Vladimir Putin

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President of the Russian Federation

Quotes

"[W]e believe that there is an opportunity to move away from the current unacceptable situation of terror and violence towards a resumption of meaningful negotiations between Israelis and Palestinians. We are agreed that we have to move aggressively to help the parties take advantage of this opportunity."

"We must not only struggle against terrorism but also resolve the socioeconomic situation causing this tendency."

"If Hamas bears responsibility for the fate of the Palestinian people, it will act inappropriately. It simply has to respect the reality that the state of Israel exists. The reality is that the international community and the entire world have agreed with it and sealed it in international documents adopted at the level of the UN."

Background and Public Service

You were born in 1953 in Leningrad, later named St. Petersburg. In 1975, you graduated from the law faculty at Leningrad University. Your 1975 student report from the university described you as "modest" and "principled". It added: "He knows how to insist on his opinions and convictions, and enjoys exclusive authority and respect in the collective." Later in 1975 you were sent to Germany and operated as a spy under the guise of a university administrator. Though you spent 15 years with the KGB's foreign intelligence arm, your years with the KGB remain largely mysterious. For most of the time you served in East Germany, a center of espionage during the Cold War.  In 1990, you moved back to your hometown of St. Petersburg and started working as deputy to the mayor. Your supporters describe you as someone who, while military in bearing, is a democrat at heart. Nonetheless, you earned a fearsome reputation in St. Petersburg. You were called the "Gray Cardinal" of the mayor's administration, Russian slang for an unassuming politician who acts as the real power behind the throne. You were known as less an enforcer of democratic principles than as an enforcer, pure and simple.  The next few years included a rapid succession of positions. You moved to Moscow in 1996 after Mr. Yeltsin's re-election. There, you became deputy director of the Kremlin department that administers state property. Soon afterward, in March 1997, you were named Mr. Yeltsin's deputy chief of staff. Sixteen months later, you were appointed director of the Federal Security Service. You became Russia's fifth Prime Minister in early 1998 and you faced many challenges in your new position. Russia's economy was in recession for most of the decade and it was your job to reinvigorate. In addition, the government was adrift and it was up to you to give it direction. Furthermore, the armed forces were battling Islamic rebels in the North Caucasus region of Chechnya, which quickly forced you to become an expert in military affairs. Many observers say that your main qualification to be prime minister was your loyalty to President Boris Yeltsin. Others say that you were Mr. Yeltsin's choice because you have expertise in influencing elections. You were chosen to be a tough prime minister who could ward off political foes as Yeltsin struggled through the last year of his term. In response to the turmoil in Russia, you told parliament that your main priorities were to pursue market economic reforms and assist millions of Russians suffering from the prolonged recession. You courted the Communists by promising to help war veterans and defend the interests of ethnic Russians living in former Soviet republics. In addition, you said you would crack down on Islamic militants in the Caucasus Mountains, as Russian fighter jets and helicopters pressed ahead with their bombing campaign, which began on August 7, 1999.

