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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
and gay rights music group Pussy Riot.
"The latest of the loudest of such
performance for the so-called punk
prayer the Christ the Savior cathedral where
they were yelling things which were
rather profane to be yelled in Church. Of
course, three members of the punk group
Pussy Riot were convicted and sentenced to
two years in prison. Putin also
bolstered his aggressive foreign
strategy. He used traditional military
methods like sending weapons and fighter
planes to help dictator Bashar
al-Assad fight a bloody civil war in
Syria. But Putin's regime has also
developed and fostered the most
effective cyber army in the world and
he's used it to wreak havoc in the West.
These hackers have stolen classified US
information hacked politicians email
accounts, even shut down Georgia's
internet while Russian troops invaded.
And of course, they tried to sabotage
Hillary Clinton's presidential campaign
in 2016. Russian hackers have also
launched propaganda campaigns in support
of right-wing candidates in Europe. With
this, Putin hopes to exploit and deepen
the political divide in Western
democracies. In 2014, the Putin vision
culminated in the targeting of Ukraine;
another former Soviet country. Ukraine's
president was opening up to the west and
Putin feared he would join NATO. So
Russian hackers launched a propaganda
campaign against him stoking protests in
the pro-Russia eastern part of the
country. He then sent in disguised Russian
troops and before long violence erupted.
In goes the Russian military and in
early 2014, Putin annexed Crimea. He
continues to support the fighting in
Ukraine and as of 2017 over 9,000 people
have died. The world erupts in protest
but Putin doesn't give in. See his
aggressive foreign policy successfully
weakens his neighbors while also
rallying Russians around him. But he has
done all this at the expense of his own
people. His invasions have prompted harsh
sanctions from the west, barring Russian
businesses from trading in Western
markets. Russian currency has plummeted in
value and the energy industry that
Russia relies on is collapsing. It's hard
to imagine Russia can continue under
these circumstances. But the election of
Donald Trump brings new hope for the
Putin vision. Trump's rhetoric has been
notably soft on Russia. He could lift
sanctions and weaken NATO, potentially
freeing up space for Putin's Russia to
become a dominant power once again.
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From spy to president: The rise of Vladimir Putin

601 Folder Collection
Amy.Lin published on November 4, 2017
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