(Reuters) - Russian President Vladimir Putin was named Time magazine’s “Person of the Year” for 2007 on Wednesday for bringing stability and renewed status to his country.
Putin, 55, whose party recently won a big victory in parliamentary elections, is riding high on an oil-fueled economic boom and soaring popularity from a no-nonsense approach that has restored national pride with a big military build-up and verbal attacks on the West reminiscent of the Cold War.
Here are some key facts about Vladimir Putin:
* Putin was born in October 1952 in St. Petersburg, then called Leningrad. A former KGB spy in East Germany, he rose to head the KGB’s successor organization, FSB, before being chosen as prime minister by the late President Boris Yeltsin in August 1999.
* He took over as acting president when Yeltsin stepped down in December 1999. After a huge public relations campaign to build a profile for the relative unknown, he was elected president in March 2000.
* He has overseen a steady concentration of power within the Kremlin walls, sidelining the political opposition and imposing tight control on the media. This has caused his Western critics to question his democratic credentials.
* He has played to his power base in the security forces and military by fostering a tough-guy image. Before the poll, he told Western governments to keep their “snotty noses” out of Russia’s affairs.
* Delivering on a vow he made when first elected president in 2000, he has crushed the Chechen rebellion for now, though sporadic attacks continue on Russian forces.
* His years in power have been marked by a significant rise in living standards, helped by soaring oil prices, but large sections of the population still live in poverty.
* He has prided himself on bringing stability and predictability to Russia after the zig-zags of the Yeltsin years. He described the demise of the Soviet Union as “the greatest geopolitical catastrophe of the century.”
* Two outspoken critics of Putin, journalist Anna Politkovskaya and ex-spy Alexander Litvinenko, were murdered in 2006, raising concerns in Russia about the stability Putin has been credited with enforcing after the chaos of the 1990s.
* Putin, highly popular at home, will not give himself a third consecutive term. But he has made it clear that when he steps down early next year he intends to retain political influence in the country. Dmitry Medvedev was nominated this week as the candidate of Putin’s party for the presidential election. Medvedev, a close Putin ally, was a foregone conclusion after the president gave him his personal endorsement.
* Polls have shown that talking tough about Russia standing up to foreigners strikes a chord with millions of Russians who yearn for the Soviet Union’s once mighty superpower status. (Writing by David Cutler and Richard Balmforth, London Editorial Reference Unit)