Russia - Leadership



Most observers have credited Putin with being a cautious but decisive leader who likes to work outside the glare of media or public scrutiny. His early popularity was derived from his resolve in fighting in Chechnya rather than decisive economic measures or moves against corruption. He also appeared to benefit greatly from the coincidences that Chechen guerrillas invaded Dagestan and apartment bombings in Russia occurred at the time he was being positioned by Yeltsin as his successor. Putin's leadership of the Chechnya conflict provided a major boost to the government-created Unity Party and other pro-Yeltsin parties during the December 1999 Russian legislative elections, and a major blow to the Yeltsin opposition Fatherland-All Russia bloc, headed by former Prime Minister Yevgeniy Primakov and Mayor Yuriy Luzhkov of Moscow.

Kremlin politics at the time when Putin was named prime minister were focused more on the corruption scandal of the Yeltsin family than on Chechnya. Ousted Prime Minister Sergey Stepashin was advocating a more cautious, step-by-step action against Chechen terrorists, but Putin quickly endorsed giving the military a basically free hand. Putin's vigorous prosecution of the Chechnya conflict was viewed in a positive light by most Russians, providing him a major boost in his run for the presidency. In his 1999 memoir, Putin presented himself as the savior of Russia, stating that he decided, at the possible cost of his career, that he would combat the mortal threat to Russia posed by Chechen terrorists who aimed to "break up" and "Islamize" it.

From his KGB experience and role in St. Petersburg, he was a master in media manipulation and "spin," understanding that the media should not be permitted to freely cover the Chechnya conflict. Instead, the media was shown Putin's decisiveness and energy in copiloting a fighter jet to visit the troops in Chechnya. The Putin government stressed that it was combating antiterrorism in Chechnya, and highlighted Chechen guerrilla atrocities and the freeing of kidnap victims and "slaves" held by the guerrillas. Many Russians also liked Putin's use of common language or even prison slang, such as his talk of "flushing" the Chechens and "annihilating" them.

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