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Putin V.V.

Vladimir Vladimirovich Putin (born October 7, 1952) is the current President of the Russian Federation. He became acting President on December 31, 1999, succeeding Boris Yeltsin, and was sworn in as President following the elections on May 7, 2000. In 2004, he was re-elected for a second term, which expires in 2008.

Early years and KGB career
Putin was born in Leningrad (now Saint Petersburg) on October 7, 1952. His biography "From the first person" translated into English in 2000 and paid for by his election campaign, speaks of humble beginnings, including early years in a communal apartment. According to his biography, in his youth he was eager to emulate the intelligence officer characters played on the Soviet screen by actors such as Vyacheslav Tikhonov and Georgiy Zhzhonov.

His mother, Maria Ivanovna Putina, was a factory worker and his father, Vladimir Spiridonovich Putin, was conscripted into the Soviet Navy, where he served in the submarine fleet in the early 1930s. His father subsequently served with the NKVD in a sabotage group during the Second World War. Two elder brothers were born in the mid-1930s; one died within a few months of birth; the second succumbed to diphtheria during the siege of Leningrad. His paternal grandfather, Spiridon Putin, had been Vladimir Lenin's and Joseph Stalin's personal cook.

Putin graduated from the International Branch of the Law Department of the Leningrad State University in 1975 and was recruited into the KGB. At the University he also became a member of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union, and has never formally resigned from it.

He worked in the Leningrad and Leningrad region Directorate of the KGB, where he became acquainted with Sergei Ivanov.

In 1976 he completed KGB retraining courses. In 1978 he entered other foreign intelligence in Moscow. After completing the training he served in the First Department of the Leningrad Directorate (foreign intelligence) until 1983. In 1983-1984 he studied at the KGB High School in Moscow. In 1984 Putin was promoted to Major.

From 1985 to 1990 the KGB stationed Putin in Dresden, East Germany, in what he regards as a minor position. Following the collapse of the East German regime, Putin was recalled to the Soviet Union and returned to Leningrad, where in June 1991 he assumed a position with the International Affairs section of Leningrad State University, reporting to Vice-Rector Yuriy Molchanov. In his new position, Putin grew reacquainted with Anatoly Sobchak, then mayor of Leningrad. Sobchak served as an Assistant Professor during Putin's university years and was one of Putin's lecturers. Putin formally resigned from the state security services on August 20, 1991, during the KGB-supported abortive putsch against Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev.

Early political and business career
In May 1990 Putin was appointed Mayor Sobchak's adviser on international affairs. On June 28, 1991, he was appointed head of the Committee for External Relations of the St. Petersburg Mayor's Office, with responsibility for promoting international relations and foreign investments. The Committee was also used to register business ventures in St. Petersburg. During the time Putin led this Committee, Alexei Miller, the current CEO of Gazprom, also served on it from (December 15, 19911996), as well as a number of other prominent politicians and businesspeople, and was a deputy head of the Committee from 1992-1996. Less than one year after taking control of the committee, Putin was investigated by a commission of the city legislative council. Commission deputies Marina Salye and Yury Gladkov concluded that Putin understated prices and issued licenses permitting the export of non-ferrous metals valued at a total of $93 million in exchange for food aid from abroad that never came to the city. The commission recommended Putin be fired, but there were no immediate consequences. Putin remained head of the Committee for External Relations until 1996. While heading the Committee for External Relations, from 1992 to March 2000 Putin was also on the advisory board of the German real estate holding St. Petersburg Immobilien und Beteiligungs AG (SPAG) which has been investigated by German prosecutors for money laundering.

From 1994 to 1997, Putin was appointed to additional positions in the St. Petersburg political arena. In March 1994 he became first deputy head of the administration of the city of Saint Petersburg. In 1995 (through June 1997) Putin led the St. Petersburg branch of the pro-government Our Home Is Russia political party. During this same period from 1995 through June 1997 he was also the head of the Advisory Board of the JSC Newspaper Sankt-Peterburgskie Vedomosti.

In 1996 Anatoly Sobchak lost the St. Petersburg mayoral election to Vladimir Yakovlev. Putin was called to Moscow and in June 1996 assumed position of a Deputy Chief of the Presidential Property Management Department headed by Pavel Borodin. He occupied this position until March 1997. On March 26, 1997 President Boris Yeltsin appointed Putin deputy chief of Presidential Staff, which he remained until May 1998, and chief of the Main Control Directorate of the Presidential Property Management Department (until June 1998).

