History: The Godfather

Smooth and ruthless, Vladimir Putin is using oil to rebuild Russia's power

Sergei Guneyev for TIME

Russian President Vladimir Putin.

You can say what you like about Russian President Vladimir Putin--although you'd be well advised to keep it polite--but he has certainly re-established his country's credibility as a great power. Ten years ago, Russia was in a state of disarray reminiscent of the early 17th century "Time of Troubles." Putin's predecessor, Boris Yeltsin, was like a caricature of the disastrous Czar Boris Godunov, on whose watch Russia suffered hunger and humiliation. Plagued by heart trouble and alcohol abuse, Yeltsin had secured re-election in 1996 only by turning the privatization of the Russian energy sector into a sleazy scam, trading oil and...

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