In full Vladimir Vladimirovich Putin, Russian intelligence officer and politician, actong president of Russia since 2000. Born Oct. 7, 1952, Leningrad, USSR, (now St. Petersburg, Russia).
Upon graduating from Leningrad State University in 1975, he served in the KGB as a spy stationed in East Germany until 1989. Putin then joined his alma mater's international affairs department, though many KGB watchers speculate that he remained a spy, keeping tabs on the democratic movement. He went to work as an aide for his former mentor, Anatoly Sobchak, a Leningrad politician. Sobchak was elected mayor in 1991, and Putin joined his administration, becoming first deputy mayor. Although he worked behind the scenes, Putin's influence was nevertheless palpable, especially in luring Western investment.
Putin was recruited from a position in Leningrad's city government to the Kremlin in 1996 as an aide to property manager Pavel Borodin, who later faced bribery and corruption charges.
In 1998, Yeltsin appointed Putin head of the Federal Security Service, the successor to the KGB, and called on him in March 1999 to head Russia's Security Council. In August 1999 Yeltsin fired Prime Minister Sergei Stepashin and his entire cabinet, and promoted Putin, making him heir-apparent to the presidency.
On New Year's eve 1999, Yeltsin unexpectedly resigned, and Putin was elevated once again, this time to acting president. The political neophyte had been enjoying tremendous popular support, notably in the wake of his heavy-handed campaign to suppress Islamic militants in Chechnya, who continue their drive for independence and are blamed for a series of bomb attacks and terrorist attacks in Moscow and other cities.
Putin's pursuit of the rebels also contributed to the Unity Party's success in the last parliamentary elections, another indicator of his popularity. The pro-Kremlin group placed second to the Communists, and ahead of former Prime Minister Yevgeny Primakov's Fatherland-All Russia party.
A pro-market democratic reformer, Putin has vowed to revitalise the foundering economy, fight corruption, subvert Communism, and build a strong Russia. One of his first moves as president was to grant Yeltsin and his family immunity from future investigation into corruption charges.
Putin won thanks from the USA for his swift, supportive response to the 11 September attacks. However, he was later unswerving in his opposition to the US-led military action against Iraq, siding firmly with his French and German counterparts against war.
Concerns about Mr Putin's attitude to freedom of speech were reinforced when independent TV broadcasters critical of the Kremlin (see NTV were forced off the air in the first two years of his presidency. Not everyone was convinced by the president's insistence that this was business, not politics.
These concerns were renewed when the last nationwide independent TV station was suddenly taken off the air and replaced by a sports channel in June 2003. The government pointed to the station's mounting financial and management difficulties. Political observers were quick to highlight the fact that the axing of the only national TV station to criticise the Kremlin came just six months before parliamentary and less than a year before presidential elections are expected.