Russian President Vladimir Putin chaired an online meeting in March 2023. Photo: AFP

After nearly 25 years of leadership, Mr. Putin has brought Russia out of a difficult situation, changed in all aspects, and faced many challenges.

On December 31, 1999, Boris Yeltsin caused surprise when he announced his resignation as Russian president in a televised speech. “I resign. I did everything I could,” Yeltsin said in a broken voice. “A new generation is coming. They can do more, better.”

The same night, Vladimir Putin, the “new generation” Yeltsin mentioned, appeared in public, giving his first New Year’s message before starting to lead the country. At that time, Yeltsin had just promoted Mr. Putin from director of the Russian Federal Security Service to prime minister in August 1999. He did not have much of a reputation in politics.

“Dreams often come true on New Year’s Eve, especially this year’s Eve,” Mr. Putin said as acting President of Russia. “I believe our good dreams will definitely come true.”

Yeltsin gave Mr. Putin responsibility in the context of Russia experiencing much turmoil after the dissolution of the Soviet Union, the 1998 financial crisis and the first Chechen war (1994-1996). After a series of terrorist bombings took place nationwide, Mr. Putin decided to launch a campaign to attack Chechen rebels, opening the second Chechen war.

In February 2000, Russian troops entered the capital, Grozny, of the Chechen Republic. Nearly a week before the presidential election, Putin climbed into the cockpit of a Su-27 fighter and flew with the pilot over the war zone straight to Grozny. The image of a tough leader on the battlefield increased Putin’s reputation, helping him win an overwhelming victory in the March 26 election of 2000.

“It is still too early to eliminate Russia’s status as a great power. I will bring Russia back to the world stage,” Mr. Putin said before starting his first term as leader.

After nearly 25 years of Mr. Putin’s leadership as President or Prime Minister, Russia has witnessed many changes in many fields, from its position in the international arena to the economy and people’s lives.

Regarding the economy, before Mr. Putin took power, Russia recorded negative GDP growth for nearly a decade; the government was always in a state of budget crisis and only accounted for a small proportion of global GDP.

In 2000, Mr. Putin implemented the Gref Plan, a socio-economic development program for the Russian Federation for the period 2000-2010 named after Economy Minister Herman Gref. Russia benefited when oil prices recovered after the 1997 Asian financial crisis. Abundant foreign exchange revenue made it easier to rebuild Russia, and Mr. Putin did not waste this resource.

During Putin’s time in power, Russia’s share in the global economy increased from 2% to about 4%. In the 10 years from 1999 to 2008, Russia’s GDP increased by 94% and GDP per capita doubled. However, the 2008 global financial crisis halted Russia’s growth momentum.

Russia recorded negative growth in 2009, gradually recovered, and then began to grow sluggishly in 2013. Although Putin pledged to bring the Russian economy back to development quickly, his government did not make any changes. What a big way to cause stagnation to persist for many years to come.

The situation has become even worse as tensions with the West have escalated since Russia annexed the Crimea peninsula in Ukraine in 2014.

Faced with isolation in Europe, Russia is forced to strengthen cooperation with China and expand its influence in the Middle East. Mr. Putin’s ambition to bring Russia back to the world stage was expressed through his decision to launch a military intervention campaign in Syria in 2015. This was the first time since the dissolution of the Soviet Union that Russia carried out a military intervention campaign in Syria. With large-scale military campaigns in the Middle East, the Moscow region is gradually losing influence to the West.

In February 2022, Russia launched a campaign in Ukraine that was strongly criticized by the West and imposed additional sanctions, such as setting a price ceiling on oil and removing Russia from SWIFT, the payment system between banks in the world. 

In the first months of the war, an unprecedented wave of sanctions from the West pushed the Russian economy into an unprecedentedly difficult situation; when the ruble plummeted, people massively withdrew money and a series of foreign businesses left. Russia. Revenue from energy exports has declined due to restrictive measures from the West.

However, Russia gradually adapted to sanctions, redirecting oil exports from Europe to China and India. Huge natural resources are also a solid foundation for this country’s economy. Russia’s budget spending priorities have also changed, with defense receiving more emphasis than other areas.

In September 2023, Mr. Putin announced that the Russian economy had recovered to the pre-war period after a period of withstanding unprecedented pressure from the West. The General Statistics Office of the Russian Federation (RosStat) estimates that GDP in 2023 will grow beyond expectations, reaching 3.6%.

