With the invasion of Ukraine, the repression in Russia and his confrontation with the West, Vladimir Putin has become an authoritarian war chief, in power for a quarter of a century and who now aspires to remain in the Kremlin for six more years.
On Friday, Putin announcedhis candidacy for a fifth termin the March 17, 2024, elections. He has already completed two four-year terms and two six-year terms, with an interlude as prime minister.
Vladimir Putin's system of power, which came from the Soviet KGB and arrived in the Kremlin on December 31, 1999, has confirmed two characteristics over the years.
The first is the constant hardening of the system, against the oligarchs, with the second war in Chechnya, the curtailment of civil liberties and the repression of the media and the opposition.
The second feature is the strengthening of its international presence, with the war in Georgia (2008), the annexation of Ukrainian Crimea (2014), the military intervention in Syria (2015) and the invasion of Ukraine (2022).
Europe, in particular Angela Merkel's Germany, mistakenly believed that it was going to channel these ambitions, betting on economic codependence, through massive purchases of Russian gas.
Vladimir Putin, on a giant screen, during an event in September 2022, to celebrate the annexation of territories that belonged to Ukraine. Photo: AFP Russian President Vladimir Putin is seen on a screen set at Red Square as he addresses a rally and a concert marking the annexation of four regions of Ukraine Russian troops occupy - Luhansk, Donetsk, Kherson and Zaporizhzhia, in central Moscow on September 30, 2022. (Photo by Alexander NEMENOV / AFP) / AFP PICTURES OF THE YEAR 2022
But Putin seems unstoppable and at the age of 71 he aspires to a new presidential election, scheduled for March 17.
Although the Kremlin master is certainly entangled in the war in Ukraine, where his army has suffered humiliating defeats, he persists and hopes to win a victory by attrition.
In his martial speeches, marked by historical revisionism, Putin accuses Ukraine of Nazism, says he wants to annex territories and considers this conflict as a war in which the United States is behind.
According to him, Russia's survival is at stake. That is why he punishes those who oppose the invasion of Ukraine with imprisonment and there are thousands of Russians prosecuted, harassed and imprisoned.
He doesn't care about Western sanctions or the fact that the International Criminal Court has prosecuted him for the alleged deportation of Ukrainian children. He sees his mission as getting rid of Western hegemony.
Vladimir Putin greets soldiers during a medal ceremony at the Kremlin. Photo: EFE
From KGB Agent to Almighty Leader
Putin was a KGB agent, stationed in East Germany in the 1980s, and remains scarred by the disintegration of the Soviet Union, a sign of Moscow's defeat in the Cold War.
To achieve its goals, it has China's diplomatic support today. Asia, led by India, is buying Russian oil and Putin says Africa sees him as an ally against Western "neo-colonialism." It also aims to obtain weapons from Iran and North Korea.
The Russian leader also wants to be the standard-bearer of "traditional" values, in the face of what he considers the moral decadence of the West and in particular its tolerance towards the LGBT+ community.
With the failure of the Ukrainian counteroffensive in mid-2023, Putin feels stronger and takes advantage of the Western division over the continuation of military aid to Kyiv.
In the midst of the covid pandemic, he had the Constitution amended so that he could run for president in 2024 and 2030, but he has many challenges ahead of him.
The war in Ukraine is far from a Russian victory and the ability of Russians, the elite and the economy to withstand this conflict in the long term remains unknown.
Vladimir Putin, fishing in southern Siberia. Russia's stainless president is going for another term. Photo: AFP
The horizon of a long war
In June, the mutiny by mercenaries from the Wagner group, led by Yevgeny Prigozhin, a Putin loyalist, was an example of opposition, although rebel leaders were later killed in what was described as a random plane crash.
According to Russian analyst Tatiana Stanovaya, the cost of the conflict is rising for Moscow.
"The war is exhausting Russia ... of course, it can last a long time, but the price to pay is gigantic," the political scientist said in a recent note on Telegram, recalling that at 71 years old, "Putin is not eternal."
For many Russians, Vladimir Putin remains the man who restored Russia's honor, undermined by President Boris Yeltsin's poverty, corruption and alcoholic decline in the 1990s.
At the age of 47, when he arrived in the Kremlin, he pledged friendship to Westerners and developed the economy, taking advantage of the favorable price of hydrocarbons.
But in the mid-2000s, he began his divorce from the West, accusing NATO of threatening Russia by expanding and reproaching the United States for considering itself the "sole sovereign" of the world.