On New Year’s Eve, 1999, Boris Yeltsin, the first president of the Russian Federation, resigns after eight years in office. The presidency passes to the prime minister, Vladimir Putin, a former intelligence officer who will quickly become the central figure in Russian politics and play a major role in global affairs in the new century.
Putin spent 15 years as an intelligence officer in the KGB and its post-Soviet successor, the FSB, retiring in 1990. He moved to St. Petersburg and entered politics, becoming deputy mayor just four years later. Yeltsin made him director of the FSB in 1998 and, presumably very impressed, appointed him prime minister the following year. Yeltsin, suffering numerous health issues after years of heavy drinking, resigned his post just four months later, completing Putin’s six-year rise from political newcomer to president of one of the largest countries in the world.
Putin’s organized and calm approach stood in sharp contrast to that of his predecessor, and he was elected to a term of his own in March of 2000. A staunch Russian nationalist, Putin sent troops to quell secessionist fighting in Chechnya and quickly moved to limit the powers of regional governors as well as the Russian media. These actions foreshadowed much of Putin’s time in power, during which he has been accused of violently suppressing free speech and granting control of large sectors of the Russian economy to friends and political allies. In 2001, newly elected U.S. President George W. Bush withdrew his country from the 1972 Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty, and Putin’s foreign policy soon became defined by opposition to the U.S. despite the close relationship the nations had shared during Yeltsin’s tenure.
Putin has not relinquished power since this day in 1999. After amending Russia’s constitution, he won a third term as president in 2012 and a fourth in 2018. Under Putin, most observers agree that Russia has become more autocratic and more belligerent, annexing the Crimean Peninsula in 2014 and launching an all-out invasion of Ukraine in 2022.