Former KGB spy Vladimir Putin named prime minister in August 1999 and chosen by President Boris Yeltsin as his preferred successor is not well know either in Russia or abroad.
An official biography released by the Kremlin gave just four lines of chronological information and included a gap of 21 years, from 1975 to 1996.
Yet, prior to his appointment, Putin was one of the most powerful men in the Kremlin in a quiet, behind-the-scenes way.
He was simultaneously head of the KGBs main successor service, the Federal Security Service, and secretary of the presidential Security Council, the powerful advisory body that coordinates the activities of Russias armed forces, security agencies and police.
Im convinced that he will serve the nation well while working in this high post, and Russians will be able to appraise Putins human and businesslike qualities.
Boris Yeltsin, in a televised statement.
Putin rose from a relatively obscure position as a Soviet spy during the Cold War.
After graduating from law school in 1975, he began a 15-year career with the KGBs foreign intelligence arm, stationed in Leningrad and East Germany. With the Soviet Union facing collapse, Putin retired from the KGB at the rank of colonel and quickly began a political career.
His rise during the 1990s was fast, so he has more limited political experience than might be expected of a prime minister. In one of his rare public comments, Putin acknowledged he is not a politician.
In the early 1990s, Putin began working in St. Petersburgs local government, rising to the post of vice mayor by 1994. In 1996, Yeltsins inner circle brought him to Moscow and named him deputy chief Kremlin administrator.
Putin was named the Kremins official in charge of relations with the Russias diverse regions, then, in 1998, head of the Federal Security Service and in March secretary of the presidential Security Council.
Making public the name of the preferred successor one year ahead of elections either means that Yeltsin has decided that all the power will go to an emergency organ and Putin would become, for instance, a dictator, without any presidential election. |
Moscow Mayor Yurii Luzhkov, a probable rival for the presidency.
Some speculate Yeltsins decision to tap the relatively unknown Putin reflects the Yeltsins preference for keeping his subordinates from becoming too powerful. Putin has a reputation for being extremely loyal to Yeltsin.
Yet, in the days after being named as acting prime minister, the 47-year-old former KGB man who in a television interview called martial arts his favorite sport indicated he was no softy.
He expressed a willingness to quickly quash Islamic rebels battling Russian forces in the Caucasus, and also said he favors rebuilding Russias security services, which were greatly weakened with the breakup of the Soviet Union.
Putin said his main task as prime minister would be improving the life of the people, the populations standard of living.
The question now remains how long he can last. Putin was the fifth prime minister appointed in 17 months, circulating through this position at Yeltsins whim
Hes a decent, tough and energetic man who was out of public politics due to the specifics of his job.
Boris Nemtsov, a former deputy prime minister