Vladimir Putin became acting President of Russia on December 31, 1999 immediately following Boris Yeltsin's resignation. Yeltsin chose the politically inexperienced Putin as his hand-picked successor to the Russian presidency. Known for his extreme loyalty to Yeltsin's administration, Putin was serving as head of the Federal Security Service, the main successor agency to the KGB, when named acting prime minister in August 1999.
Although trained in law, Putin served for 15 years in the KGB, many of them as a spy in East Germany. He later worked in the department that controls Kremlin property and worked his way up in the government to the Federal Security Service.
Until his hiring to the premiership, Putin often worked behind the scenes and rarely gave public remarks. What he has said to the public has stressed the need for Russia to rebuild the security services that have been undermined since the Soviet breakup in 1991.
His stealthy presence had led some to dismiss him as a bureaucrat who has little chance to win the next presidential elections. However, Putin has emerged as the clear favorite to win the presidency. His strong stand against rebels in the breakaway region of Chechnya and the victory of a party he backed in recent parliamentary elections have made Putin a dominant figure in Russian politics.
Washington Post coverage of Vladimir Putin:
Putin's Career Rooted in KGB
Sunday, January 30, 2000; Page A1
Putin's Duma Deal Ignites Political Furor
Thursday, January 20, 2000; Page A19
Putin Makes Pact with Communists
Wednesday, January 19, 2000; Page A1
Putin Beefs Up Support
Friday, January 14, 2000; Page A20
Putin Has Huge Lead Going Into Campaign
Thursday, January 6, 2000; Page A13
Russia's Putin Faces a State of Disorder
Monday, January 3, 2000; Page A13
Former Spy Likely to Lead like Deng, Pinochet
Saturday, January 1, 2000; Page A31
The Communist Party leader, Gennady Zyuganov, will run for President against Vladimir Putin on March 26, 2000 even though some of Zyuganov's former allies say he has little chance of winning. The Communist Party was the top vote-getter in December parliamentary elections but lost its dominant position in the Duma due to the strong showing of centrist parties including the Putin-allied Unity party. However, the Communists struck a surprise deal with the Unity party in January to divide up key leadership posts in the Duma including the speakership forcing a walkout by smaller, reform-minded parties.
Zyuganov led several parliamentary campaigns against the initiatives of Boris Yeltsin. In August and September 1998, Zyuganov's Communist Party led the parliamentary vote rejecting Yeltsin's attempt to reappoint Viktor Chernomyrdin as prime minister. Earlier in July 1998, Zyuganov and other members of the lower house either rejected or weakened a number of key tax and spending measures proposed by the president. Zyuganov has long sought support from a growing constituency of disgruntled workers and pensioners hit hard by reform. A long-time party member, Zyuganov ran a bitter presidential campaign against Yeltsin in 1996, only to lose by a wide margin in a run-off.
A longtime political survivor, Primakov was nominated by Boris Yeltsin in September 1998 to be prime minister. In May 1999, Primakov was fired from the post in a surprise move by Yeltsin, who cited the country's lack of economic progress. The ouster of the popular premier caused new uncertainty over Russia's future, setting in motion a collision with the Communist-dominated legislature on the eve of a debate on impeachment charges against Yeltsin.
Primakov, along with Moscow Mayor Yuri Luzhkov, heads the Fatherland-All Russia party which came in third place in parliementary elections in December 1999.
From 1996 to 1998, Primakov served as foreign minister taking a cool stance toward Western policies on Iraq, Yugoslavia, and NATO. Known as a skillful pragmatist, he is widely recognized in the West for negotiating with Saddam Hussein in an attempt to avert the Gulf War in 1991. On foreign policy issues, Primakov favors the easing of sanctions on Iraq, and bringing Russia closer to China and India.
Prior to being foreign minister, Primakov served as director of foreign intelligence, one of the successors to the KGB, after the failed 1991 coup attempt of then-Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev. He also served as one of Gorbachev's closest aides during the reform period of the late 1980s.
Grigory Yavlinsky is the leader of the centrist Yabloko bloc of the Russian parliament, made up of various small political parties. Yavlinsky, a critic of Boris Yeltsin's policies, waged an unsuccesfull campaign for the presidency in 1996. Yabloko joined the Duma with 8% of the vote in parliamentary elections in 1993 but received only 5.9% in December 1999 when the new, Putin-backed Unity party became a substantial force
Yavlinsky served as an economist in the Council of Ministers of the U.S.S.R. in 1990 and as deputy director of the Council of Ministers of the Russian Federation in 1991. He left government over differing views of privatization until 1993 when Yavlinsky, joined by Russain ambassador the the United States Vladimir Lukin and Yury Boldyrev, the former head of the Russian President's administration department, formed Yabloko and he became a deputy in the Duma.
Moscow Mayor Yuri Luzhkov has worked to transform Russia's captial by overseeing entreprenurial initiatives and extensive construction efforts. A political pragmatist, Luzhkov backed Yeltsin in the 1996 presidential elections but has been a vocal critic of many of Yeltsin's and his allies' policies.
