Issue 6, November 2008
Vladimir Putin is often compared to one of Russia’s czars, Peter the Great, rather than the country’s Communist leaders. His persona and his style are often seen as imperial, even regal, invoking old-world nostalgia for earlier periods of Russian “greatness.” He has, however, been known to conjure up Soviet-era nostalgia as well, particularly the narrative celebrating Russia’s sacrifices in saving the world from the Nazis in WWII. The rhetoric is about resurgence, redemption and reestablishing Russia’s rightful place in the world. Putin has told Lucy Ash of BBC’s Putin Project that he sees himself as a Russian version of America’s Franklin Delano Roosevelt, a reformer and a rescuer, putting Russia on a new modern course.
Putin’s background, like most fellow “siloviki,” is in the KGB and its successor the FSB. He was an intelligence operative in East Germany during the Cold War. He ascended the government ranks to serve as Deputy to the Mayor of St. Petersburg, Anatoli Sobchak, before he was called to Moscow in the 1990’s by Boris Yeltsin to serve as Head of the FSB and a close advisor. Putin became Prime Minister and unofficial head of the government as Yeltsin’s health deteriorated. He was appointed acting President by Yeltsin in December 1999, and went on to win election to the office as an incumbent in 2000 and in 2004. His popularity ratings have consistently been in the 70% to 80% range. He became Prime Minister again in 2008 after orchestrating the election of his deputy Dmitry Medvedev to the office of President when term limits prevented his seeking a third consecutive term. He is very cosmopolitan, fluent in English, German, French, and Russian, and a black belt and national champion in Judo. During his two terms, he visited 64 countries over the course of 190 trips outside the country.