Putin Becomes Russian Prime Minister Summary

  • Last updated on November 10, 2022

Russian president Boris Yeltsin selected Vladimir Putin to be Russia’s prime minister in the summer of 1999. Putin succeeded Yeltsin as president, was elected twice to that office, and led the nation’s significant political and economic resurgence both domestically and internationally.

Summary of Event

In the aftermath of the collapse and disintegration of the Soviet Union as a nation-state in 1991, Russia faced numerous challenges. Severe economic conditions, political controversies, growing social problems, a precipitous decline in influence in foreign affairs, and territorial border disputes contributed to extensive disarray and confusion for Russia and its people. A catastrophic financial crisis in the summer of 1998 resulted in the Russian government defaulting on its international economic obligations, an extremely serious blow to its fiscal integrity and credibility. Russia;government Prime ministers;Russia [kw]Putin Becomes Russian Prime Minister (Aug. 16, 1999) [kw]Russian Prime Minister, Putin Becomes (Aug. 16, 1999) [kw]Prime Minister, Putin Becomes Russian (Aug. 16, 1999) Russia;government Prime ministers;Russia [g]Europe;Aug. 16, 1999: Putin Becomes Russian Prime Minister[10450] [g]Russia;Aug. 16, 1999: Putin Becomes Russian Prime Minister[10450] [c]Government and politics;Aug. 16, 1999: Putin Becomes Russian Prime Minister[10450] Putin, Vladimir Yeltsin, Boris Kasyanov, Mikhail

Boris Yeltsin, Russia’s first president, who was reelected in 1996, initially provided solid leadership to the nation but increasingly faltered in his efforts because of growing health problems, erratic behavior, continued economic difficulties, and divisive political disputes. New political parties opposed Yeltsin and even attempted to remove or impeach him. In response, he used forceful methods against the legislature and several times removed the prime minister as head of the government, rarely achieving the stability he sought.

In August, 1999, Yeltsin named Vladimir Putin as prime minister, the fifth person in that office within seventeen months. Putin was an unexpected choice, since he was relatively unknown in the country and came from a background in the secretive Soviet intelligence service, the KGB. Although he worked under the reform mayor of Leningrad (now St. Petersburg) in the early 1990’s and headed the successor agency to the KGB (the Federal Security Service) later in the decade, Putin did not appear to possess the political experience and economic talent required to lead the nation successfully. Nonetheless, the Russian Duma approved Putin as the new head of government while Yeltsin, although increasingly unpopular, still dominated the political scene.

Events soon propelled Putin to even greater influence and eventually led to his succeeding Yeltsin as the nation’s president. Ethnic separatists seeking independence from Russia initiated several terrorist attacks in Dagestan in August, 1999, and allegedly carried out attacks in Moscow in September that killed and injured many civilians. The new prime minister immediately implemented a forceful response, authorizing the Second Chechen War in August. Putin was determined to crush the ethnic separatists by military force and other repressive measures.

The next election for Russia’s president was scheduled for the spring of 2000, but Yeltsin stunned the nation and world on December 31, 1999, by announcing his resignation, to take effect immediately. Under the law, he designated Putin as acting president to serve until a successor could be chosen for a four-year term; thus, Putin’s career as Russia’s prime minister lasted only several months. Eleven candidates were on the presidential ballot in March of 2000, with Putin winning the election with 52.9 percent of the vote. His major opponent, representing the Communist Party, had only 29 percent.

Whether Russian democracy would survive under the new regime was an obvious concern. The Russian Communist Party and several reform parties had done well in the December, 1999, parliamentary election for the Duma, the lower house of the national parliament. The next election would indicate whether a pluralistic and democratic political environment would continue in Russia’s future. That parliamentary election, in December of 2003, was a stunning victory for Putin’s side. A new political party supporting the president, United (or Unified) Russia, was the overwhelming election winner in 2003. Communist strength was cut in half and the reformers were virtually eliminated from any representation. This outcome gave Putin the political power base he sought to adopt and to implement his priorities and policies.

In February, 2004, the president dismissed his entire cabinet, including the prime minister, Mikhail Kasyanov, and selected a new group of loyal associates. The following month, Putin again ran for president, this time reelected by more than 70 percent of the voters. Public opinion polls during his two terms were consistently positive, usually at 65 to 70 percent, reflecting Putin’s reputation as a successful take-charge leader.

A major priority during his first term was to deal with economic issues. Paying salaries and pensions on time, and making some increases, were one priority that had widespread public support. The Russian economy significantly improved during his second term. The inflation rate declined, and unemployment dropped. Larger revenues from foreign sales of oil and gas provided the funds needed to meet the demands of the government’s budget.

