Russia’s President Vladimir Putin said, in reference to the Middle East situation, at the International Valdai Discussion Club’s 12th Annual Meeting in Sochi in 2015: “If a fight is unavoidable, you have to throw the first punch.” It was something I picked up on the streets of St. Petersburg.”
The world appears to be getting a sense of Putin now, just as it did 50 years ago when he spoke about his childhood.
Last week’s events were not predetermined, as Ukraine felt the first punch. A punch that 69-year-old Vladimir Vladimirovich Putin claims is in his country’s best interests, but which clearly serves his own.
On October 7, 1952, he was born in Leningrad, now known as St. Petersburg. Putin’s older brother died during the German siege of the city during World War II, and his mother, Maria Ivanovna Shelomova, was nearly starved to death.
Putin was the third son of his parents, but he was the only one who lived. Two brothers, Viktor and Albert, who were born in the mid-1930s, died before he was born. During the Siege of Leningrad by Nazi Germany’s forces in World War II, Albert died in infancy, and Viktor died of diphtheria.
Putin’s mother worked in a factory and his father, Vladimir Spiridonovich Putin, was a conscript in the Soviet Navy in the early 1930s, serving in the submarine fleet.
His father was a member of the NKVD’s destruction battalion during World War II (the Soviet secret police). He was later transferred to the regular army, where he was severely injured in 1942.
Post-siege Leningrad was “a mean, hungry, impoverished place that bred, mean, hungry ferocious children,” according to Russian journalist Masha Gessen.
Putin grew up in a shared apartment with two other families, with a shared sink and stove but no hot water. He was always getting into fights with bigger and stronger kids because he was short and slight, a disadvantage he overcame by learning judo in the Russian martial art sambo.
Education and early career
Vladimir Putin studied law at Leningrad State University, where he was tutored by Anatoly Sobchak, who went on to become one of Russia’s most powerful politicians.
Putin worked for the KGB (Committee for State Security) for 15 years, including six years in Dresden, East Germany. He saw the fall of communism and the fall of the Berlin Wall from there.
He left the KGB in 1990 with the rank of Leningrad State University and retired from active service in 1990. He was the institution’s external relations coordinator at the time.
Putin soon became an adviser to Sobchak, St. Petersburg’s first democratically elected mayor. He quickly gained Sobchak’s trust and earned a reputation for being a hard worker. He rose through the ranks to become First Deputy Mayor in 1994.
He became a deputy to Pavel Borodin, the Kremlin’s Chief Administrator, on the presidential staff. He rose through the ranks of the government, eventually becoming Director of the Federal Security Service and Secretary of the powerful Security Council.
Putin’s popularity skyrocketed after launching a well-coordinated military operation in Chechnya against secessionist rebels.
Premiership for the first time: 1999
His ascension to the throne of Russia was a dramatic one. Putin was named one of three First Deputy Prime Ministers on August 9, 1999, and was later named acting Prime Minister of the Russian Federation by then-President Boris Yeltsin on the same day.
Putin agreed to run for president later that day after Yeltsin announced that he wanted him to be his successor.
His appointment as Prime Minister was approved by the State Duma (Russia’s Lower House of the Federal Assembly) with 233 votes on August 16, 1999. He became Russia’s fifth Prime Minister in less than 18 months with a simple majority of 226 votes.
1999–2000: Acting Presidency
Boris Yeltsin abruptly announced his resignation on December 31, 1999, and Putin was named Acting President of the Russian Federation under the Russian Constitution.
Putin’s first Presidential Decree was titled “On guarantees for the former President of the Russian Federation and members of his family,” and it was signed on his first day in office.
“Corruption charges against the outgoing President and his relatives will not be pursued,” according to the decree. Putin paid a previously scheduled visit to Russian troops in Chechnya shortly after taking office as president.
Putin’s tactics were obvious from the beginning. He is said to have tightened his hold on media freedom while benefiting from the lack of genuine opposition.
First presidential term: 2000 – 2004
Following Yeltsin’s resignation in 1999, presidential elections were held on March 26, 2000, just three months later. Putin received roughly 53% of the vote in the first round.
He sought to eradicate corruption and establish a tightly regulated market economy as President.