Luzhkov has often indicated he would like to seek higher office. A popular and powerful municipal leader, Luzhkov tries to position himself as a strong-willed populist. Along with former prime minister Yevgeny Primakov, Luzhkov heads the Fatherland-All Russia party which came in third in parliamentary elections last December.
After serving as deputy mayor of Moscow in 1991, Boris Yeltsin appointed Luzhkov Mayor in 1992 after Mayor Gavril Popov resigned. Luzhkov was then elected to a second term as Mayor of Moscow in 1996.
Zhirinovksy is head of the ultranationalist Liberal Democratic Party of Russia. He has run for president, mayor of Moscow and remains one of the most outspoken, xenophobic and anti-semetic members of the Russian Duma. Zhirinovsky's LDPR received 6.42% of the vote in parliamentary elections in December 1999.
Zhirinovsky ran for President in 1991 and again in 1996 when he finished with less than 10% of the vote. In 1993, Zhirinovsky's party won a surprising number of votes in parliamentary elections and the LDPR became a powerful bloc in the Duma but no member was asked to participate in the government. In parliamentary elections in 1995, the LDPR came in third behind the Communists and the government party.
In a suprise move, Boris Yeltsin resigned as Russian president December 31, 1999 leaving Prime Minister Vladimir Putin as acting President. During his tenure as President, Yeltsin survived coup attempts, health problems, and harsh criticism while attempting to steer Russia in the Post-Soviet era. His erratic behavior like the firing of top aides seemingly on a whim had many Russians worried about the stability of the central government and Yeltsin's ability to maintain control. Much of the doubt stemmed from Yeltsin's health illness caused him to be absent long periods from the Kremlin during late 1998 and 1999. He has suffered from both heart trouble and ulcers in the past.
Yeltsin first became Russia's president in 1990 nearing the end of the Soviet empire, eventually elected to the post by the people in 1991. During his presidency, he oversaw and helped engineer the fall of the former Soviet Union, building from its ruins the framework of a newly democratic and capitalist country. But economic problems of the transition, a war in the breakaway republic of Chechnya, and fierce opposition from the Communist Party would eventually chip away at his popularity. He was reelected to the presidency in 1996.
A wealthy financier and relentless wheeler-dealer, Berezovsky was appointed by Boris Yeltsin to the post of executive secretary of the Commonwealth of Independent States in April 1998. Berezovsky, however, was fired from the post by Yeltsin in March 1999 after loudly criticizing the government of Yevgeny Primakov. Despite being a friend of President Yeltsin's family, Berezovsky was named in April 1999 in an arrest warrant on charges of money laundering and corruption. Previously, Berezovsky was an obscure mathematics expert who devised a management system for the huge state-owned auto company. He later became a car distributor, making millions selling the Zhiguli, the Soviet version of the Fiat.
Widely regarded as the architect of Russia's privatization program, Anatoly Chubai, has been a leading promoter of the nation's move from a centralized to a market economy. His privatization project has been swept by controversy over the transfer of state property to private hands for low prices and alleged favoritism to supporters of Yeltsin. In late 1997, Chubais was dogged by charges he accepted an advance for a book on privatization from a leading banker. In November, he was stripped of his position as minister of finance, although he remained as first deputy prime minister. Chubais has largely survived the ups and downs of Russia's economic roller coaster. In August 1998, Chubais started a new job as chief of the electricity monopoly. Yeltsin has also called on him to negotiate with the International Monetary Fund over the terms of several economic bailout packages.
Viktor Chernomyrdin was a Soviet gas minister who later became head of the natural gas monopoly Gazprom, Russia's corporate behemoth. Chernomyrdin was named in 1992 to replace Yeltsin's first prime minister, reformer Yegor Gaidar, and came to symbolize stability, especially the successful effort to beat back hyper-inflation and stabilize the currency. But he also drew criticism that he was too wedded to the status quo.
Chernomyrdin, a colorless public figure, never scored as a politician and was unable to clear up chronic delays in payment of wages and pensions. In March 1998, Yeltsin abruptly dismissed Chernomyrdin as premier in favor of the younger Sergei Kiriyenko. Yeltsin then changed his mind again, firing Kiriyenko and reinstating Chernomyrdin by August. Russia's lower house of parliament, however, refused to confirm Chernomyrdin to his old post, rejecting his nomination twice. Chernomyrdin eventually withdrew his candidacy by September in favor of Yevgeny Primakov.
Former minister of fuel and energy, Sergei Kiriyenko was nominated by Yeltsin in March 1998 to be prime minister. Kiriyenko represented a new wave of young, ambitious Russian capitalists and hustlers who capitalized on the liberalization of the old Soviet system under Mikhail Gorbachev.
Despite criticism from Communists and nationalists in parliament who said he lacked experience for the job, Kiriyenko was confirmed as prime minister in April. Kiriyenko, however, soon ran afoul of Yeltsin, unable to stem the devaluation of the ruble. In August 1998, Kiriyenko was fired and replaced as premier by Chernomyrdin.