Two decades and more ago Russia was struggling to climb up from the state of chaos and downward plummeting that was the Yeltsin era. Of all the candidates to replace him that Yeltsin investigated there was one that though diminutive in physical size more than made up for that in terms of his character.

Putin was known by friends and possible foes alike as a rare thing within the St. Petersburg bureaucracy at the time, a person of integrity who did not abuse his position. The experience of most staffers at the U.S. embassy there chose to see Putin rather than others due to his straight dealing. These plus other qualities he had built up during his time in the Soviet Union’s intelligence agency made him Yeltsin’s choice.

Putin was strong but fair, a graduate of law school who had gone through several baptisms of fire through his career, including the fall of the system he had been charged to preserve. Though somewhat introverted and serious-minded he was not incapable of dry wit at times and was certainly not naive, not one to suffering fool or incompetence easily… and Putin also had one pet hate, betrayal. All in all Yeltsin knew he had found his man.

So Putin set to work attempting to raise Russia up by its bootstraps. The Russian mafia was having a field day and the potential to make a mint by all manner of means with no comeback from the law made bringing order to that society an immense challenge. As did the oligarchs who had arisen during Yeltsin’s time. They had used every opportunity to bring themselves wealth beyond the dreams of avarice. And they were quite averse to paying taxes.

Putin was charged with more or less single-handedly doing the equivalent of herding cats with one arm tied behind his back through a soggy marshland. Yet he accomplished this task despite the expectations of just about everyone. Could anyone else have done it? Looking at the task facing Putin at that time it must surely be very unlikely. Using all his intuitive skills he first set about making the oligarchs pay taxes. This was desperately needed as Russia had defaulted on all its loans and was in economic and financial free fall.

Putin decided on a step by step process. He called all the main oligarchs into the Kremlin for a meeting. It is said they were so cocky in that meeting that they threatened that they would destroy him if he acted against them. Putin perceived that they were scared he’d take from them the money or properties they had gained in the preceding years. In the next meeting he had worked out his step by step strategy. He told them they could keep whatever they had and that he would not act against them… but on two conditions, they would begin to pay taxes and they would not use their fabulous wealth to try to win political power.

Putin’s plan worked and Russia’s fortunes began to improve. Without the kind of threats others might have tried against the oligarchs heralding an all-out war where both sides would lose, Putin had used his well-known qualities of patience and incisive intelligence to create a solution where each side won… and of course his primary concern, that Russia should win.

Over the next many years Putin insisted on each and every department of government, the security sector and the military be imbued with something of his own determination to do the right thing, to act with integrity, to deny the seductions of corruption a victim and along with him work hard for the benefit of all Russia. Right up to today he proffers the benefits of patriotism at every level. As a young man he had joined the KGB with this in mind and now as a middle-aged man his dedication to country and honour was everything to him.

The transformation of Russia is truly something to see. If you wish to compare then and now simply go to YouTube and find the Soviet era film ‘Brat’. It shows just how things were in Russia and in St. Petersburg in the Yeltsin era. And, if you can, find a friend or neighbour who has seen something of the modern day Russia. You will be astonished that virtually one man with a mission was responsible. Putin performed an absolutely astonishing, almost magical trick that defies all understanding. But the proof is there if you only look. The spirit of Putin lives and abides there and none of what transpired could possibly have been done without him.

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