President

In 1999 you were advanced by Russia’s political and economic elite to become the successor to outgoing president Boris Yeltsin. You were a virtual unknown at the time, but a media blitz by your supporters, who included Russia’s billionaire business elite, the “Oligarchs,” ensured your presidential victory. Everyone expected you to be an empty suit who would comply with the whims of elites, and everyone turned out to be wrong. You immediately began cracking down on corruption within Russia by targeting the same business elites that brought you to power. Many of these men have since fled the country, and you have nationalized many of their corporations, including the majority of Russia’s media outlets. Democracy activists questioned your commitment to civil society, but the majority of Russians approved of your strong leadership style, most notably your insistence on prosecuting the war with Chechnyan militants, which continues to this day. Despite your grim style, which many commentators claim comes from your KGB background, under your rule the Russian economy grew substantially throughout every year of your first and second terms, fueled by strong natural gas sales to Europe and Asia. You were reelected in 2004 by a landslide. A significant element of your presidency has been the establishment of a new role for Russia in the post-Soviet world. You tried especially hard to befriend American president George Bush, who at times called you a “good man” and a “close friend.” This alliance was cemented by the terrorist attacks of 9/11, which convinced both you and the Americans that you have a common enemy in Islamic extremism. International human rights groups have significantly criticized your conduct of the war in Chechnya, but with American support for your theater in the “War on Terror,” none of these accusations have stuck. In a shocking move, you even allowed the Americans to establish airbases in the Central Asian republics to aid in the NATO campaign against Afghanistan.  This strategic partnership with the US ended with Afghanistan, however. In 2003 you and your then-UN ambassador, Sergei Lavrov (now foreign minister), led the opposition against the US invasion of Iraq. You insisted that any military action would be illegal without a Security Council resolution supporting it, and as a result you consider the entire American occupation illegal. When an American reporter challenged your record of stifling opponents, you responded, “If democracy is what they have in Iraq, Russia will steer clear of it.” American-Russian relations have deteriorated significantly since 2003, and you have become a popular target of westerners who accuse you of eroding democratic principles in Eastern Europe, but you have become very good at turning the mirror around on western critics, exposing the hypocrisy and corruption prevalent in the UK, USA, Germany and France. Similar to the US Constitution, the Russian version limits presidents to two year terms. In May 2008, your time was up. However, you made it clear that you were not ready to retire from Russian politics into relative obscurity as most of your American counterparts do. For a time, it was widely rumored that you would use your overwhelming popularity to change the constitution to provide for a third term. Indeed, perhaps your greatest legacy as president will be how you strengthened the executive branch under the constitution to nearly a dictatorial level. In the end, you hand-picked your successor, Dmitri Medvedev, and ensured through your autocratic grip on Russian politics that he would sail through the election with numbers rivaling yours. Mr. Medvedev was long a protégé of yours having first served you back in the St. Petersburg mayoral office and most recently as Deputy Prime Minister. Having a protégé assume the presidency is seen by observers as a master stroke since you live up to the constitutional mandate but still maintain significant--if not total--power in the halls of the Kremlin. In March 2012, Mr. Medvedev's term as president came to a quiet conclusion and you regained the presidency winning nearly two-thirds of the votes cast. During Medvedev’s term, which coincided with President Obama’s first, Russia-US relations improved somewhat, during what became known as the “Russian reset.” After the antagonism produced by both the Iraq war and the 2008 invasion of Georgia, relations between the two countries were at a low ebb. However, after Medvedev announced that US forces could pass through Russian airspace on their way to Afghanistan, Obama responded by dropping the Bush-era plan for missile defense shield in Eastern Europe. During this period, the two countries also agreed on sanctions against Iran, as well as on the New START Treaty, which aimed at reducing nuclear stockpiles. After you reassumed power, however, any goodwill generated by this “reset” was destroyed following the 2014 annexation of Crimea and subsequent Russian involvement in the war in Eastern Ukraine. In your view, Ukraine was part of the Russian sphere of influence, and you continue to see the growing support for NATO (in both Ukraine and Georgia) as a threat to Russian power. Unfortunately, the annexation triggered a series of sanctions against Russia, which, combined with the global collapse of oil and gas prices, plunged the Russian economy into recession. Further sanctions were imposed in 2016, after the CIA detailed state-sponsored efforts to interfere with the US election. NATO, for its part, has responded by deploying additional tanks, artillery and troops to its member states in Eastern Europe. Nonetheless, the election of Donald Trump in 2016 may presage a change in relations, given that during the campaign the you and Trump exchanged compliments, as well as the fact that Trump has on various occasions criticized NATO, at one point calling it “obsolete.”

