Putin's Progress

; Vladimir Putin (Omtalt)

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Russia's current president, and a racing certainty to be re-elected in 2004, Vladimir Putin seemed to have come from nowhere when he succeeded Boris Yeltsin in March 2000. It was as if he had taken the Kremlin by stealth -- perhaps using the skills he acquired as a senior officer in the KGB. In fact, Putin's rise to prominence owes more to a combination of canny manoeuvring and good old-fashioned patronage. A fiercely loyal citizen of St Petersburg, from a poor but stable background, he has throughout his life maintained close contacts with key officials in that city. And his links with the powerful Yeltsin clan made him the heir apparent as his predecessor's health declined.

Since then Putin has trod a tricky but careful path between overtures to the West when it suits him and a hardline approach to problems at home.

His handling of the Chechen crisis, including the Moscow theatre siege, has inspired admiration and condemnation in equal measure. But what does he stand for? And to what extent is a policy of 'Russia First' compatible with a world in which US primacy holds sway? Drawing on interviews with all the key players in Moscow, London and around the world, Peter Truscott's masterly and incisive biography sheds new light on one of the most enigmatic of modern leaders.