Another priority of Putin’s administration was to adopt and to implement legal and judicial reforms to improve standards and reduce corruption in the courts. Although more reforms were needed, these steps moved that agenda in a positive direction. In addition, the Russian constitution and federal system were altered to place additional authority in the hands of the national government. Changes in Russia’s election laws altered the selection of governors of the nearly ninety major administrative entities of the nation, furthering the trend toward the centralization of power. Other modifications gave the president the authority to appoint the mayors of the major cities of Moscow and St. Petersburg. Critics pointed to these changes as examples of Putin’s growing authoritarian leadership.

The government also undertook significant steps to rebuild and modernize the Russian military, which had seriously deteriorated during the 1990’s. The defense budget nearly quadrupled between 2001 and 2006. Under Putin’s guidance, Russia took a very active role in world affairs, periodically cooperating with international organizations and individual nations, such as the United States, but also clearly reflecting Putin’s firm determination to promote and defend Russia’s own national interests, even if such a position created controversy in the world arena. For example, Russia opposed the decision of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) to include member states close to or bordering Russia’s western frontier. Moscow also strongly opposed the U.S. plan to deploy radar and missile systems in Poland and the Czech Republic, seeing those steps as hostile to Russia.


Rising from relative obscurity, Vladimir Putin became known as a well-informed and effective leader who carefully planned and executed his policies. Reserved in temperament, Putin usually acted deliberately. He did not seek to impose an ideological system. A pragmatic attitude, identifying problems and setting goals, contrasted his leadership style to some of his predecessors. These qualities contributed to his growing reputation. However, he also could be forceful and tough in dealing with domestic and foreign critics, and many criticized him for what they saw as an authoritarian streak that weakened the fledging Russian democracy.

During Putin’s two terms, the economy substantially grew, the standard of living for many Russians improved, and Russia resumed a greater role in world affairs. Putin can be given credit for these successes, but he also faced criticism for failing to fulfill the broader civil rights and social needs of the entire population, restricting freedom of the press and media, altering the federal system, increasing political authoritarianism, and failing to stem crime and corruption. Russia’s international reputation was also affected by its increased military strength, foreign policy behavior, and the occasional lack of cooperation in trying to resolve challenging and difficult world issues. Russia;government Prime ministers;Russia

Further Reading
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Black, J. L. Putin and the New World Order: Looking East, Looking West? Lanham, Md.: Rowman & Littlefield, 2004. Canadian scholar’s extensive use of Russian sources assesses Russia’s objectives and actions in international affairs from 1999 to 2002.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Herspring, Dale R., ed. Putin’s Russia: Past Imperfect, Future Uncertain. Lanham, Md.: Rowman & Littlefield, 2007. Detailed coverage of Russia under Putin’s leadership (2000-2006) in topical chapters, ending with a broad assessment of his personality and significance.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Paxton, John. Leaders of Russia and the Soviet Union: From the Romanov Dynasty to Vladimir Putin. New York: Fitzroy Dearborn, 2004. Basic biographical sketch of Putin and a chronology of several events during his first term.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Politkovskaya, Anna. Putin’s Russia. London: Harvill Press, 2004. Discouraging and depressing anecdotal interpretation of the Putin regime and its negative effects on the nation by a controversial Russian journalist, later murdered in Moscow in 2006.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Putin, Vladimir. First Person: An Astonishing Frank Self-Portrait by Russia’s President Vladimir Putin. New York: PublicAffairs, 2000. Revealing candid comments about his life, career, beliefs, and goals, told in extensive interviews with Russian journalists.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Sakwa, Richard. Putin: Russia’s Choice. New York: Routledge, 2004. British scholar provides biographical background, then topically describes and interprets Putin’s effectiveness in seeking to establish a “third way” effort to modernize the country in the twenty-first century.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Shevtsova, Lilia Fedorovna. Putin’s Russia. Translated by Antonina W. Bouis. Washington, D.C.: Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, 2005. Noted Russian political analyst thoughtfully describes Putin’s priorities, policies, and effects in domestic and international affairs during his first term.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Truscott, Peter. Putin’s Progress: A Biography of Russia’s Enigmatic President. New York: Simon & Schuster, 2004. Covers Putin’s family background, youth, KGB career, post-Soviet activities in the 1990’s, and rise to the presidency.

Russian Troops Invade Chechnya

Second Chechen War Erupts

Categories: History