as his advisor and adviser respectively. President Boris Yeltsin then promoted him as director of FSB (the Russian equivalent of KGB).


Early 2000s Russiaans looking for someone to restore stability and growth were drawn to Vladimir Putin. He overhauled bureaucracy, promoted family welfare programs such as education and unemployment support while improving family welfare, welfare benefits and pensions - but increasingly relied upon repression to remain in power - criminalizing free speech, prohibiting formation of political opposition movements, poisoning one of his anticorruption campaign activists among other measures repressive tactics were employed to maintain his grip.


He shares two daughters with Lyudmila Shkrebneva (his ex-wife), Maria and Katerina; however, he rarely acknowledges or discusses his children publicly. Additionally, there has been speculation he may have had another daughter through Russian rhythmic gymnast Alina Kabaeva whom he did not reveal the relationship publicly.


Putin has built a close circle of loyalists around him, including military men or former KGB officers known collectively as the siloviki (meaning "men of force"). These associates have amassed immense wealth during Putin's two decades in power; helping him retain presidency for an unprecedented fourth six-year term while being awarded with substantial government positions such as ministerships or heads of state roles as rewards. Furthermore, his control has expanded to encompass media outlets owned by government-backed companies.


Putin’s Political Career


Vladimir Putin has served as President of Russia twice: from 2000 to 2008 and again from 2012 on. Additionally, he held the office from 1999-2000 (though not 1998!) as Prime Minister, although his position did not return once he held it again after 2008.


Putin was born in Leningrad (now St. Petersburg), the son of a factory foreman and his wife. After graduating from Leningrad State University with a law degree in 1975, he joined the KGB as an intelligence officer - serving for 15 years including six in East Germany as foreign intelligence specialist - reaching lieutenant colonel before leaving in 1990.


As soon as he retired from the KGB, Putin assumed various posts within Russian government. First as a lawyer and later serving under Boris Yeltsin's administration as first deputy mayor of Saint Petersburg. Later on he led Russia's FSB security service while also holding other high-level roles.


In 2000, Vladimir Putin became Russia's second democratically-elected President. In his inaugural State of the Nation address he addressed concerns over Russia's economy while pledged support to America in its war on terrorism.


Putin signed a series of bilateral agreements with the U.S. and met with President Bill Clinton in Moscow for talks wherein the two differed on an American plan to construct a missile defense system.


Since 2013, Putin has focused his energies on strengthening Russia's border with Ukraine. When Russia invaded, Putin used historical frontier protection as justification. Since then, this narrative of NATO expansion as the source of Putin's actions in Ukraine and beyond has become dominant; many Western politicians and analysts agree that multiple rounds have increased Russia's sense of insecurity, leading to increased hostilities between Moscow and the West.


Putin’s Foreign Policy


Putin focused his first term on asserting central control over Russia's 89 regions and republics. He reasserted his right to name regional governors, removed their ability to sit in Federation Council sessions, reduced unpopular financiers/media tycoons (known as "oligarchs")' power, as well as fighting to prevent Chechnya from seceding and fighting off terrorist attacks from within Chechnya itself.


Faced with these difficulties, Putin sought to restore Russia as an imperial power. To achieve this goal, he moved away from an idea of Greater Europe toward one for Eurasia that included Moscow as a player in an order it hadn't helped create.


Wallander saw this new approach as being part of an attempt to better position Russia's national security interests, leading him to reverse his earlier rejection of NATO and America and collaborate with them instead. Critics saw it as being motivated by anti-American feelings; Wallander however saw it differently. He saw it as trying to position Russian national interests more effectively - his views explaining the shift toward cooperation with NATO and America following Putin's appointment.


Though Putin's ambitions may have evolved over the years, his foreign policy remains grounded in his belief that a strong Russian state is essential to its nation's security - for which reason Russia needs to engage more fully with other parts of the world than just relying solely on partnerships with the United States.


This does not imply a rejection of international law or multilateralism, but simply that there is little interest in joining a system which does not respect his country's independence or ensure that they can withstand external pressures.


Our research supports the opinions of Michael McFaul and Kimberly Marten, who perceive Putin as an opportunist who deploys anti-Western rhetoric when it suits his tactical purposes, rather than John Mearsheimer who sees him as a master strategist with an anti-NATO worldview. In reality, neither interpretation is completely correct; to understand Putin's intentions better we suggest considering Russia's domestic political environment as well as his long-term plans for Russia on an international stage.


Putin’s Relationship with the West


Putin sees enemies and threats everywhere he looks. That is one reason he highlighted them during his state-of-the-nation address this year when he declared Russia is under "real threat from outside." That is also one reason he engages so actively in foreign policy - to make sure his nation feels safe.


As soon as Vladimir Putin came to power in 1999, he took control of a country which was in disarray and chaos. His first priority was consolidating his control. To do this, he undermined traditional institutions of government while moving toward "rule from above."


His second priority was economic development, which he achieved by revitalizing Russia's oil industry and encouraging foreign investments into Russia. These priorities were balanced up until their respective turning points occurred in 2011 and 2012.


At that point, he began moving closer toward political monopoly than towards his social policy goals of national development and economic growth. And this shift only intensified in 2014, when he made what could have been considered his riskiest move yet by annexed Crimea.


The West has not given Putin's regime any strong incentive to alter its course, instead sending the message that Russia will be treated similarly to Germany after World War I with regards to reparations payments and punishment for war damage. While morally and legally just, this message only serves to further entrench Putin by demobilizing those with anti-regime sentiment and helping keep his supporters loyal to him.


The West can provide Russia with a powerful incentive for change by outlining what their future could look like. They could float the possibility of Russia rejoining NATO, which has an open-door policy and does not mandate democracy among members, or joining the European Union, which more readily welcomes reforms that Russia needs in order to thrive and grow. These options offer much better alternatives than intensifying an imperial struggle that has resulted in great human losses, economic strangulation, and international isolation for Russia.

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