On June 27, 1997, at the Saint Petersburg Mining Institute Putin defended his Candidate of Science dissertation in economics titled "The Strategic Planning of Regional Resources Under the Formation of Market Relations".According to Clifford G Gaddy, a senior fellow at The Brookings Institute, 16 of the 20 pages that open a key section of Putins work were copied either word for word or with minute alterations from a management study, Strategic Planning and Policy, written by US professors William King and David Cleland and translated into Russian by a KGB-related institute in the early 1990s.

On May 25, 1998 Vladimir Putin was appointed First Deputy Chief of Presidential Staff for regions, (replacing Viktoriya Mitina), and on July 15 of the same year - the Head of the Commission for the preparation of agreements on the delimitation of power of regions and the federal center attached to the President (replacing Sergey Shakhray). After Putin's appointment, the commission completed no such agreements, although during Shakhray's term as the Head of the Commission there were 46 agreements signed.

On July 25, 1998 Yeltsin appointed Vladimir Putin Head of the FSB (one of the successor agencies to the KGB), the position Putin occupied until August 1999. He became a permanent member of the Security Council of the Russian Federation on October 1, 1998 and its Head on March 29, 1999. In April 1999, FSB Chief Vladimir Putin and Interior Minister Sergei Stepashin held a televised press conference in which they discussed a video that had aired nationwide March 17 on the state-controlled Russia TV channel which showed a naked man very similar to the Prosecutor General of Russia, Yury Skuratov, in bed with two young women. Putin claimed that expert FSB analysis proved the man on the tape to be Skuratov and that the orgy had been paid for by persons investigated for criminal offences. Skuratov had been adversarial toward President Yeltsin and had been aggressively investigating government corruption.
On June 15, 2000, The Times reported that Spanish police discovered that Putin had secretly visited a villa in Spain belonging to the oligarch Boris Berezovsky on up to five different occasions in 1999.

Family and personal life
On July 28, 1983 Putin married Lyudmila Shkrebneva, at that time an undergraduate student of the Spanish branch of the Philology Department of the Leningrad State University and a former airline stewardess, who had been born in Kaliningrad on January 6, 1958. They have two daughters, Maria Putina (born 1985) and Yekaterina (Katya) Putina (born 1986 in Dresden). The daughters attended the German School in Moscow (Deutsche Schule Moskau) until his appointment as prime minister.

Since 1992, Putin had owned a dacha of about 7 thousand square meters in Solovyovka, Priozersky district of the Leningrad region, which is located on the eastern shore of the Komsomol'skoye lake on the Karelian Isthmus near St. Petersburg. His neighbours there are Vladimir Yakunin, Andrei Fursenko, Sergey Fursenko, Yuriy Kovalchuk, Viktor Myachin, Vladimir Smirnov and Nikolay Shamalov. On November 10, 1996, together they instituted the co-operative society Ozero (the Lake) which united their properties. This was confirmed by Putin's income and property declaration as a nominee for the presidency in 2000. However, this real estate was not listed in his income and property declaration for 1998 - 2002 submitted before the 2004 elections.

Putin's father was "a model communist, genuinely believing in its ideals while trying to put them into practice in his own life." With this dedication he became secretary of the Party cell in his workshop and then after taking night classes joined the factorys Party bureau. Though his father was a "militant atheist", Putin's mother "was a devoted Orthodox believer". Though she kept no icons at home, she attended church regularly (despite the government's persecution of the Russian Orthodox Church at that time). She ensured that Putin was secretly christened as a baby, and she regularly took him to services. His father knew of this but turned a blind eye. Putin himself is a practicing member of the Russian Orthodox Church. His religious awakening followed the serious car crash of his wife in 1993, and was deepened by a life-threatening fire that burned down their dacha in August 1996. Right before an official visit to Israel his mother gave him his baptismal cross telling him to get it blessed I did as she said and then put the cross around my neck. I have never taken it off since.

Putin has been hailed by Patriarch Alexius II of the Russian Orthodox Church as instrumental in healing the 80-year schism between it and the Russian Orthodox Church outside Russia in May 2007.

Putin speaks German with near-native fluency. His family used to speak German at home as well. He also speaks English but uses interpreters when conversing with native speakers of English. Putin spoke English in public for the first time whilst addressing delegates at the 119th International Olympic Committee Session in Guatemala City on behalf of the successful bid of Sochi for the 2014 Winter Olympics.

