Key moments in Vladimir Putin's rule

AFP , Sunday 25 Jun 2023

From the rise of the former KGB officer to the Kremlin to his invasion of Ukraine and a mutiny by the Wagner rebels who backed him, AFP looks at key moments in Vladimir Putin's rule.

Russian President Vladimir Putin
Russian President Vladimir Putin, centre, flanked by Alexei Dyumin, acting governor of the Tula region, left, and Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu, right, visits an exhibition at the Splav defense enterprise in Tula, about 200 kilometers (125 miles) south of Moscow, Thursday, Sept. 8, 2016. AP


Yeltsin's heir

In August 1999, Russia's first president after the collapse of the Soviet Union, Boris Yeltsin, makes a little-known former head of the FSB security service (ex-KGB) his prime minister.

Less than five months later, Yeltsin resigns after succumbing to alcoholism and illness. Putin succeeds him, first as acting president and then as elected leader after a March 2000 election.

Trio of disasters

Disaster strikes early in his presidency, when the nuclear-powered submarine Kursk sinks in the Barents Sea in August 2000, with 118 crew aboard. Putin's muted response to the catastrophe is heavily criticised.

In October 2002, Chechen rebels take 800 theatre-goers hostage in Moscow, with 130 people killed. Two years later, gunmen take more than 1,000 people hostage at a school in Beslan, in the Northern Caucasus republic of North Ossetia. Security forces storm the building, triggering a battle in which 330 people are killed, including 186 children.

In both instances, authorities are accused of botching the rescues.

War in Chechnya

On October 1, 1999, Putin intervenes against separatists in Chechnya, the predominantly Muslim North Caucasus republic where Moscow had already fought a 1994-96 war.

Between 2000 and 2009, the second Chechen war leaves tens of thousands dead and the Chechen capital Grozny completely flattened.

Putin tightens grip

After being re-elected in 2004, Putin strengthens his grip on power, beefs up the security services and clamps down on the media.

He sidelines oligarchs such as Russia's richest man Mikhail Khodorkovsky, who is removed as CEO of oil giant Yukos and jailed in 2005 on charges including tax fraud.

In 2006, the murder of journalist and ardent regime critic Anna Politkovskaya and the fatal poisoning of former Russian spy Alexander Litvinenko in London spark global outrage.

On the economic front, though, things are looking up, thanks in part to strong oil prices.

Medvedev interlude

With Russia's constitution forbidding a third straight presidential term Putin trades places with Dmitry Medvedev, who is elected president in 2008 in a landslide victory that EU monitors describe as "neither free nor fair."

Putin continues to wield significant influence as prime minister.

Georgia intervention

In August 2008, the Russian army intervenes in the former Soviet republic of Georgia to bolster the breakaway territories of South Ossetia and Abkhazia and weaken Georgia's pro-Western leadership.

The five-day war leaves hundreds dead on both sides, including scores of civilians.

Moscow recognises South Ossetia and Abkhazia as independent states.

Part II

Putin returns to the presidency in 2012, and is re-elected again in 2018.

In 2020 authorities pass a constitutional reform package allowing him to remain in office until 2036, when he will turn 84.

Critics poisoned

Putin's second stint as president sees a crackdown on dissent and press freedom.

In 2015, prominent Putin critic, former deputy premier Boris Nemtsov, is gunned down outside the Kremlin.

In 2018, Russian former double agent Sergei Skripal is poisoned in England, and in 2020 anti-corruption campaigner Alexei Navalny also falls seriously ill after being poisoned. He is jailed in 2021.

Abroad, the Kremlin is accused of interfering in elections, particularly the 2016 election that brought Donald Trump to power in the United States, which it denies.

Crimea annexation, Sochi Games

Early 2014 offers stark contrasts -- in February, the $50-billion Winter Olympics jamboree in the Russian city of Sochi offers up a picture of a modern superpower through a sporting prism.

But a month later, Putin annexes the Crimean peninsula from Ukraine in response to the overthrow of a Russian-backed leader in Kyiv's Maidan revolution.

Tipping the scales in Syria

Putin also seeks to cement Russian influence beyond the former Soviet bloc.

In 2015, he enters the Syrian war on the side of President Bashar al-Assad, with Russian airstrikes on rebel-held areas helping tip the scales for the regime.

Russia is also accused of deploying paramilitaries in conflicts in African countries including Libya, the Central African Republic and Mali.

Ukraine invasion

On February 24, 2022, Putin announces a "special military operation" in Ukraine to "demilitarise" and "de-nazify" the former Soviet state and protect Russian speakers in the east.

Ukrainian forces put up huge resistance and the West imposes crushing sanctions.

Putin leans heavily on mercenaries from the private Wagner outfit run by a close ally, Yevgeny Prigozhin.

Armed rebellion

After months of bitter power struggle with Moscow, Prigozhin accuses Russia's military leadership of carrying out deadly strikes against his forces, and launches a rebellion that Putin describes as a "stab in the back".

The FSB security service accuses Prigozhin of attempting to launch a "civil conflict".

A day later, having captured the southern military command centre of Rostov-on-Don and started moving troops north towards Moscow, Prigozhin halts the advance following mediation with Belarus's President Alexander Lukashenko.

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