Vladimir Putin has been Russia's dominant political figure since his election as president in 2000.
He served two terms as president before becoming prime minister for a four-year spell and subsequently resuming the presidency in May 2012.
His re-election as president was accompanied by months of protests fuelled by allegations of electoral fraud and driven by an embryonic, primarily urban, civil society determined to challenge Mr Putin's rule.
Mr Putin presents himself as a strong leader who took Russia out of the economic, social and political crisis of the 1990s. He also casts himself as a staunch defender of Russia's national interests, particularly against what he portrays as Western attempts to foist its cultural and political values on Russia.
Critics say the new-found economic strength is almost wholly based on raw material exports and that little has been done to truly modernise Russia's industry and infrastructure. They also say that corruption has flourished under Mr Putin, with much of the new wealth ending up in top officials' pockets and dissent often suppressed to protect the interests of the powerful.
Mr Putin and his allies dismiss his opponents as a small, if vocal, minority without support in the wider population, reliant on Western backing.
Several of Mr Putin's rivals and opposition activists have sought safety abroad or ended up in prison, most prominently the former oligarch Mikhail Khodorkovsky, who spent 10 years in jail following his arrest on tax evasion and fraud charges in 2003.
Born in St Petersburg in 1952, Vladimir Putin began his career in the KGB, the Soviet-era secret police. From 1990 he worked in the St Petersburg administration before moving to Moscow in 1996. By August 1999 he was prime minister.
He was named acting president by his predecessor, Boris Yeltsin, and went on to win presidential elections in May 2000, having gained widespread popularity for his pledge to take a tough line against Chechen rebels. He won again in 2004.
Barred by the constitution from running for a third consecutive presidential term in 2008, he made way for his prime minister, Dmitry Medvedev. On Mr Putin's return to the presidency in 2012, he duly reappointed Mr Medvedev to the premiership.
A parliamentary vote earlier extended presidential terms from four to six years, so that Mr Putin need not seek re-election until 2018.
Despite suggestions that Russia had become a "tandemocracy" or "duumvirate" as a result of the rotation with Mr Medvedev, most observers believe Mr Putin remained effectively in control throughout.
Russian TV frequently features choreographed macho antics meant to bolster Mr Putin's image in Russia, such as riding horseback bare-chested and shooting a tiger with a tranquilliser gun.
Although still high, Mr Putin's popularity has been dented - at least in the major cities - by claims that the austere persona projected in public conceals a luxury lifestyle, as well as by opposition insinuations about the personal wealth acquired by close associates during his time in office.
Mr Putin married Lyudmila Shkrebneva in 1983, and the couple have two daughters, Maria and Yekaterina. In 2013, after years of rumours about the state of the Putins' marriage, fanned in part by Mrs Putin's increasingly rare public appearances, the couple announced on state TV that they were divorcing.