Second presidential term: 2004 – 2008
Putin was re-elected President of Russia for a second term on March 14, 2004, with a landslide victory of 71.9 percent of the vote. Russia was in upheaval for nearly a decade before Putin rose to power following the dissolution of Soviet rule. Putin referred to the fall of the Soviet Union as the “greatest geopolitical catastrophe of the twentieth century” in a 2005 speech at the Kremlin.
2008–2012: Second Premiership
The Constitution prevented him from serving a third consecutive term. Putin, on the other hand, has been relentless in his pursuit of power and wealth.
When his two terms as President came to an end in 2008, Dmitry Medvedev took over. Putin was appointed Prime Minister in a power-switch operation on May 8, 2008, only a day after handing over the presidency to Medvedev, and everyone knew who was in charge.
One of Putin’s two main achievements during his second presidency, he said, was overcoming the effects of the global economic crisis. The other was stabilizing the population of Russia between 2008 and 2011, after a long period of demographic collapse that began in the 1990s.
His second term as Prime Minister was not without controversy. Tens of thousands of Russians protested against alleged electoral fraud after the parliamentary elections on December 4, 2011, the largest protests in Putin’s time. Protesters slammed the government.
Third presidential term: 2012 – 2018
While speaking at the United Russia Party Congress on September 24, 2011, Medvedev announced that he would recommend the party nominates Putin as its presidential candidate.
He did not shy away from revealing that the two men had long ago cut a deal to allow Putin run for President in 2012. This switch was termed as “Rokirovka” by the media, the Russian term for the chess move “castling”.
But it wouldn’t take long before anti-Putin protests took place during and directly after the presidential campaign.
An estimated 8,000 to 20,000 protesters gathered in Moscow on May 6, when 80 people were injured in confrontations with police. Four hundred and fifty people were arrested while another 120 arrests took place the following day.
Putin’s presidency was inaugurated in the Kremlin on May 7, 2012. On his first day as President, Putin issued 14 presidential decrees, including a lengthy one stating wide-ranging goals for the Russian economy.
Fourth presidential term: 2018 to date
As the March 2018 presidential election approached, it seemed all but certain that Putin would win a fourth presidential term by a wide margin. Alexei Navalny, the face of the opposition, was barred from running, and the Communist candidate, Pavel Grudinin, faced incessant criticism from the state-run media.
Vladimir Putin gained 76 per cent of the votes in the first round of the March 18, 2018 election which attracted eight candidates.
The fourth inauguration of Vladimir Putin as President of Russia took place on May 7, 2018. The inauguration marked the commencement of the new six-year term of Vladimir Putin as President of Russia.
Putin to rule until 2036
In 2021, Vladimir Putin signed legislation that gives him the right to run for two more consecutive terms. Theoretically, this means that he stays in power until 2036.
Amendments approved by Russians in a nationwide vote will allow him to run for two more six-year presidential terms. If re-elected twice, and serves to the end of the second term, he will beat Josef Stalin to become the longest-serving leader of Russia since Peter the Great, who was in power for 42 years.
After Russia invaded Ukraine last week, the US and its European allies announced new sanctions on the Russian President, in a rare move targeting a foreign leader’s personal wealth.
But the impact of those sanctions may be largely symbolic. Although Putin is believed to hold billions of dollars in personal wealth, little is known about the exact amount or where it might be.
However American-British financier William Browder in 2017 testified before the US Senate, estimating that the Russian leader’s wealth hovers around $200 billion (Sh22.8 trillion) in assets, which would make him among the wealthiest people on the planet.
What’s Putin’s problem with Ukraine?
Russia is resisting Ukraine’s move towards European institutions, both NATO and the European Union.
President Vladimir Putin claims if Ukraine joins the two institutions, it would become a puppet of the West.
Putin demands guarantees from Ukraine that it will not join NATO, which is a defensive alliance of 30 countries. He also wants Ukraine to demilitarise and become a neutral state.
As a former Soviet republic, Ukraine has deep social and cultural ties with Russia, and Russian is widely spoken there, but ever since Russia invaded Ukraine in 2014 those relations have frayed.
Russia attacked Ukraine when its pro-Russian president was deposed in early 2014. The war in the east has since claimed more than 14,000 lives.
According to an article by BBC, in President Putin’s eyes, the West promised back in 1990 that NATO would expand “not an inch to the east”, but did so anyway.