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Russian Presidential Leaders

As the leaders of the Soviet Union continued to lose the faith of its followers, the door began to open on a new Russia. With that change, came an end to Communist rulers, and the beginning of democratically-elected Russian presidential leaders.

Russian Presidents

The election of Presidents in Russia marked the beginning of a new political era in the early 1990s. From Yeltsin to Putin, there was a growing accountability to the Russian people, and an urge for independence from the USSR. The presidential leaders of Russia continue to write the history books on this topic, but progress to date has been slow and bumpy.

Boris Yeltsin (1991 – 1999)

Boris Yeltsin became the first President of Russia in 1991. He was also the first elected leader in the country’s history, winning 57% of the popular vote, and taking office in July 1991. In late 1991, Ukraine voted for independence from the Soviet Union, a move that signaled the end of the USSR and the establishment of the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS).

With the end of the USSR, economic restructuring accelerated, and Boris Yeltsin took aim at the privatization of many of the traditionally state-run services. Early missteps by the Yeltsin government led to a skyrocketing of prices, slashing of government jobs, and heavy taxation; all of which took a heavy toll on the Russian economy.

Opposition to the package of Yeltsin’s reforms grew strong among the people and Russian politicians. The very structure of the Commonwealth began to crumble as the political leaders of Tatarstan and Bashkiria called for independence from Russia.

In 1993, the Congress of People’s Deputies attempted to impeach Yeltsin. In fact, Yeltsin’s opponents gathered more than 600 votes in favor of impeachment, but fell 72 votes short. Later that year, Yeltsin disbanded the Supreme Soviet and the Congress of People’s Deputies by his own decree, which was illegal under the constitution.

In December 1994, Yeltsin ordered the invasion of Chechnya in an attempt to restore Moscow’s control over that republic. He later withdrew federal forces from Chechnya under a 1996 peace agreement.

Despite all his problems, Yeltsin was re-elected as presidential leader in 1996, defeating his communist rival Gennady Zyuganov. In 1998, an economic crisis emerged when the Russian government defaulted on its debts, causing the value of the ruble to collapse.

Yeltsin resigned on December 31, 1999, and Vladimir Putin became an Acting President until elections were held on March 26, 2000. On April 24, 2007 Boris Yeltsin died of heart failure at the age of 76.

Vladimir Putin (2000 – 2008)

After years of scandal under the Yeltsin administration, Putin’s election seemed to many insiders, and outsiders, to mark a new beginning in Russian’s post-Soviet history. Unfortunately, this new leader’s election was due in part to control by Yeltsin’s own inner circle. Those who had selected and supported Putin did so in the hopes of maintaining their own power and leadership roles.

Fortunately, Putin was also backed by a team of economic reformers from his native St. Petersburg. In fact, the tension that was created between these two groups was a central feature of Putin’s first term in office.

One of Putin’s more important contributions included the measures he took to restore the Kremlin as the decision making authority in Russia. Under Yeltsin, a total of 89 political territories had been granted autonomy. While this move helped break the communist hold over the USSR, it also led to a growth of separatist movements – including that of Chechnya. Putin attempted to restore territorial and geographic order by appointing seven presidential representatives whom were charged with restoring federalism in these regions.

Even more significant, Putin instituted a reform of Russia’s upper house of parliament – the Federation Council. Putin and his cabinet also entered into confrontations with several uncooperative regional governors, accusing them of corruption.

The true crisis for Putin arose when the Russian nuclear submarine Kursk sank off the Kola Peninsula in August 2000, killing all 118 sailors on board. Many Russians were angered by the failure of the Putin government, and the military, to release information about the size and status of the Kursk in the days immediately following the discovery of this disaster. After days of increasing public disbelief and anger, Putin cut short a vacation and returned to Moscow to take charge of the crisis.

A pro-Putin Russian political party, United Russia, won an overwhelming victory in the 2003 parliamentary elections. Outsiders labeled the election “free,” but Russian national TV had unfairly campaigned for the governing party. In March 2004, Putin won reelection as President for a second term, garnering 71% of the popular vote.

In September 2004, following the Beslan school hostage crisis, Putin launched a new measure to replace the election of regional governors with a system whereby governors would be proposed by the President and approved by regional legislatures. There was widespread opposition to this measure by former leaders such as Mikhail Gorbachev, Boris Yeltsin, and Colin Powell. It was characterized as taking a step back from democracy in Russia and a return to a more centrally run political system of the Soviet era.

Dmitry Medvedev (2008 – 2012)

Dmitry Anatolyevich Medvedev was born September 14, 1965 in Leningrad, which is now known as Saint Petersburg. Dmitry Medvedev is a Russian politician, and served as the First Deputy Prime Minister of Russia. He was elected President of Russia on March 2, 2008. Medvedev is Russia’s third President, taking office on May 7, 2008.

Prior to his election, it was believed by many political analysts that Vladimir Putin’s choice of a successor would easily be elected President. Pre-election opinion polls indicated that a majority of Russian voters backed Medvedev as Putin’s choice for President.

Medvedev’s term as Russia’s president is known for two outstanding events:

  • South Ossetia War: an ongoing conflict between Georgia and the South Ossetia and Abkhazia escalated in August 2008 when Georgia launched an attack against South Ossetia. Russia’s military launched a counter-attack against Georgia, eventually forcing them from South Ossetia and Abkhazia. While the offensive only lasted five days, nearly 250 people were killed. On August 26, Medvedev signed a decree announcing South Ossetia and Abkhazia were now considered independent states.
  • Economic Recession: as was the case in the rest of the world, Russia faced a significant economic recession in the 2007 / 2008 timeframe. Under Medvedev’s direction, the government provided a large scale stimulus program to businesses as well as support to the banking system. The economic conditions in Russia improved through 2009 and growth would resume, once again, in 2010.

Other notable accomplishments included Medvedev’s National Anti-Corruption Strategy, which was part of presidential decree number 460. This move increased fines and provided additional oversight to government budgets and research efforts. He also initiated reforms in law enforcement, increasing salaries for police officers and centralizing jurisdiction over this organization.

Medvedev did not run for a second term as President, but was appointed Prime Minister by Putin, following the 2012 election.

Vladimir Putin (2012 – 2018+)

In March 2012, Vladimir Putin was chosen to serve a third term as the Russian President. On his first day as President, he issued a total of fourteen Presidential decrees covering topics that ranged from the economy through education, the military, and housing.

In September 2015, Vladimir Putin authorized Russian military intervention in the Syrian Civil War. This was following a formal request by the Syrian government for military help against rebel and jihadist groups. In March of 2016, he announced the mission in Syria has been largely accomplished and a subsequent withdrawal of Russian troops from that country.

In January 2017, the United States. intelligence community announced it was confident Putin personally ordered an influence campaign aimed at harming Hillary Clinton’s chances at the presidency, expressing a preference for Donald Trump.

In 2018, Putin was (once again) elected president of Russia garnering more than 76% of the vote. In May of 2018, Putin stated he would not run for president in 2024, in compliance with the Russian Constitution.

Presidential Terms

On a closing note, although Russian Presidents are not limited in the number of terms they can serve, as they are in America, they are not permitted to serve for more than two successive terms. This is why Putin was not permitted under the Constitution of Russian Federation to run for a third successive term in 2008 but was allowed to run for office again in 2012.

The next Russian presidential election will take place in 2024.

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