Middle East Policy

Since the American invasion of Iraq you have successfully presented Russia as an alternative broker for resolving disputes in the Middle East, and for the first time ever Russia now has a positive reputation throughout the region. This turnabout from the Cold War, when most of the Middle East distrusted atheism and thus a communist Soviet Union, was highlighted recently by your trip to the Gulf States in February 2007 as you became the first Russian leader to visit Saudi Arabia. You used this trip as an opportunity to promote the Russian arms industry in countries like Kuwait and Saudi Arabia, who typically buy their equipment from the US. You also used this trip as an opportunity to endorse Saudi Arabia’s efforts to renew the peace process in accordance with UN Resolution 242, which calls for peace between the Arabs and Israel if and when Israel returns the lands conquered in 1967.  As a member of the “Quartet,” (USA, EU, UN and Russia) you lean towards the Palestinian side in their dispute with Israel. Russia has a long tradition of being more pro-Arab in the great standoff between Israel and the Palestinians. This is probably a legacy of the Cold War when the US began heavily favoring the Israelis, a tradition that last to this day. The Soviet Union naturally cultivated allies in the Arab states who resented the US favoring the Israelis. This trend took a temporary hiatus during the years of Ariel Sharon's premiership in Israel as he was fluent in Russian and a genuine friendship developed between the two of you. Your opinion towards Israel actually mirrors quite closely your opinion of its prime supporter, the US: you feel that both of these countries have no faith in diplomacy, and therefore attempt to solve all of their problems militarily. Israel, under former Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, confirmed this in the summer of 2006 when they invaded southern Lebanon to counter the Hezbollah threat. You viewed this action less as self-defense (as the Israelis claimed) and more as wanton violence and a desire to flex their muscles against the Arabs.  Since you continue to deal with your own version of Islamic extremists, you are skeptical of Hamas but you recognize that they were the dominant party in the January 2006 parliamentary elections. You do not support Hamas as a militant organization but you do strongly believe that, as an elected government, they must be dealt with accordingly. You view Fatah as weak and largely inept.  Iran is one of your wildcards. Russia supplied Iran with much of its nuclear technology (not to mention military technology), and see benefit in allowing them to develop a nuclear energy industry. You were initially against UN sanctions against Iran, but eventually came to support them in a limited form, on the assumption that they were not designed to punish Iran, but rather to nudge it back to the bargaining table. You enjoy Iran playing an antagonist role against the US in the region, and since the P5+1 nuclear agreement, look forward to continued business with the Iranians in both nuclear technology and traditional arms.

Roleplaying Hints

You come across as a mild, quiet individual, but there is no doubt that you cast a grim political shadow. You rarely smile, are known for making stinging rebukes to your detractors, and generally exude little charisma. What you do have, however, is an iron will and unshakable patriotism in service to your country. You work 18 hour days. You are also renowned for your many fields of expertise, including a mastery of Judo and multiple languages. Russians acknowledge that you are not a man of the people, and your style of rule bears many uncomfortable similarities to the Soviet autocrats of old, but you remain immensely popular among your own people, for the simple fact that many Russians feel their country ‘’needs’’ a leader of your intensity right now. Many wondered if you would be able to successfully negotiate the process of shifting from the Presidency to the Prime Ministership and back again, but you've done so skillfully, cementing your absolute authority in the process. Increasingly, you see an opportunity to challenge US influence in the Middle East. You are not against peace but you understand the issues are so complex that they will not likely be settled in your lifetime. Therefore, you find little fault in taking sides opposite the Americans, both behind the scenes and in the form of direct military intervention. You've been known to work closely with Iran, Syria and even Hamas in order to counterbalance the US-Israeli presence in the region, so do not be afraid to further cultivate these relationships. However, given the Trump administration’s openness to a renewal of relations, particularly regarding cooperation against ISIS, you may find it advantageous to play nice with the Americans, particularly if you can leverage this cooperation into a reduction of sanctions. Remember, as a member of the Quartet, you must negotiate with your three other partners but that does not preclude you from pushing another agenda under the table!

References

http://www.slate.com/blogs/the_slatest/2015/07/20/why_does_putin_support_the_iran_deal_because_he_thinks_it_s_bad_for_america.html

http://www.bbc.com/news/world-europe-33238004

https://www.neweurope.eu/article/nato-condemns-russia-supports-ukraine-agrees-rapid-reaction-force/

http://press.jrc.it/NewsExplorer/entities/en/24.html

http://today.reuters.com/news/articlenews.aspx?type=worldNews&storyid=2007-02-01T131105Z_01_L01858790_RTRUKOC_0_US-RUSSIA-PUTIN-MISSILES.xml&src=rss

http://www.mg.co.za/articlepage.aspx?area=/breaking_news/breaking_news__international_news/&articleid=297721

http://www.rferl.org/featuresarticle/2007/2/4d226aa0-72b0-4c66-8ee0-bde629e6b5e7.html

http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/europe/415124.stm

http://www.csmonitor.com/2006/1204/p01s04-woeu.html

http://news.independent.co.uk/europe/article2064708.ece

http://asia.news.yahoo.com/070208/3/2x5ym.html

http://www.itar-tass.com/eng/level2.html?NewsID=11233350&PageNum=0

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