Russia today is formally known as the Russian Federation, and it has only ever had three Presidents. The full list of Russian Presidents is, therefore: Boris Yeltsin, Vladimir Putin and the current Russian President Dmitry Medvedev.
This article gives a brief introduction to the men who have held the office of President of Russia (either the current Russian Federation or the previous Russian Soviet Federative Socialist Republic).
Boris Yeltsin – 10 July 1991 to 31 December 1999
Boris Yeltsin was initially elected as President of the Russian Soviet Federative Socialist Republic, which was one of the constituent bodies of the Soviet Union, with a 57% share of the national vote. Inaugurated on 10 July 1991, he was its President until the dissolution of the Soviet Union on 31 December 1991, and served out the remainder of his term of office as President of the newly formed Russian Federation.
Unpopular because of his shock therapy economic reforms and the collapse of the Russian economy, Yeltsin was no longer a popular politician. As a result, he struggled to win re-election in 1996. He won just 35.3% of the vote in an election marred by claims of fraud, and was forced into a runoff with Gennady Zyuganov, the Communist Party’s candidate. Yeltsin won 53% of the second round vote, scraping into a second term.
Yeltsin’s term of office had been due to expire in the summer of 2000, but he unexpectedly resigned as President on 31 December 1999, handing over power to Vladimir Putin, who moved from the role of Russian Prime Minister to Acting Russian President.
Vladimir Putin – 31 December 1999 to 7 May 2008
Vladimir Putin served as Acting Russian President from 31 December 1999 to 7 May 2000, and is the only person in Russian history to have held the title of Acting Russian President.
On 7th May 2000, Putin was inaugurated as Russian President for his first term of office. Putin won election for his first term with a 52.94% share of the vote. By passing the 50% mark he ensured that no second round runoff was required against Communist Party challenger Gannady Zyuganov.
Putin won re-election for a second term comfortably in the 2004 Russian Presidential Election, with 71.31% of the vote, defeating Nikolay Kharatinov of the Communist Party (Gennady Zyuganov took a year off). Although Putin was genuinely popular among Russian voters, the election has been criticised by external observers. Fraud in the Caucasus, in particular, appears likely – especially if you consider that turnout in those areas was generally over 90%, and Putin generally received well over 90% of the vote in those areas – including 91.25% in Chechnya.
Dmitry Medvedev – 7 May 2008 to Present
After much speculation about whether Putin would amend the constitution to allow him to serve an additional term of office (the current Russian constitution limits candidates to two consecutive terms of office), Dmitry Medvedev emerged as Putin’s hand picked candidate in the 2008 Russian Presidential election.
Medvedev won the election with 71.25% of the vote (a number startlingly similar to Putin’s 71.31% in the previous election), beating the almost ever present Gennady Zyuganov who finished a distant second with 17.72% of the vote. Medvedev was inaugurated as Russian President on 7 May 2008, and swiftly appointed Vladimir Putin as Russian Prime Minister. The two have ruled in what they refer to as a tandem ever since. Medvedev, as the current Russian President, is nominally Putin’s superior, but politics is never that simple, and Putin has sufficient support to ensure that Russia would be thrown into chaos if Medvedev were ever to try and sack Putin as Russian Prime Minister.
At the time of writing (April 2011), there is considerable speculation about whether Dmitry Medvedev or Vladimir Putin will run in the Russian Presidential election 2012. Putin is eligible to run because the Russian constitution only bars candidates from serving two consecutive terms of office, and not from returning to office after a break. The stakes are high because the Russian Constitution was changed in 2008 to extend the term of office from four to six years.
Mikhail Gorbachev, President of the Soviet Union
No Russian Presidents list would be complete without mentioning the only man to have ever held the post of President of the Soviet Union – Mikhail Gorbachev. He was the first elected leader of the Soviet Union, but his leadership soon became irrelevant after the failed August 1991 coup against him, which led to the ascent of Boris Yeltsin (who, as noted above, had only just been elected as President of the Russian Soviet Federative Socialist Republic).
Mikhail Gorbachev served as Soviet President from 15 March 1990 to 31 December 1991, when the Soviet Union was dissolved.