Currently he's United Russia's Prime Minister, serving with President Dmitry Medvedev.
From May 7, 2000 - May 7, 2008, he was Russia's second President, succeeding Boris Yeltsin, a man known for destructive "shock therapy" that created shocking levels of poverty and social inequality.
After he resigned on the last day of 1999, Putin became acting president, knowing 1990s policies were no longer acceptable. As a candidate, he promised corrective measures, saying:
"I am convinced that the defining feature of the new century will not be a battle of ideologies, but a sharp competition over the quality of life, national wealth and progress."
His agenda included:
• rule of law principles under which corporate and private interests no longer would get special privileges the way oligarchs did under Yeltsin. Perhaps not as much, but social inequality is still extreme.
• reawakening "national dignity," wanting Russia to be "a self-confident (potentially) great power; and
• economic recovery, including elimination extreme poverty and economic crime; calling Russia "a rich country of poor people," he said "there (cannot) be a superpower where weakness and poverty reign."
Russia has a long way to go, but Putin's eight years were noteworthy. Living standards doubled. GDP rose 70%. Nearly all Russia's foreign debt was repaid. About $402 billion in foreign currency reserves were accumulated.
In 2008 dollars, GDP grew from $200 billion in 1999 to $1.26 trillion in 2007. Russia rose from the world's 20th largest economy to seventh ranked. Trade increased from 17% of GDP in 1990 to 48% in 2004.
Being the world's second largest oil producer and largest for natural gas contributed greatly, especially because of skyrocketing energy prices since 2000.
Compared to Yeltsin, his economic record was impressive. Russia was transformed from a basket case to a magnet for foreign investment. Nonetheless, much unfinished business remains, including raising the standard of living for left out millions in society and dealing Russia's deep-seated corruption.
In October 2008, Medvedev said:
"Corruption in our nation has not simply become wide-scale. It has become a common, everyday phenomenon which characterizes the very life of our society. We are not simply talking about commonplace bribery. We are talking about a severe illness which is corroding the economy and corrupting all society."
It's one of many problems Russia faces, challenging him and Putin to address more aggressively. Prosecutions were pursued earlier. Much more needs to be done to combat a problem estimated by some at around $240 billion annually, involving business and bureaucrats.
He and Medvedev may get six more years to do it.
On September 24, New York Times writer Ellen Barry headlined, "Putin Once More Moves to Assume Top Job in Russia," saying:
His presidential candidacy announcement brought "a wave of applause" from 11,000 party members.
During United Russia's Moscow Congress, Putin officially announced it in elections to be held on March 4, 2011. A September Levada poll showed 41% of Russians prefer him compared to 22% for Medvedev.
On September 24, Medvedev proposed him, saying:
"I think it would be good for Congress to support the candidacy of the party chief, Vladimir Putin, for the post of president of the country." He added that he's "prepared to lead this government (as Prime Minister) and work for the good of the country."
Putin called running again "a great honor for me" adding:
"I want to say directly: An agreement over what to do in the future was reached between us several years ago."
"What we are recommending to the convention is a deeply thought-out decision. Moreover, we really discussed this possible turn of events at the time when we formed our comradely union."
Putin served two consecutive four-year terms, but was ineligible for a third consecutive one. If elected in 2012, he'll have six years and may run again in 2018, making him eligible to remain President until 2024.
At age 59 in October, he'll be 72 if elected two more times.
On September 24 on Russia Today, several observers were interviewed.
According to Sergey Brilev, political commentator and Russia's Council for Foreign and Defense Policy:
"Firstly, Medvedev will bring liberal votes for the United Russia party because he is, of course, associated with a liberal agenda and secondly, those things which have been inserted into the Russian political agenda, such as political and economic modernization and innovations, these are things that are normally associated with" him.
Serving as Prime Minister with Putin "takes us to a new political reality," combining Putin's "strong-handed sort of politics" with his liberal agenda.
Political expert Igor Khokhlov called Putin "very popular outside (Russia because of his) very reasonable policy following all its international agreements...."
At the same time, he and Medvedev express great concern about Washington's belligerent encroachment near its borders with menacing military bases, interceptor missiles (called defensive ones), advanced tracking radar, and other weapons.
In September, America signed an agreement with Romania to install missile defenses and advanced radar. Earlier, Turkey agreed to a EUROPRO radar system.
In addition, Poland decided to deploy Patriot interceptor missiles at its base in Morag, around 100 kilometers from Kaliningrad. Pentagon radar already is in Varde, Norway near Russia's border.
Military expert Konstantin Sivkov expressed alarm, saying:
"The US and NATO continue the policy of encirclement of Russia with their bases in the framework of the project 'Anaconda loop.' Our country is still perceived by the Americans as the main strategic adversary, and they do not even make any secret of it."
