History of the Soviet Union

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The Rise of Vladimir Putin

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There is no shortage of infamous characters in Russian history. Recently, one figure has appeared determined to insert his name, Vladimir Putin, to the list. Putin first came to power in 1999 when he was appointed Prime Minister by Boris Yeltsin. Shortly after, Yeltsin resigned as President, appointing Putin as his successor. In a matter of months, Putin went from being basically unheard of to being the undisputed leader of Russia.

Putin was born in 1952 at Leningrad. Growing up during the 50’s and 60’s, Putin was raised during the golden age of the Soviet Union. The country was fresh off victory in WWII and competing with the West in areas such as space technology. Clearly this time had an impact upon young Vladimir as he has aspired to return Russia to the greatness of his childhood. However, at the time, one would probably never have guessed the young Putin would rise to become President. Interestingly, one source claims that during his childhood, Putin was an aggressive student who rebelled against authority and in at least one occasion, threw a chalkboard eraser at a fellow classmate.

Eventually, Putin managed to progress beyond heaving chalkboard erasers at Western sympathizers and graduated from Leningrad State University in 1975. Shortly afterward, Putin entered into service as a KGB intelligence officer in East Germany. Infinite rumors exist concerning what services Putin actually performed whilst in the KGB, but it is generally accepted that he dealt with and managed personnel who spied on the Western Europe, NATO, and the U.S.

He seems like he enjoys his job too much

He seems like he enjoys his job too much

For some reason, Boris Yeltsin thought it would be a grand idea to step down and hand Putin the reigns, which he has yet to give up. Putin won election in 2000 following Yeltsin’s resignation and won again in 2004. In 2008 he stepped down to allow his protege Dimitri Medvedev to temporarily keep his seat warm while he abided by a Russian law prohibiting three consecutive terms. Putin still held the role of prime minister during Medvedev’s presidency though so its questionable how much power he really ceded. In 2012, he was re-elected to President and this time for a new six-year term which has been amended from the previous four year period.

During his time in office, Putin has gone above and beyond in his efforts to create a personality cult akin to Joseph Stalin’s. He has put immense effort into building the image of an action hero/ man of the people. The internet is saturated with images of Putin partaking in all sorts of outdoor activities. Just to list a few of my personal favorites: In 2012 Putin flew a mechanical hang glider while leading a flock of Siberian Cranes during their yearly migration, in 2013 he posed bareback while riding a horse and fishing in a show of his manliness, and also in 2013 apparently stole the super bowl ring of New England Patriots owner Robert Kraft.

Only Putin would fly with Siberian Cranes

Only Putin would fly with Siberian Cranes

 

NATO hasn't seen guns like these since the Warsaw Pact

NATO hasn’t seen guns like these since the Warsaw Pact

There may not be a more fascinating character to study among world leaders today. Although Putin seems overtly opposed to NATO and the West, I personally believe he just wants to make Russia seem as strong as it was when he was growing up. Short of joining NATO, Putin would probably be willing to pull any type of move to increase Russian status and influence. Unfortunately, he seems more inclined to grow his influence via challenging the West than cooperating, but this may change as Russia’s rubble continues to plummet after his Crimean antics.

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“Mr. Gorbachev Tear Down This Wall”

President Reagan during his iconic speech

President Reagan during his iconic speech

On June 12th of 1987 Ronald Reagan delivered his now famous speech in front of a large West German crowd near the Berlin wall. Officially, President Reagan was commemorating the 750th anniversary of Berlin. In reality, his speech harshly mocked the increasingly contradictory nature of the Soviet Union during the 1980’s. Soviet policies under Gorbachev had gradually allowed for increasingly liberal attitudes to take root within Soviet Society. Reagan seized upon these reforms and portrayed them as self-realizations by the Politburo itself that their own system of government was doomed to fail.

Known as “Perestroika” and “Glasnost”, these policies probably contributed way more to the demise of the USSR than any piece of western propaganda or any of Reagan’s speeches. Perestroika basically opened the door to Western ideas of entrepreneurship and market-based economics to a Soviet populace that was eager for a change. During the mid and late 1980’s, perestroika allowed for certain institutions to determine their own production levels based upon consumer demand rather than the traditional system of centralized command of the economy. Individuals were also granted new rights and economic freedoms that would have been considered sacrilegious under Stalin’s regime. Specifically, the 1988 Law on Cooperatives allowed for the combination of personal enterprises with state enterprises, or so-called co-opts. This new system allowed for individuals to produce goods beyond those mandated by the state and allowed the person to keep the profits, legally.

While perestroika allowed for an increasingly liberal economy, Glasnost began chipping away at the monopoly of tyrannical censorship practiced by the Politburo. Russian media also increasingly distanced itself from the Politburo during this time. For the first time, Russians saw many of the more negative aspects of the Soviet Union that had long been censored. Russia’s satellite nations utilized Glasnost to stoke their own unique brands of nationalism, which further weakened the clout and legitimacy of the USSR.

Boris Yeltsin, Russia’s first president following the USSR collapse, embraced these new-found notions of nationalism and sought to promote similar nationalism among Russians. Aside from Gorbachev, Yeltsin served perhaps the most monumental role in the dissolution of the USSR. He famously challenged the August Coup by climbing atop a tank in Moscow to deliver a speech in open defiance of the coup.

Down with the Soviet Union...long live Mother Russia

Down with the Soviet Union…long live Mother Russia

Despite the mainstream media’s tendency to claim the rhetoric of Ronald Reagan, powerful though it was, as the culprit behind the Soviet Union’s collapse; it was in fact the Soviets themselves who contributed to their own dissolution through embracing perestroika and glasnost.