Vladimir Putin, President of Russia, closely resembles Machiavelli’s Prince. He was a private citizen who came to power in his own native land. Machiavelli refers to this as “Civil Principality.” Machiavelli says, “…this way of becoming a prince is obtained with the support of the common people or by the nobles….” (Machiavelli, 20) We will see how he had the support of both.
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Putin was born in a working-class family in Leningrad, USSR on October 7, 1952. He grew up in a Soviet Union-style communal apartment with two other families which was typical at the time. He studied law at Leningrad State University and spent 17 years as an agent working for the KGB, which was the equivalent to the United States’ Central Intelligence Agency. In 1991, when the USSR collapsed, he retired from the KGB with the rank of Lieutenant Colonel and went back to St. Petersburg (formally Leningrad, USSR) to work for the city’s first democratically elected mayor (and his former law professor), Anatoly Sobchak. Putin worked mostly behind the scenes and earned a reputation for his ability to get things done, and by 1994, he had risen to the post of first deputy mayor. In 1996, he moved to Moscow where he worked as the assistant to the Kremlin’s chief administrator, and with time, moved up in administrative positions. In July 1998, President Boris Yeltsin made Putin director of the FSB (successor to the KBG). In August 1999, President Yeltsin appointed Putin Prime Minister of Russia, the second highest ranking official. At this point in Putin’s career, he was virtually unknown. However, his public-approval ratings soared when he launched a military campaign against rebels in Chechnya. The public was tired of President Yeltsin’s inability to wipe out the rebels, and Putin was able to get the job done. In December 1999, when President Yeltsin named Putin acting president, the public voted, and Putin easily won the election for President in March 2000.
In chapter 22, Machiavelli says, “A prince’s choice of minsters is important to him, and it’s up to him – to his intelligent foresight – whether he has good ones.” (Machiavelli, 48) When Putin won the presidential election, he started the task of consolidating his power. He divided Russia’s 89 regions and republics into 7 new federal districts, each headed by a representative he appointed. He also reduced the power of Yeltsin-era oligarchs by launching criminal proceedings against them. At the end of his second term as president, he backed Dmitry Medvedev to be his successor. As soon as Medvedev won the election in 2008, Medvedev appointed Putin as Russia’s Prime Minister. Even though Medvedev was president, it was widely speculated that Putin was still the main power in the Kremlin and Medvedev was doing as he was told by Putin. In 2011, Medvedev announced that if his and Putin’s political party would be victorious at the polls, the two would trade positions. In 2012, Putin was elected President for a third term and Medvedev was nominated Prime Minister.
In Chapter 21, Machiavelli says, “A prince also gains prestige from being either a true friend or an outright enemy, i.e. says openly which side he favours in any conflict.” (Machiavelli, 47) In 2003, the United States and her ally, Britain, planned an invasion on Iraq. Putin joined Germany and France in opposing the invasion. Russia had extensive economic ties with Saddam Hussein’s regime, Moscow had billions of dollars’ worth of trade deals with Iraq, and Lukoil, a Russian owned oil company, had a large stake in the Iraqi oil industry. Russia gave Iraq and Saddam Hussein intelligence on the movements of American troops during the early days of the war.
We also learn from Machiavelli it is important for a prince to preserve the appearance of goodness, but he must also learn to act immorally if necessary. “…it is necessary for a prince, if he wants to preserve himself, to learn how to not be good, and to use this knowledge and not use it, as necessity dictates.” (PPT slide 24) “…a prince who wants to keep his power must learn how to act immorally, using or not using this skill according to necessity.” (Machiavelli 33) While Putin has been president, there have been many accusations of the Kremlin acting immorally to silence opposition leaders and critics. A former Russian press minister was found dead in a Washington, DC hotel room due to blunt force trauma to the head. A British inquiry found that two FSB agents killed a former KGB agent in London after poisoning the victim’s cup of tea. A Russian journalist who accused Putin of turning his country into a police state was shot at point blank range near her home. Another journalist who worked with the one just mentioned was kidnapped from her home and later found in nearby woods with multiple gunshot wounds to the head. A human-rights lawyer who represented journalists was shot by a masked gunman. A former deputy prime minister accused Putin of taking bribes from oligarchs was shot four times in the back within yards of the Kremlin. An oligarch who threatened Putin after fleeing to Britain was found dead in his home in an apparent suicide by strangulation. Another journalist who wrote about corruption in the lives of wealthy Russians was killed in a drive-by shooting. A Russian politician who wanted to prove that Russia was behind a bombing of an apartment block was shot. The Kremlin has been linked to or accused of every one of these deaths, however, no one has been held responsible and no one has claimed responsibility.
- Burkeman, Oliver. “Russia Spied for Saddam in War – Pentagon Report.” The Guardian, 24 Mar. 2006, 19:49, www.theguardian.com/world/2006/mar/25/usa.russia.
- Cowell, Alan. “Putin ‘Probably Approved’ Litvinenko Poisoning, British Inquiry Says.” The New York Times, The New York Times, 21 Jan. 2016, www.nytimes.com/2016/01/22/world/europe/alexander-litvinenko-poisoning-inquiry-britain.html.
- Engel, Pamela. “How Vladimir Putin Became One of the Most Feared Leaders in the World.” Business Insider, Business Insider, 14 Feb. 2017, 10:04, www.businessinsider.com/how-vladimir-putin-rose-to-power-2017-2.
- “Third Presidential Term.” Encyclopædia Britannica, Encyclopædia Britannica, Inc., 21 Aug. 2019, www.britannica.com/biography/Vladimir-Putin/Third-presidential-term.
- Wilson, Jeremy. “Here’s a List of Putin Critics Who’ve Ended up Dead.” Business Insider, Business Insider, 11 Mar. 2016, 09:21, www.businessinsider.com/list-of-people-putin-is-suspected-of-assassinating-2016-3?r=UK&IR=T.
- Wing, Joel. “Russia Provided Iraq with Details of the US’s Planned Invasion in 2003.” Business Insider, Business Insider, 15 Apr. 2016, 10:56, www.businessinsider.com/russia-provided-iraq-with-details-of-the-uss-planned-invasion-in-2003-2016-4.
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