MOSCOW (CNN) - On Dec. 31, 1999, an announcement aired on Russian television in which President Boris Yeltsin said he had resigned and nominated then-Prime Minister Vladimir Putin as acting president ahead of elections which would later be held.
Russian President Vladimir Putin has made his presence felt across the world. (Source: Kremlin/CNN)
Putin has been in office as president or prime minister ever since - 20 tumultuous years marked by Putin’s confrontation with the west.
After nearly 20 years in power, Putin continues to polarize, praising Russia’s advances in hypersonic missile technology, which Moscow just announced has deployed for the first time, and standing by President Donald Trump as America’s leader faces impeachment. Putin’s reign began after his predecessor – the embattled and fatigued Yeltsin – announced his resignation.
Putin, the new strong man in the Kremlin, immediately laid out his ambitious plans.
“I’ve always said and will continue to say that the Russian state must be strong,” he said.
But his presidency got off to a rocky start. He was heavily criticized for his handling of the sinking of the Kursk nuclear submarine just months after he took office – the disaster killing all sailors on board.
Faced with public anger, Putin didn’t immediately return from his holidays to manage the crisis.
He also escalated the brutal war in Chechnya, eventually crushing the breakaway republic’s rebellion at an immense human and material cost. And Putin made clear he was going to be tough on terrorism.
"We’ll whack them even in the outhouse,” he said.
Russian special forces raided a Moscow theater taken over by Chechen rebels in 2002 - leading to the deaths of more than 130 hostages, while more than 330 hostages were killed when Moscow’s special forces raided a school taken hostage by extremists in Beslan, southern Russia, in 2004.
Meanwhile Russia’s economy and overall stability started improving, thanks in part to high international oil prices, boosting the president’s popularity.
After finishing two terms, Putin had reached the limit under Russia’s constitution.
His solution: he swapped jobs with Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev for four years. Medvedev then changed the constitution, extending the terms from four to six years before Putin’s return as president. But, even while he was prime minister, it was always clear that Putin was the man in charge – and the West was put on notice: Russia was returning as a force in international politics. In 2008, the Russian military invaded Georgia, occupying south Ossetia.
Putin was reelected to his third term as president in 2012. But not all Russians were happy. Massive protests engulfed the streets of Moscow, Russian authorities crushing the opposition movement despite international condemnation.
Putin’s second stint as president has been defined by confrontation with the West. In 2014, after an uprising unseated the pro-Russian leader of Ukraine, the Kremlin invaded and then annexed Crimea.
Russia is also accused of fueling and aiding the uprising in eastern Ukraine, which has led to thousands of deaths and the downing a commercial airliner, killing everyone on board. International investigators blame a missile fired from Russian military equipment for the tragedy.
The Kremlin has remained defiant.
“We think there is no proof. Everything that was presented shows nothing," Putin said. “We have our own version, but unfortunately nobody wants to listen to us.”
Russian forces are supporting Syrian President Bashar al Assad against a rebellion in the Middle Eastern nation. Western countries are saying Russia’s heavy bombardment and frequent targeting of civilians areas amount to war crimes.
Putin’s Russia is accused of directly meddling in Western nations’ affairs. Including a broad effort aimed at swaying the U.S. presidential election in 2016 in favor of now-President Trump. Putin denied he meddled, but acknowledged he wanted Trump to win "because he was talking about normalizing US-Russia relations.”
But normalizing relations seems out of the question after Britain accused Russia of using chemical weapons to poison former double agent Sergey Skripal and his daughter in Salisbury in 2018. Russia once again dismissed the evidence.
Nearly 20 years after taking power, Putin maintains a strong grip on the presidency, having largely marginalized Russia’s opposition. But international sanctions and isolation, along with a weak economy, have sent his popularity into a nose dive, as some Russians have grown weary of their long-standing leader.
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