Russia’s strong man, Vladimir Putin, announced last September he was a candidate for the presidency again – ‘the’ candidate, if his confident stance was anything to go by – but certainly the candidate of the United Russia Party ruling the country largely undisputed until recently.
Putin’s rise began with his appointment as prime minister by President Boris Yeltsin. Yeltsin had become weak by 1999, and resigned unexpectedly, so Putin was acting president for several months.
Then he was elected head of the Russian Federation for two terms, from 2000-2008.
He was to build his strong leader popularity by leading Russia into the second war in Chechnya, but by no means only that.
The passing of the old Soviet Union in 1991 was a Pandora’s box of opportunity for oligarchs, and Putin set about clipping the wings of some – which meant prison in Mikhail Khodorkovsky’s case.
Against the bloody backdrop of the Chechnya conflict came the Beslan school hostage carnage in North Ossetia. The assault by Russian forces left more than 300 dead including 186 children.
Putin supporter and Russian film director Nikita Mikhalkov told euronews: “The only person who can provide us with clear answers on our country’s development with the issues we have now is Putin. And that’s not all. He’s someone who really knows the country, and what’s more I am absolutely certain that the world could benefit from him because we already know him.”
Vladimir Putin carefully groomed his image as super-hero, the saviour of Russia, the alpha-male strongman. Boris Yeltsin’s seemingly shy, unknown Prime Minister in 1999 has built around him a powerful cult of personality.
In March 2008, the constitution only allowed two consecutive terms in the Kremlin, and Dmitry Medvedev was elected president. But Putin remained behind him keeping his hand on the reins of power as prime minister.
Russian TV talk-show host Vladimir Pozner told us: “They are sending out a message from the Kremlin, that in fact the real Putin is the one who will appear now and that’s a very different Putin from the one we’ve known, because the situation has changed, thanks to Mr Putin, and now he can be who he really wants to be. It is that kind of, I’d say a fairy tale.”
But when the United Russia party of Putin and Medvedev won the parliamentary poll last December, Russians began to demand far more accountability from their politicians.