Prime Minister
On August 9, 1999, Vladimir Putin was appointed one of three First Deputy Prime Ministers, which enabled him later on that day, as the previous government led by Sergei Stepashin had been sacked, to be appointed acting Prime Minister of the Government of the Russian Federation by President Boris Yeltsin. Yeltsin also announced that he wanted to see Putin as his successor. Later, that same day, Putin agreed to run for the presidency. On August 16, the State Duma approved his appointment as Prime Minister with 233 votes in favour (vs. 84 against, 17 abstained), while a simple majority of 226 was required, making him Russia's fifth PM in less than eighteen months. On his appointment, few expected Putin, virtually unknown to the general public, to last any longer than his predecessors. Yeltsin's main opponents and would-be successors, Moscow Mayor Yuriy Luzhkov and former Chairman of the Russian Government Yevgeniy Primakov, were already campaigning to replace the ailing president, and they fought hard to prevent Putin's emergence as a potential successor. Putin's law-and-order image and his unrelenting approach to the renewed crisis in Chechnya soon combined to raise his popularity and allowed him to overtake all rivals.

Putin's rise to public office in August 1999 coincided with an aggressive resurgence of the near-dormant conflict in the North Caucasus, when Chechen separatists regrouped and invaded neighboring Dagestan. Both in Russia and abroad, Putin's public image was forged by his tough handling of the war. On assuming the role of acting President on December 31, 1999, Putin went on a previously scheduled visit to Russian troops in Chechnya. In recent years, Putin has distanced himself from the management of the continuing conflict. In 2003, a referendum was held in Chechnya adopting a new constitution which declares the Republic as a part of Russia. The situation has been gradually stabilized with the parliamentary elections and the establishment of a regional government.
While not formally associated with any party, Putin pledged his support to the newly formed Unity Party, which won the second largest percentage of the popular vote (23,32%) in the December 1999 Duma elections, and in turn he was supported by it. Putin appeared to be ideally positioned to win the presidency in elections due the following summer.

President: First term
His rise to Russia's highest office ended up being even more rapid: on December 31, 1999, Yeltsin unexpectedly resigned and, according to the constitution, Putin became (acting) President of the Russian Federation. While his opponents were preparing for an election later that year in June, Yeltsin's resignation resulted in the elections being held within three months, in March. This put all of his opponents at a disadvantage, giving him the element of surprise and an eventual victory. Presidential elections were held on March 26, 2000; Putin won in the first round.

Vladimir Putin was inaugurated president on May 7, 2000. Having announced his intention to consolidate power in the country into a strict vertical, in May 2000 he issued a decree dividing 89 federal subjects of Russia between 7 federal districts overseen by representatives of him in order to facilitate federal administration. In July 2000, according to a law proposed by him and approved by the Russian parliament, Putin also gained the right to dismiss heads of the federal subjects.

In December 2000 Putin sanctioned the change of the National Anthem of Russia to restore (with a minor modification) the music of the pre-1991 Soviet anthem, but with new words.

On February 12 2001, Putin signed a federal law on guarantees for former presidents and their families (See Vladimir Putin legislation and program). In 1999 Yeltsin and his family were under scrutiny for charges related to money-laundering by the Russian and Swiss authorities.

President: Second term
On March 14, 2004, Putin was re-elected to the presidency for a second term, earning 71 percent of the vote. During the term, Putin has been widely criticized in the West for what many observers consider a wide-scale crackdown on media freedoms. At the same time, according to 2005 research by VCIOM, the share of Russians approving censorship on TV has grown in a year from 63% to 82%; sociologists believe that Russians are not voting in favor of press freedom suppression, but rather for expulsion of ethically doubtful material (such as scenes of violence and sex).

On September 13, 2004, following the Beslan school hostage crisis, Putin suggested the creation of a Public Chamber of Russia and launched an initiative to replace the direct election of the governors and presidents of Federal subjects of Russia with a system whereby they would be proposed by the President and approved or disapproved by regional legislatures. He also initiated the merger of a number of federal subjects of Russia into larger entities.

