Vladimir Putin is man the West has no choice but to deal with. The Russian leader, for his own reasons, is potentially a strong ally in the fight against radical Islam. How far he can be trusted is altogether uncertain. To be sure, he is, in many ways, an enigma. Ruling his country with what could fairly be described as a ‘iron fist’, Vladimir Putin, the eccentric Russian leader and, perhaps, dictator, is a flamboyant, 21st Century Rasputin. His curious and egotistical antics are as well-known as his lack of tolerance for his political foes. How did he rise to power and how long will he remain there? Both are questions that warrant some attention, if the United States – and the Western world – is to successfully deal with him and, indeed, survive him.
Putin’s origins are somewhat murky, but it is known that he was born in Soviet-era Leningrad – now re-christened with its original name; Saint Petersburg – in 1952. His father fought in World War II and his mother worked in a factory. He studied international law while attending university, where he also joined the Communist Party. He joined the KGB in 1975 and served until his resignation, in 1991. His career in politics and administration began in Saint Petersburg, where he had become acquainted with Anatoly Sobchak, former Assistant Professor at Leningrad State University and, later, Mayor of Saint Petersburg
In 1998, President Boris Yeltsin appointed Putin to head the FSB, the Federal Security Service which had evolved out of the now-defunct KGB. A year later, Yeltsin tapped Putin as his successor. When Yeltsin resigned at the end of that year, Putin became Acting President of the Russian Federation.
From 2000 to 2004, Putin served his first term as Russian President. He was then re-elected and continued in the Presidency until 2008. As the Russian Constitution prevented him from seeking a third term. Dmitry Medvedev – at that time the First Deputy Prime Minister – was elected as his successor. Many saw Medvedev as a mere puppet of Putin’s, and this perception was reinforced when Putin himself became Russian Prime Minister, after handing over the Presidency. It was widely accepted that Putin was still in charge.
In 2012, Putin was, once again, elected President. Internationally, he is admired by many world leaders but this third Presidential election victory was mired in doubts as to its transparency and legitimacy.
Over the years, Putin has become known as a leader who ruthlessly pursues his political opponents and takes an uncompromising approach to Islamist movements within his own country. Politically, he has solidified his power and Russian political dissidents continue to be hounded and even imprisoned. Throughout this, however, Putin has – all the while – managed to steward an ever-improving Russian economy, after the economic disaster of Communism.
Over the years, Putin has ruled firmly and without compromise. Another side to his Presidency, which has been the source of more than a little amusement, to the outside world, has been Putin’s fondness for being photographed in heroic poses. No doubt, a leftover influence from the days of the Soviet Union – when national leaders were shrouded in a cult of personality, as is characteristic of Communist Dictatorships – Putin has been pictured as chopper pilot, battleship commander, bare-chested horseback rider, hunter and animal-lover. Throwing his apparent political indestructibility into the mix and Vladimir Putin, eccentric Russian leader – or, perhaps, Dictator – is a flamboyant, 21st Century Rasputin; not to be trifled with and, perhaps, not to be trusted.
His continuing support for besieged Syrian President Bashar-al-Assad has placed Putin in the role of international bad-guy, but he rules a nation with an enormous Muslim population and recognizes – perhaps far more than the current American and Western European leadership does – the enormous danger posed by the continuing creep of radical Islam.
Whether the dangerous and enigmatic Putin is, ultimately, a friend or foe to the Western world remains to be determined. He realizes, however, that he may well end up being the last man standing against the approaching Islamist Caliphate. Syrian leader Assad may not be a pleasant character; he is no friend of the free world and is brutal, in the treatment of his own people. Those attempting to replace him, however, are far worse – both for Syria and for the world. Putin, for all his curious antics, demonstrates foresight in his backing of Assad; Perhaps the West should reflect upon that, before it arms it’s future enemies.
Written by Graham J Noble