“In 2000, we were 12th. According to the World Bank, we’re 5th in the world based on purchasing power parity. Suppose you look at the 15 largest economies in the world in 2000 and Now. In that case, it’s clear that Russia has increased its rankings over the past 20 years, surpassing some European countries,” Maxim Oreshkin, assistant to President Putin, said in November 2023.

The real income of Russians increased during Putin’s first years in power but gradually leveled off when the “era of sanctions” began. Inflation and interest rates fluctuate strongly. In 2023, Russia recorded inflation of 7.3%, forcing the Central Bank to raise interest rates to 16% to respond sharply.

The lives of the Russian people have witnessed many positive changes over the past two decades. Data from RosStat shows that by the end of 2023, about 13.5 million Russians live below the poverty line, equivalent to 9.3% of the population, down from 9.8% in 2022. President Putin, on January 2, aims to bring the poverty rate below 7% by 2030.

Russian people’s views on security have changed significantly. Gallup’s poll results, first conducted in 2006, showed that only 27% of Russians felt safe walking alone at night where they lived, on par with the bottom-ranked country at that time, Chad (24%). ). In 2023, this rate is 71%.

“Of course, there are difficulties, but they are related to the general situation in the world,” Andrei Fedotov, 55, a resident of Moscow, told AP. “We know this very well, but I believe that Russia will overcome everything.”

The proportion of Russians who feel safe walking alone at night in the area where they live has increased significantly. Photo: Gallup

The proportion of Russians who feel safe walking alone at night in the area where they live has increased significantly (blue solid line), while the proportion who feel unsafe has decreased (dashed yellow line). Graphics: Gallup

Mr. Putin, 71 years old, has served four presidential terms, including two four-year terms from 2000-2008, two six-year terms from 2012-2024 and one prime ministerial term from 2008-2012. He is running for a fifth presidential term as an independent candidate.

The latest survey conducted by the Levada Center in Moscow in February showed that 86% of Russians supported President Putin before the election.

“We will definitely vote for President Putin; he has made Russia a much better country,” said Dmitry, a 41-year-old real estate agent from the Komi Republic in Russia’s far north. He said while visiting Moscow with his wife.

With this support, Mr. Putin is expected to easily be re-elected. After Russia amended the provisions on presidential term limits in the constitution in 2020, he can now theoretically continue in power for two more terms until 2036.

Two years after the start of hostilities in Ukraine, Mr. Putin is more confident than ever, as Russian forces are regaining the initiative on the battlefield and the country’s economy is resilient to Western pressure.

However, observers believe that Mr. Putin will also face a series of challenges during his next term of power if he wins the election.

The war in Ukraine is at risk of prolonging, as neither side can make a breakthrough on the battlefield, and the conflict is turning into a war of attrition. Russia expects the West’s determination to aid Ukraine to gradually fade, especially if Donald Trump returns to the White House in this year’s election.

This is considered a risky gamble. If the West maintains its growing support for Kyiv and Trump is not re-elected, Russia will face enormous collective power from the US and Europe, as well as an increasingly determined Ukraine.

The war in Ukraine also caused Russia-West relations to plummet, forcing Moscow to seek other relationships and become more dependent on partners in the East. Russia is getting closer to China and India, aiming to establish a “multipolar world,” but these two countries also benefit greatly from Russia’s cheap oil resources.

In energy issues, Russia has lost its potential European market due to the Ukraine conflict. Moscow is looking to fix it by implementing three major projects, including building a “gas gateway” in Turkey, the Power of Siberia 2 gas pipeline connecting to China through Mongolia and expanding maritime routes. Northern Sea Route (NSR) artery.

These are important projects that can determine Russia’s ability to withstand sanctions from the West and pivot trade eastward. However, there is currently no guarantee that these projects will be completed soon.

Economically, Russia’s growth is being driven mainly by defense spending. Spending on defense and security is expected to account for up to 40% of the 2024 budget, partly affecting other areas of life, especially inflation. During his time leading Russia, President Putin significantly improved people’s living standards, and now he needs to prevent them from declining.

If re-elected, Mr. Putin will be 77 years old at the end of his 5th presidential term. He is still younger than US President Joe Biden when the White House boss took the oath of office in 2021 at the age of 78 and still has a lot of time to live.

According to The Moscow Times, Reuters