A significant amount of Putin's second term has been focusing on domestic issues. According to various Russian and western media reports, Putin is extremely concerned about the ongoing demographic problems, such as the death rate being higher than the birth rate, cyclical poverty, and housing concerns within the Russian Federation. In 2005, four "national projects" were launched in the fields of health care, education, housing and agriculture. In his May 2006 annual speech, Putin proposed increasing maternity benefits and prenatal care for women. Putin has also been quite strident about the need to reform the judiciary. He considers the present federal judiciary as "Sovietesque" and prefers a judiciary that interprets and implements the code to the current situation, where many of the judges hand down the same verdicts as they would have under the old Soviet judiciary structure. In 2005, responsibility for federal prisons was transferred from the Interior Ministry to the Ministry of Justice.
One of the most controversial aspects of Putin's second term was the prosecution of one of Russia's richest men, Mikhail Khodorkovsky, President of Yukos oil company, for fraud and tax evasion. While much of the international press saw this as a reaction against a man who was funding political opponents of the Kremlin, both liberal and communist, the Russian government has argued that Khodorkovsky was engaged in corrupting a large segment of the Duma to prevent changes in the tax code aimed at taxing windfall profits and closing offshore tax evasion vehicles. Many of the initial privatizations, including that of Yukos, are widely believed to have been fraudulent (Yukos, valued at some $30bn in 2004, had been privatized for $110 million), and like other oligarchic groups, the Yukos-Menatep name has been frequently tarred with accusations of links to criminal organizations.

In recent years, the political philosophy of Putin's administration has been described as "sovereign democracy". The political term recently gained wide acceptance within Russia itself and unified various political elites around it. According to its supporters, Presidential policies must above all be supported by a popular majority in Russia itself and not be determined from outside the country; such popular support constitutes the founding principle of a democratic society.
In a 2007 interview with newspaper journalists from G8 countries Putin spoke out in favor of a longer presidential term in Russia, saying "a term of five, six or seven years in office would be entirely acceptable". According to the constitution of Russia, the President is elected for a term of four years.

On September 12, 2007, Russian news agencies reported that Putin dissolved the government upon the request of Prime Minister Mikhail Fradkov. Fradkov commented that it was to give the President a "free hand" to make decisions in the run-up to the parliamentary election. Viktor Zubkov was appointed the new prime minister.

Foreign policy
In international affairs, Putin has been trying, with some success, to re-establish for Russia the strong and independent role once played by the former Soviet Union. For example, on February 2007 at the annual Munich Conference on Security Policy, he criticised the United States' monopolistic dominance in global relations, and pointed out that the United States displayed an "almost uncontained hyper use of force in international relations". He said the result of it is that "no one feels safe! Because no one can feel that international law is like a stone wall that will protect them. Of course such a policy stimulates an arms race."

Instead he called for a "fair and democratic world order that would ensure security and prosperity not only for a select few, but for all". He proposed certain initiatives such as establishing international centres for the enrichment of uranium and prevention of deploying weapons in outer space. In his January 2007 interview Putin said Russia is in favour of a democratic multipolar world and of strengthening the system of international law.

At the same time, Putin's Russia has been seeking stronger and more constructive ties with Europe and the United States. Thus, Russia became a fully fledged member of the G8 and chaired the group in the calendar year of 2006 (chairmanship which has now passed on to Germany). At the same time, Putin's attention was equally focused on Asia, in particular China and India.

While President Putin is criticized as an autocrat by some Western politicians, his relationships with US President George W. Bush, former British Prime Minister Tony Blair, former German Chancellor Gerhard Schröder, former French President Jacques Chirac, and former Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi are reported to be friendly. Putin's relationship with Germany's new Chancellor, Angela Merkel, is expected to be "cooler" and "more business-like" than his partnership with Gerhard Schröder.

Putin surprised many Russian nationalists and even his own defense minister when, in the wake of the September 11 attacks in the United States, he agreed to the establishment of coalition military bases in Central Asia before and during the US-led invasion of Afghanistan. Russian nationalists objected to the establishment of any US military presence on the territory of the former Soviet Union, and had expected Putin to keep the US out of the Central Asian republics, or at the very least extract a commitment from Washington to withdraw from these bases as soon as the immediate military necessity had passed.

During the Iraq crisis of 2003, Putin opposed Washington's move to invade Iraq without the benefit of a United Nations Security Council resolution explicitly authorizing the use of military force. After the official end of the war was announced, American president George W. Bush asked the United Nations to lift sanctions on Iraq. Putin supported lifting of the sanctions in due course, arguing that the UN commission first be given a chance to complete its work on the search for weapons of mass destruction in Iraq.

