Russian Presidential Election 2018: Who is Vladimir Putin and Why he Remains in Power?

BY HELEN CAIN, UoY Alumna

The role of President of the Russian Federation was established in 1991 and resulted in the election of Boris Yeltsin, who received 58.6% of the vote. The current incumbent, Vladimir Putin, was named Prime Minister by Yeltsin. Prior to the turn of the millennium, Yeltsin announced he would be resigning so that Russia could have “new politicians, new faces, new people, who are intelligent, strong and energetic, while we, those who have been in power for many years, must leave”. In accordance with the constitution, Putin became acting President and was formally voted into the role just under four months later. Re-elected again in 2004, he ran independently for just over eight years. Putin was then ineligible to run in 2008, having served the maximum two consecutive terms, but remained the de facto leader as Prime Minister. In 2008, under President Medvedev,  it was decided that Presidential terms would last for six years instead of four. Putin then announced he would seek election in 2012, which he won. This takes us to 2018. Putin has held the role non-consecutively for over 14 years, potentially reaching over 20 years if current opinion polls are anything to go by.

After studying German in school, Putin pursued the language and became fluent. As one of the first noted aspects of Putin’s life, this can be mirrored by how we view his political career now in 2018. Whilst most of us never get close enough to see the line, Putin is as close to the line as can be without crossing it. Amidst discussions of Ukraine, interference in the 2016 US election, many people know and care little about the corruption charges that Putin was dismissed of from his lower government positions in Saint Petersburg. Widely considered the favourite in 2018, Putin is a fingernail away from his fourth term as President of the Russian Federation. It seems what he pursues, he achieves. Here is a brief breakdown of the man widely considered to remain President until 2024.

Now 65 years old, the beginning of Putin’s political career was that of a different man. It all began in 1990 as an advisor on international affairs to Mayor Sobchak of Saint Petersburg. Putin and Sobchak met at the Saint Petersburg State University. The former, a graduate of Law and KGB recruiter, and the latter, a business professor. Both men were members of the Communist Party, as required by all within the institution. From an advisor, to head of the Committee for External relations, to First Deputy Chairman of the Government of Saint Petersburg, to the leader of the S.P branch of the pro-government party ‘Our Home-Russia’, in just six years, Putin was already paving the way to the Presidency. Even revelations that he understated prices and permitted the export of metals valued at $93 million in exchange for foreign food aid that did not arrive, did not seem to touch him. His next career change was not that he was fired, as the investigators of the city legislative council recommended; it instead brought him to Moscow.

Working as Prime Minister under President Yeltsin, who publicly backed Putin as his successor, meant that, upon his sudden resignation, Putin became President. His first Presidential Decree signed on the first day of his Presidency was titled “On guarantees for former President of the Russian Federation and members of his family”, to ensure that “corruption charges against the outgoing President and his relatives” would not be pursued. Both Putin and Yeltsin have had criminal investigations against them dropped under this decree.

Being elected in 2000, and in 2018 face different challenges. However, no matter what has faced Putin during his leadership, he has been elected with 53.4% of the vote in 2000; 71.9% in 2004 and 63.6% in 2012. Putin running as an independent candidate; the Communist Party always coming in second. Throughout his fourteen years in the office the international world note the mishandling of the Kursk submarine disaster, the illegal referendum in Chechnya, the Beslan school hostage crisis, the death of journalist Anna Politkovskaya for criticising the Russian military, protests against alleged electoral fraud, the annexation of Crimea and the march into the Ukraine, intervention in Syria, and interference in foreign elections. More recently we have the heightened tensions over the use of chemical nerve-agent on the streets of Britain in the attempted assassination of Sergei Skripal and his daughter, with limited media coverage in Russia. Main opinion polls place Putin as taking over 70% in the upcoming vote; with the international community once again lining up to condemn the actions of the Russian state, domestically Russians feel their nation is stronger and back on the main stage under Putin. Living standards have dramatically increased and, juxtaposing the international opinion of Putin plummeting following the annexation of Crimea, his approval rating from the electorate rose to 85.9%, a six-year high.

Regardless of how the rest of the world may view Putin and his previous terms, the domestic opinion is a far different one, one that will likely see him returned to power with an absolute majority.

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