Russian President Vladimir Putin officially begins his 5th term today

Ever since the previously little-known KGB agent became president on New Year’s Eve 1999, he has consolidated power by bringing oligarchs to heel, banning any real opposition and turning Russia into an authoritarian state.

Also read: Russians Are Coming to Terms With Putin’s War in Ukraine

The Kremlin leader is due to be inaugurated for a fifth term on Tuesday after winning his largest-ever election victory in March in a vote condemned by the West as a sham.

The election was overshadowed by the death of Putin’s main rival Alexei Navalny in an Arctic prison in mysterious circumstances.

Other opponents are serving lengthy jail sentences or have fled into exile.

Abroad, 71-year-old Putin has spearheaded efforts to challenge the dominance of the West.

His grip on power tightened further after he invaded Ukraine in February 2022, with public dissent against the war effectively silenced through court proceedings and imprisonment.

His rule risks being defined by the war in Ukraine, which has cost many thousands of lives and sparked unprecedented Western sanctions that have created major tensions in the Russian economy.

Also read: How Western Sanctions Are Strangling Putin’s Arctic Gas Ambitions

– Quashed mutiny –


There were large anti-war protests in the days after he ordered troops into Ukraine in the early hours of February 24, 2022. They were quickly quashed.

But there were more demonstrations months later when the government was forced to announce a partial mobilisation, after Russia failed to topple Ukraine’s government in the opening offensive of the war.

The most serious challenge to Putin’s long rule came in June 2023, when Yevgeny Prigozhin, a long-time ally and head of the Wagner mercenary group, announced a mutiny to unseat Russia’s military leadership.

Also read: On This Day: Key events on May 7, from Rabindranath Tagore’s birth to rise of Vladimir Putin in Russia

The bloody uprising threatened to tarnish Putin’s self-created image of a strategic genius — uncomfortable for a ruler who likes to compare himself to Peter the Great, the reform-minded emperor who expanded Russia’s borders.

But in recent months, Putin has demonstrated his lasting power.

Domestic opposition has been silenced, the economy is growing again, the Russian military has gained ground in east Ukraine, and he has resumed foreign travel.

– Early reform hopes –


Putin started out as an intelligence officer before embarking on a political career in the mayor’s office in his native Saint Petersburg in 1991, as the Soviet Union was falling apart.

Boris Yeltsin, Russia’s first president, appointed him as head of the FSB security service in 1998 and as prime minister the following year.

It was a carefully planned strategy, culminating in his nomination as acting president when Yeltsin resigned.

Putin won his first presidential election in March 2000 and a second term in 2004.

His rise initially spurred hopes that Russia would reform and become a predictable, democratic partner to the West on the global stage.

Putin gained popularity by promising stability to a country still reeling from a decade of humiliation and economic chaos following the Soviet collapse.

After two stints as president, he switched back to being prime minister in 2008 to circumvent a constitutional ban on holding more than two consecutive terms as head of state.

But he kept the reins of power firmly in hand and returned to the presidency in 2012 despite pro-democracy protests in Moscow, winning a fourth term in 2018.

He jailed his loudest rival, Navalny, in 2021.

The clampdown on opposition movements ramped up after the launch of hostilities in Ukraine.

Thousands of Russians were handed long prison sentences using newly reinforced censorship laws.

The West imposed sanctions that effectively cut off Russia from the global banking system, adding to the Russian leadership’s siege mentality.

– ‘New Iron Curtain’ –


In October 2023, Putin accused Europe of creating a “new Iron Curtain” and said Russia was building “a new world” order that would not be based on Western hegemony.

He has also increasingly pushed a domestic agenda of nationalism and social conservatism, including most recently laws against Russia’s LGBTQ community.

Persona non grata among Western leaders after the invasion of Ukraine, the Russian strongman has sought to pivot east, wooing India and China with increased energy exports.

At the same time, he has drastically boosted defence spending, creating a new war economy in an effort to prevail in Ukraine.

The war failed in its initial aims to topple Ukraine’s government and Russia was forced into a series of humiliating setbacks by the determined defence of the much smaller Ukrainian army.

But, with the conflict now in its third year, Putin has been speaking with increased confidence about Russia’s prospects on the battlefield — a topic he avoided for many months.

Russian forces successfully held off a much-hyped Ukrainian counter-offensive last year and have made significant advances in 2024 following delays to much-needed Western military supplies.

Wrangling in Washington held up $61 billion in military aid for Ukraine, which was finally approved last month.

On the battlefield, Ukrainian troops have frequently found themselves outnumbered and outgunned and Russia is redoubling its offensive ahead of a new Western military boost for Ukraine.


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Published: 07 May 2024, 12:55 PM IST

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