In 2005, Putin and former German Chancellor Gerhard Schröder negotiated the construction of a major gas pipeline over the Baltic exclusively between Russia and Germany. Schröder also attended Putin's 53rd birthday in Saint Petersburg the same year. The end of 2006 brought strained relations between Russia and Britain in the wake of the death of a former FSB officer in London by poisoning.
During his time in office, Putin has attempted to strengthen relations with other members of the CIS. The "near abroad" zone of traditional Russian influence has again become a foreign policy priority under Putin, as the EU and NATO have grown to encompass much of Central Europe and, more recently, the Baltic states.

During the 2004 Ukrainian presidential election, Putin twice visited Ukraine before the election to show his support for Ukrainian Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovych and he congratulated him on his alleged victory before the official election results had been announced. Putin's direct support for pro-Russian Yanukovych was widely criticized as unwarranted interference in the affairs of post-Soviet Ukraine. More recently, a crisis has emerged in Russia's relations with Georgia and Moldova, both former Soviet republics accusing Moscow of supporting separatist entities in their territories. Russia's relations with the Baltic states also remain tense. The relationship with Estonia has deteriorated further in the course of the Bronze Soldier controversies.

In his annual address to the Federal Assembly on April 26, 2007, Putin announced plans to declare a moratorium on the observance of the CFE Treaty by Russia until all NATO members ratify it and start observing its provisions, as Russia has been doing so far on a unilateral basis. Putin argues that as new NATO members have not even signed the treaty so far, an imbalance in the presence of NATO and Russian armed forces in Europe creates a real threat and an unpredictable situation for Russia.

The months following Putin's Munich speech were marked by tension and a surge in rhetorics on both sides of the Atlantic. So, Vladimir Putin said at the anniversary of the Victory Day, "these threats are not becoming fewer but are only transforming and changing their appearance. These new threats, just as under the Third Reich, show the same contempt for human life and the same aspiration to establish an exclusive dictate over the world." This was interpreted by some Russian and Western commentators as comparing the U.S. to Nazi Germany. On the eve of the 33rd Summit of the G8 in Heiligendamm, American journalist Anne Applebaum, who is married to a Polish politician, wrote that "Whether by waging cyberwarfare on Estonia, threatening the gas supplies of Lithuania, or boycotting Georgian wine and Polish meat, he [Putin] has, over the past few years, made it clear that he intends to reassert Russian influence in the former communist states of Europe, whether those states want Russian influence or not. At the same time, he has also made it clear that he no longer sees Western nations as mere benign trading partners, but rather as Cold War-style threats." British historian Max Hastings prior to the 2007 G8 Summit also described Putin as "Stalin's spiritual heir" in his article "Will we have to fight Russia in this Century?", and said that although "a return to the direct military confrontation of the Cold War is unlikely", "the notion of Western friendship with Russia is a dead letter" However, both Russian and American officials always denied the idea of a new Cold War. So, the US defence secretary Robert Gates said yet on the Munich Conference: "We all face many common problems and challenges that must be addressed in partnership with other countries, including Russia. ... One Cold War was quite enough." Vladimir Putin said prior to 33rd G8 Summit, on June 4: "we do not want confrontation; we want to engage in dialogue. However, we want a dialogue that acknowledges the equality of both parties interests."

Putin, bitterly opposed to a U.S. missile shield in Europe, presented President George W. Bush with a surprise counterproposal on June 7, 2007 of sharing the use of the Soviet-era radar system in Azerbaijan rather than building new system in the Czech Republic. Putin expressed readiness to modernize the Gabala radar station, which has been in operation since 1986. Putin proposed it would not be necessary to place interceptor missiles in Poland then, but interceptors could be placed in NATO member Turkey or Iraq. Putin suggested also equal involvement of interested European countries in the project.

Russians argue that this proposal presents a probe to the real intent of the US with regard to their AMD shield plans: if American real concern is Iran, then Putin's offer is unbeatable, they say, since detecting Iran's missile launches from Azerbaijan would be more reasonable than doing so from Czech Republic. Russian senior lawmaker Konstantin Kosachev said, "if the Americans reject Russia's offer under some pretext, we will know for sure that their true goal is not only to stave off a potential threat from Iran or North Korea, but also to neutralize Russia's nuclear potential, which we could have assumed earlier."

