Placeholder Image

Subtitles section Play video

  • Vladimir Putin has been ruling Russia since

  • 1999. In that time he's shaped the country

  • into an authoritarian and militaristic

  • society. He successfully invaded two of

  • Russia's neighbors and strengthened ties

  • with Syria and Iran. He's intent on pushing

  • back against the Western world order...

  • and it appears to be working.

  • [Vladimir Putin, 17 years in power. The most powerful man in the world]

  • To understand how one

  • man could have such a powerful influence

  • on his country, you need to go back to the

  • chaos and corruption that gripped Russia

  • after the fall of the Soviet Union.

  • When the Berlin walll fell, a 40 year old Putin was

  • working as an undercover spy in East

  • Germany for the Soviet security agency

  • the KGB. The Soviet Union dissolved into

  • 15 new countries, including the new

  • Russian Federation. In Putin's eyes

  • Russia had just lost two million square

  • miles of territory. He later called this a

  • major geopolitical disaster of the

  • century. Lamenting that tens of millions

  • of his co-patriots found themselves outside

  • Russian territory.

  • The new government had to sell off nearly

  • 45,000 public businesses like energy,

  • mining, and communication companies that

  • had been run by the communist regime. And

  • it was chaos. The Russian economy was in

  • a freefall and all these companies ended

  • up in the hands of a few extremely

  • wealthy men, known today as Russia's

  • oligarchs. At the same time the new

  • Russian state was having a hard time

  • establishing itself. Russia's first

  • president Boris Yeltsin was wildly

  • unpopular for cooperating with the west.

  • And to make matters worse he was an

  • alcoholic and many Russians thought he

  • was an embarrassment. In order to stay in

  • power, he leaned on the support of these

  • oligarchs, surrendering an immense amount

  • of political power to them. This graph

  • shows how inequality actually worsened

  • after the fall of the Soviet Union. This

  • is where Vladimir Putin enters politics.

  • He leaves the KGB in 1991 and becomes the

  • deputy mayor of St. Petersburg. Putin

  • uses his position to give special

  • treatment to friends and allies in the

  • private sector. He helps them structure

  • monopolies and regulates their

  • competitors, quickly becoming a favorite

  • among the oligarchs. Before long he's

  • assembled a support network of oligarchs,

  • crime bosses, and security officials,

  • mostly fellow former KGB officers like

  • he was. With their help he rapidly

  • ascends to the upper echelon of the new

  • Russian state. In 1999, president Boris

  • Yeltsin appoints Putin, still relatively

  • unknown in national politics, to be the

  • prime minister. A fierce nationalist,

  • Putin feared Yeltsin was letting the

  • US dominate Russia and that NATO, the

  • alliance that worked for decades to

  • contain Soviet influence, would expand

  • into the new liberated countries and

  • surround Russia. Putin's goal then became to

  • build a strong Russian state, one that

  • would be both stable at home and capable

  • of exercising more influence over its

  • neighbors. And he quickly got his chance...

  • During the post-Soviet chaos there was

  • escalating violence in Chechnya, a region

  • thatinformally seceded from Russia

  • in the mid-90s. Chechen war lords and

  • terrorists were pushing into Russian

  • territory and attacking the border.

  • In August 1999, a series of deadly bombings

  • killed more than 300 people in several

  • Russian cities, including Moscow. Putin,

  • the new prime minister, immediately

  • blames Chechen separatists for the

  • attack. He regularly appears in Russian

  • television claiming he will avenge

  • Russia. The population quickly rallies

  • around him. Putin's approval ratings jump

  • from 2% before the bombing to forty-five

  • percent after the bombings. Journalists

  • later uncovered evidence that suggests

  • Russian security services could have

  • been complicit in the Moscow bombings,

  • perhaps knowing they would spark support

  • for a strong man like Putin. But a closed

  • state investigation quickly quashed any

  • dissenting theories. So Russia launches a

  • popular and devastating war in Chechnya.

  • The capital city of Grozny was leveled

  • by Russian bombing and some estimated

  • close to 80 thousand people died. And in

  • less than a year russia successfully

  • brings Chechnya back under its control. In December 1999 Yeltsin

  • resigns making Putin the interim

  • president. In May, during the bloody

  • campaign in Chechnya, Putin wins the

  • presidential election. He begins to shape

  • the Russian state to his vision.

  • Patronage and corruption remain some of

  • his key tools, but he quickly suppresses

  • the oligarchs under his rule. Those that

  • support Putin are rewarded, those that

  • don't are eliminated. "Well once Russia's

  • richest man, imprisoned Kremlin critic

  • and former oil magnate, Mikhail

  • Khodorkovsky was sentenced to 14 years

  • in jail. This on a new conviction of

  • embezzling oil. This is effectively a

  • vendetta from Vladimir Putin.

  • for getting involved in

  • opposition of politics." With the oligarchy

  • tamed, Putin was now free to move his

  • vision outside of Russia's borders. At

  • the time relations with the US are

  • fairly good. Putin even vacationed at

  • George W. Bush's summer home. "I looked a

  • man in the eye I found him to be very

  • straightforward and trustworthy". But

  • things were about to change...

  • In August 2008, Russia invades Georgia, a

  • former Soviet republic. It's a display of

  • aggression and strength on behalf of

  • pro-Russian separatists there. Russia

  • quickly annexes two small parts of

  • Georgia, drawing condemnation from all

  • over the world. Interestingly though

  • Putin was not president during the

  • invasion. See, the Russian Constitution

  • says the president can only serve two

  • consecutive terms, but sets no limit on

  • the total number of terms one can serve.

  • So Putin took the Prime Minister role

  • again when his hand-picked successor

  • Dmitry Medvedev served as president. When

  • Obama is elected US president in 2008, he

  • attempts to reset relations with Russia.

  • And they make some progress. Most notably

  • to limit both country's nuclear arsenals.

  • But Putin remains paranoid about US

  • intentions and remains opposed to these

  • new relations. He's particularly bothered

  • by US interventions in the Middle East,

  • especially in Libya in 2011. He publicly

  • criticized Medvedev for not vetoing the action in the UN Security

  • Council. Putin announces his candidacy

  • for president and wins the 2012 election

  • by a preposterous margin. "Injustice

  • says Dmitry this outrage can't continue.

  • I'm here to say no to Putin". Putin starts his

  • third term once again amid chaos. He

  • doubles down on his authoritarian

  • governance style at home and his

  • militaristic strategy abroad. But in both

  • cases, he showcases a mastery of

  • information. He first took office in 2000,

  • Putin has kept tight leash on

  • Russian television. Essentially all news

  • outlets are state-owned propaganda

  • machines. His regime decides which

  • stories air and how, always depicting him

  • as the strong Russian leader. In 2012, he

  • cracked down on human rights and civil

  • liberties, making clear there was no room

  • for dissent in his Russia. Using state

  • television for example he administered a

  • blistering campaign against a feminist