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Putin’s 15 years at top of Russia’s politics

December 31, 2014, 6:00 UTC+3 MOSCOW
Fifteen years ago, on December 31, 1999, Russia’s first president Boris Yeltsin announced his surprise resignation
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Former Russian president Boris Yeltsin and president Vladimir Putin on December 31, 1999

Former Russian president Boris Yeltsin and president Vladimir Putin on December 31, 1999

© AP Photo/ITAR-TASS

MOSCOW, December 31. /TASS/. Fifteen years ago, on December 31, 1999, Russia’s first president Boris Yeltsin announced his surprise resignation and handing power to his successor Vladimir Putin.

Over these years, Putin’s approval ratings have remained at stably high levels, and Russia’s voice on the international arena has become louder. By the end of his second presidential term, the US Time magazine called Putin a “Person of the Year” for returning Russia to "the table of world power."

Meanwhile, Russia’s rising authority and influence have resulted not only in a stronger state but also in an increase in global political rivalry where the stakes are high.

Russia is now bringing together its allies, including as part of the Eurasian Economic Union, the Shanghai Cooperation Organization and BRICS ( Brazil, Russia, India, China, and South Africa).

Even the refusal of the world leaders to come for a G8 summit in Russia in 2014 was not an extraordinary event - without Russia the format seems to have come to a standstill.

Ukrainian crisis accelerates tensions

In January 2000, Putin held one of the first international talks with Ukraine’s prime minister, Viktor Yushchenko, and President Leonid Kuchma. The Russian leader said he was sure that the economic problems in Russia-Ukraine relations could be solved soon.

Fifteen years later, Ukraine became an apple of discord between Russia and the West.

Putin said in his state of the nation address in early December this is a result of a containment policy which was not invented yesterday and has been carried out for years “whenever someone thinks that Russia has become too strong or independent.”

The February coup in Kiev and attempts to pull Russia’s neighbor Ukraine into a European camp under doubtful promises at Maidan protests demanded the Kremlin’s rapid response. Moscow supported the referendum in Crimea which determined its wish to rejoin Russia, and sent humanitarian aid to militias in southeastern Ukraine who refused to accept the new authorities.

The anti-Russian sanctions, which came amid decreasing oil prices and the turbulent global economy, have not affected the president’s rating and the support for Putin has reached a maximum level.

Sanctions as reason for modernization

Putin said the current circumstances allow Russia focusing on the task which has not been solved for many years - diversifying the country’s economy. Russia’s authorities are set to deal with import replacement and developing non-raw material spheres, and these are the main priorities for the coming years.

Putin said the current economic crisis will last for two years. This coincides with what political scientists call a “window of opportunities” - the time until the next election cycle when the authorities can carry out active reforms and the risks linked to unpopular measures are low.

In an interview with TASS in late November, Putin said the current tensions with the West are not only due to Crimea, but because Russia is protecting its independence, its sovereignty and the right to exist.

“Take a look at our millennium-long history. As soon as we rise, some other nations immediately feel the urge to push Russia aside, to put it “where it belongs,” to slow it down,” Putin said. “How old is the theory of containment? We tend to think it dates back to the Soviet era but, however, it is centuries-old. But we shouldn’t fan any passions over it on our side because that’s how the world is functioning.”

“We are strong because we are right,” Putin said.

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