"Their task is to neutralize our nuclear weapons and push us out of the major areas of the world's oceans. In this case - even from the Black Sea. Turkey, of course, has its own views on the missile defense system, but Romania is a pawn in the hands of the US, and its elite exist only because of American support."
It's also true for Poland. "As a result, there is a chain of US missile defense sites along the Russian border, stretching from Turkey through Romania and Poland to Norway."
Imagine if Russia or China had similar installations in Canada, Mexico, and/or Central American countries. Washington would demand withdrawal, threatening retaliatory measures otherwise.
In 1962, the Cuban missile crisis nearly brought nuclear war. An October 2002 Havana US/Russia/Cuba summit disclosed the close call for the first time.
Devastation was avoided because Soviet submarine captain Vasily Arkhipov countermanded an order to fire nuclear torpedos when US destroyers attacked Russian submarines near Kennedy's "quarantine" line." Had he obeyed, vast destruction or possible nuclear winter might have resulted.
Yet current US policy is far more menacing than Cuba's non-threatening missiles of October. Under Obama, Washington pursues "stronger, smarter, and swifter defenses of American forces and America's allies."
Last September, Defense Secretary Gates explained a four-phase missile shield plan. It includes deploying Aegis class warships in the Eastern Mediterranean equipped with SM-3 anti-ballistic missiles and anti-satellite interceptors, followed by upgraded land and sea versions when available.
Moreover, stationing SM-3s in Bulgaria, Romania, and Poland was announced. Similar capabilities were installed in the Persian Gulf. They include supplying regional allies with longer range Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) missile systems.
The strategy involves having in place impenetrable interceptors from the Baltic, across Eastern Europe, through the Middle East to the Arabian, Black and Red Seas close to Russia's borders.
When completed in 2020, it will comprise a vast, sophisticated, flexible, mobile system. It also includes doubling the number of Aegis class warships to 38 by 2015, equipped with state-of-the-art missile interceptors.
America's front line capability will shift from Eastern Germany through the Middle East to the Black Sea and other strategic waterways to the Caucasus and Russia proper, encroaching on Moscow with new Eastern European bases in Bulgaria, Romania and Poland.
According to Khokhlov:
"There were a few pillars of global stability built in the 70s by the Soviet Union and the United States, and Bush's administration has contributed a lot to removing" them.
So has Obama. In contrast, "Russian foreign policy is very logical. The idea is to continue the cooperation that existed in the Soviet era..." However, installing first-strike missiles called defensive ones "in Europe or anywhere else (removes vital) pillars of stability."
For Russia, he added, "results and stability" are the two most "highly valued commodities," knowing it faces a belligerent America waging multiple imperial wars. Russia one day may be next.
As a result, its leaders need preventive and retaliatory countermeasures in place in case of a worst case scenario given Washington's out-of-control aggressiveness under both major parties.
As a former KGB official and President, Putin is especially mindful of the clear and present danger. In 2003, he strongly opposed America's Iraq war without Security Council approval.
Hours after it began, he publicly condemned what he called a "great political error," expressing opposition to war based on contrived arguments and lies.
Although Russia belatedly recognized Libya's puppet Transitional National Council (TNC) regime, last March he was very outspoken against NATO's war.
He called UN Security Council Resolution 1973, instituting a no-fly zone, "defective and flawed," saying (i)t allows everything. It resembles medieval calls for crusades."
He added that meddling in the internal affairs of other countries is common US policy, suggesting that Russia must strengthen its own defenses just in case.
A Final Comment
Major parties participating in Russia's 2012 presidential elections include:
(1) United Russia under Putin and Medvedev;
(2) Communist Party of the Russian Federation under Gannady Zyuganov;
(3) Liberal Democratic Party of Russia under Vladimir Zhirinovsky; and
(4) A Just Russia under Nikolai Levichev.
Over five months ahead of Russia's March 4 election, Putin looks very much favored to win. Late summer polls showed his popularity at 68%, down from 78% in 2010.
In contrast, US presidents and as candidates rarely score that high, and when they do it's generally short-lived.
If Putin's popularity stays close to current levels, he, Medvedev and United Russia will govern Russia for another six years with likely Federal Assembly support.
Stephen Lendman lives in Chicago and can be reached at email@example.com.
Also visit his blog site at sjlendman.blogspot.com and listen to cutting-edge discussions with distinguished guests on the Progressive Radio News Hour on the Progressive Radio Network Thursdays at 10AM US Central time and Saturdays and Sundays at noon. All programs are archived for easy listening.