Published On: Sun, Aug 25th, 2019

Vladimir Putin’s bloody rise to power and his vow to hold on to it | World | News

Vladimir Putin

Putin has been president of Russia for 19 years (Image: GETTY)

But if US president Donald Trump is anything to go by, Russia could soon be making a return to the group after more than five years in the international wilderness. He has suggested it would be “appropriate” for Russia to rejoin, making it the G8 once more.A seat alongside the most powerful nations on Earth would be only right in Vladimir Putin’s eyes, although his 2014 invasion of Crimea saw Russia expelled in the first place. A return would be another chapter in the extraordinary 20-year rule of the former KGB colonel whose reign had been punctuated by warfare and assassination. He was the unknown head of Russia’s FSB security service when he was named successor by an ailing Boris Yeltsin in August 1999. He was elected president in January 2000 after Yeltsin stepped down.

Boris Yeltsin

Putin was appointed successor by Boris Yeltsin (Image: GETTY)

His two decades in power have been marked by domestic and international outrages as Moscow left behind its brief period of fledgling democracy after the 1992 fall of communism – to be replaced by autocracy through a centralised power grab, Putin at its centre.

These include the invasions of Georgia, Chechnya and Crimea and suspected political assassinations including, in Britain of ex-FSB agent Alexander Litvinenko and the attempted murder of Sergei and Yulia Skripal.

Plus the downing of Malaysian Flight MH17 with the loss of 298 lives.

His road to power was laid before he was elected. In September 1999, 300 people died in a series of apartment explosions in the cities of Buynaksk, Moscow and Volgodonsk.

These were blamed on Chechen separatists and led to the second Chechen war. But suspicion has fallen on the security services, most directly in the book Blowing Up Russia by Litvinenko and historian Dr Yuri Felshtinsky.

“The Terrorist Act was used in order to declare the second Chechen War,” said Dr Felshtinsky last night. “But the real significance is that it could be used to defer elections if it became clear Putin wouldn’t win.

“By September Putin was on 51 percent, and they needed to be sure he would win. They’d used this technique in 1996, when Yeltsin was facing elections and the first Chechnya war was started.”

This was the motive for Litvinenko’s death, it was said. He was killed by Russian agents who poisoned him with Polonium 210 in London in 2006. A public inquiry concluded that Putin had given the order.

More than 14 Russians, many linked to Putin critic Boris Berezovsky, are believed to have been killed by Kremlin agents in Britain since Putin came to power.

Berezovsky was himself found hanged at his home in 2013. An open verdict was returned and cynics do not believe he took his own life.

G7 Summit Biarritz

Putin was kicked out of the G7 after his invasion of Crimea in 2014 (Image: REX/Shutterstock)

Other attempts failed, notably the botched assassination by nerve agent Novichok of former GRU agent Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia in 2018.

“It’s not often that Russia assassinates abroad, but they do it when they consider it a matter of treason,” said Dr Felshtinsky

“My friend Litvinenko had belonged to the FSB, while Skripal was GRU. We know one of Litvinenko’s killers was FSB agent Andrei Lugovoi and that Skripal was targeted by GRU. They clean up their own messes, and they don’t care where it happens, or whether they are identified.”

Domestically Putin’s tenure has been marked by restriction of the free press and erosion of human rights.

“Putin knew of the importance of controlling the domestic narrative and public opinion straight away – as soon as he came to power, he targeted the Yeltsin-era oligarchs who owned media companies,” said Dr Andrew Foxall of the Henry Jackson Society thinktank.

Alexander Litvinenko

Alexander Litvinenko was poisoned and killed by Russian agents (Image: GETTY)

“He knew that if you control the media, you control the narrative and public opinion. He still thinks that. Now he’s moved to the internet.”

Regional governors, once elected, became appointed. The once independent electoral commission is now run by the FSB. Economically, Russia still relies on oil, gas and raw materials.

During the first eight years, rises in the price of oil allowed growth; this ended with 2008’s recession.

“It was then,” says Dr Foxall, “that Putin realised Russia could not catch up with the West, economically. The social contract – economic growth for erosion of freedoms – no longer worked. He gave them patriotism and national pride instead.”

Foreign policy is dictated by Putin’s vision of empire.

Trump and Putin

Russia could soon be returning to the G7 if Trump has his way (Image: GETTY)

“He famously said the end of the USSR was the biggest geopolitical disaster to befall Russia. He doesn’t want communism, but he does want to return lost territories to his people,” said Dr Felshtinsky.

“Some countries invade to distract people from economic woes, but not Putin. Every invasion, from Chechnya to Georgia to Crimea, happened when oil was selling at $100 per barrel.”

While Russia stagnated economically and diplomatically, Putin’s personal wealth is said to have grown from £32billion in 2007 to £130billion last year.

“The great frustration is that he passed up significant opportunities to reform and modernise. No major economy resembles its 20-year-old self quite like Russia,” said Dr Foxall.

Vladimir Putin

Putin’s wealth is said to have grown £98billion since 2007 (Image: GETTY)

“Instead of reforming the economy, he enriched himself and his mates at the expense of the people.”

And, G8 or not, his critics believe there’s no change in sight.

“I believe he will simply hand power over to Medvedev in 2024,” said Dr Felshtinsky.

Dmitry Medvedev has been prime minister since 2012.

“But even if he is somehow ousted by his peers, nothing will change as long as the FSB controls Russia.”

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