On July 20, 2007 UK Prime Minister Gordon Brown expelled "four Russian envoys over Putin's refusal to extradite ex-KGB agent Andrei Lugovoi, wanted in the UK for the murder of fellow former spy Alexander Litvinenko in London." The Russian constitution prohibits the extradition of Russian nationals to third countries. British Foreign Secretary David Miliband said that "this situation is not unique, and other countries have amended their constitutions, for example to give effect to the European Arrest Warrant". This was widely publicized by Russian media as a British proposal to change the Russian constitution. According to VCIOM, 62% of Russians are against changing the Constitution in this respect. The British Ambassador in Moscow Tony Brenton said that the UK is not asking Russia to break its Constitution, but rather interpret it in such a way that would make Lugovoi's extradition possible. Putin in response advised British officials to "fix their heads" rather than propose changing the Russian constitution and said that British proposals is "a relic of a colonial-era mindset". When Litvinenko was dying from radiation poisoning, he accused Putin in a signed statement of directing the assassination in a statement which was released shortly after his death by his friend Alex Goldfarb. Critics have doubted that Litvinenko is the true author of the released statement. When asked about the Litvinenko accusations, Putin said that a statement released after death of its author "naturally deserves no comment". The expulsions is seen as "the biggest rift since the countries expelled each other's diplomats in 1996 after a spying dispute." In response to the situation Putin stated "I think we will overcome this mini-crisis. Russian-British relations will develop normally. On both the Russian side and the British side, we are interested in the development of those relations." Despite this British Ambassador Tony Brenton was told by the Russian Foreign Ministry that UK diplomats would be given 10 days before they were expelled in response. The Russian government also suspended issuing visas to UK officials and froze cooperation on counterterrorism in response to Britain suspending contacts with their Federal Security Service. Alexander Shokhin, president of the Russian Union of Industrialists and Entrepreneurs warned that British investors in Russia will "face greater scrutiny from tax and regulatory authorities. [And] They could also lose out in government tenders". Some see the crisis as originating with Britain's decision to grant Litvinenko's patron, Russian billionaire Boris Berezovsky political asylum in 2003. Earlier in 2007 Berezovsky called for the overthrow of Putin.

Following the Peace Mission 2007 military exercises jointly conducted by the SCO member states, Putin announced on August 17, 2007 the resumption on a permanent basis of long-distance patrol flights of Russia's strategic bombers that were suspended in 1992. US State Department spokesman Sean McCormack was quoted as saying in response that "if Russia feels as though they want to take some of these old aircraft out of mothballs and get them flying again, that's their decision." The announcement made during the SCO summit in the light of joint Russian-Chinese military exercises, first-ever in history to be held on the Russian territory, makes some believe that Putin is inclined to set up an anti-NATO bloc or the Asian version of OPEC. When presented with the suggestion that "Western observers are already likening the SCO to a military organisation that would stand in opposition to NATO", Putin answered that "this kind of comparison is inappropriate in both form and substance". Russian Chief of the General Staff Yury Baluyevsky was quoted as saying that "there should be no talk of creating a military or political alliance or union of any kind, because this would contradict the founding principles of SCO".

In September 2007, Putin visited Indonesia and in doing so became the first Russian leader to visit the country in more than 50 years. In September 2007 Putin also attended the APEC meeting held in Sydney, Australia where he met with Australian Prime Minister John Howard and signed an uranium trade deal. This was the first visit of a Russian president to Australia.

On October 16, 2007 Putin visited Tehran, Iran to participate in the Second Caspian Summit, where he met with Iranian leader Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. Other participants were leaders of Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan, and Turkmenistan. This is the first visit of a Russian leader to Iran since Joseph Stalin's participation in the Tehran Conference in 1943. At a press conference after the summit Putin said that "all our (Caspian) states have the right to develop their peaceful nuclear programmes without any restrictions". During the summit it was also agreed that its participants under no circumstances will let any third-party state use their territory as a base for aggression or military action against any other participant.

Domestic support and criticism
While having widespread public support in Russia, Putin also has many critics, most vocal of them coming from the West. While many reforms made in modern Russia under Putins rule have been generally criticized by Western media and some American politicians as antidemocratic, a joint poll by World Public Opinion in the U. S. and NGO Levada Center in Russia around June-July 2006 stated that "neither the Russian nor the American publics are convinced Russia is headed in an anti-democratic direction" and "Russians generally support Putins concentration of political power and strongly support the re-nationalization of Russias oil and gas industry" Russians generally support reforms initiated by Putin's team.

According to public opinion surveys conducted by Levada Center, Putin's approval rating was 81% in June 2007, and the highest of any leader in the world. His popularity rose from 31% in August 1999 to 80% in November 1999 and since then it has never fallen below 65%. Critics of Putin are seldom seen on three major national TV channels, although the opposite is true for national TV channel Ren-TV. Newspapers, radio stations and internet editions usually offer larger variety of views. Others see Putin's high approval ratings as a consequence of higher living standards that improved during his rule and Russia's reassertion of itself on the world scene.

In 2006 and 2007 Dissenters' Marches were organized by the opposition group Other Russia, one of the most notable leaders being former chess champion Garry Kasparov. Demonstrations in several Russian cities were met by police action, which included interfering with the travel of the protesters and the arrests of as many as 150 people; in some other cities demonstrators encountered no or minor counteraction. The Dissenters' Marches have received little, if any, support among the Russian general public. The Dissenters' March in Samara held in May 2007 during the Russia-EU summit attracted more journalists providing coverage of the event than actual participants. When asked in what way the Dissenters' Marches bother him, Putin answered that such marches "shall not prevent other citizens from living a normal life". During the Dissenters' March in St. Petersburg on March 3, 2007, the protesters blocked automobile traffic on Nevsky Prospect, the central street of the city, much to the disturbance of local drivers. The Governor of St. Petersburg, Valentina Matvienko, commented on the event that "it is important to give everyone the opportunity to criticize the authorities, but this should be done in a civilized fashion". Opposition group the Other Russia had also experienced pressure in the form of refusal of meeting space and breaking into its offices and removing documents.

In early 2005, a youth organization called Nashi (meaning 'Ours') was created in Russia, which positions itself as a democratic antifascist organization. Its creation was encouraged by some of the most senior figures in the Administration of the President, and by 2007 it grew to some 120,000 members (between the ages of 17 and 25). One of Nashi's major tasks was to prevent a repeat of the 2004 Orange Revolution at the Russian elections: as its leader Vasily Yakemenko said, "the enemies must not perform unconstitutional takeovers" Kremlin adviser, Sergei Markov said "The idea was to create an ideology based on a total devotion to the president and his course" [citation needed]. He said about the activists of Nashi: "They want Russia to be a modern, strong and free country... Their ideology is clear it is modernization of the country and preservation of its sovereignty with that."

During 2007, Putin has put increasing pressure on his opponents, using methods that would be illegal in the west. The government has harassed the opposition in various ways including preventing them from travel, arresting marchers with no cause, pressuring hotels to refuse meeting space and breaking into the offices of the opposition and removing documents.

Political future
The current Constitution imposes consecutive term limits that prevent Putin from running for re-election again in 2008, although he would be allowed to run for President in the following presidential election, scheduled for 2012. There are speculations in some media that Putin might be planning to have an influential role in the government preceding the elections, however on February 1, 2007 Putin publicly rebuked such speculations: "there will be no successors. There will be candidates for the post of the President of the Russian Federation."

In 2007, the Associated Press reported that Putin might be considered for the top spot on the United Russia party list in the upcoming parliamentary elections, which would almost ensure him a seat in the Duma after his term as president ends. On 1 October 2007, Putin announced he would run as first on the list for United Russia and might consider becoming Prime Minister of Russia.

Martial arts
One of Putin's favorite sports is the martial art of judo. Putin began sambo (a Soviet martial art developed for the Red Army and the NKVD) at the age of 14, before switching to judo, which he continues to practice today. Putin won competitions in his hometown of Leningrad (now Saint Petersburg), including the senior championship of Leningrad. He is the President of the Yawara Dojo, the same St. Petersburg dojo he practiced at when young. Putin co-authored a book on his favorite sport, published in Russian as Judo with Vladimir Putin and in English under the title Judo: History, Theory, Practice.

Though he is not the first world leader to practice judo, Putin is the first leader to move forward into the advanced levels. Currently, Putin is a black belt (6th dan) and is best known for his Harai Goshi, a sweeping hip throw. Vladimir Putin is Master of Sports (Soviet and Russian sport title) in Judo and Sambo. After a state visit to Japan, Putin was invited to the Kodokan Institute and showed the students and Japanese officials different judo techniques.

Putin is also a fan of mixed martial arts, and is considered a friend of Fedor Emelianenko. He attended the BODOG Fight event in St. Petersburg.




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