21 Things You Need To Know About Vladimir Putin

Vladimir Putin

Photo: AP

Vladimir Putin has been at the centre of Russian life over a decade.But what do we really know about Putin, an ex-KGB spy who has had a murky rise to power and has been accused of huge crimes?

As Russia goes to the polls on Sunday, we thought it time to take a closer look at Putin, a man who may just be both the most important, and most secretive, in the world.

Putin is widely expected to win the elections on Sunday.

Many now suspect that the past 4 years, during which time he was Prime Minister and Dimitry Medvedev was President, were a mere constitutional formality.

If he wins, he may end up being ruler of Russia until 2024

Putin is hoping to extend the presidential terms so they last 6 years, which would mean two terms would be 12 years.

That would mean he effectively spends 24 years in power.

Putin claimed today that he had not made a decision if he would run in 2018, the New York Times reports.

Overall, Russians have appeared happy with Putin. He won 53% of the vote in 2000, 73% in 2004, and his ally Medvedev won 70% in 2008.


GDP per capita has grown from $2,400 in 2000 to $12,000 last year.


Critics, however, say he has quashed the opposition and ended debate within the country.

Prominent critics have been forced to leave the country or jailed, like Mikhail Khodorkovsky, formerly the richest man in the country.

Last year Russia ranked 143rd, joint with Nigeria and Uganda, on Transparency International's annual list of the 182 most corrupt nations.


Reports suggest that Putin himself may have as much as $40 billion in assets.


He's even said to have built, via a network of corruption, this $1 billion house on the Black Sea

This is a long way from his humble beginnings. He grew up in a shared apartment in Leningrad, now St Petersburg, the Russian city ravaged by World War Two.

He excelled at martial arts and was said to have a quick temper.

After a stint at law school, he joined the KGB and was later posted to East Germany.

By most accounts, his time in the KGB was unremarkable.

East German intelligence described him as a 'philanderer and a wife-beater' during his time

The report, released last year, makes sense in line with Putin's own admissions that his relationship with women is a little odd.

In recent years there have been a variety of rumours about his infidelities, and allegations that his wife has been committed to a mental hospital.

After the Soviet Union fell, he went to work for Anatoly Sobchak, who would become the mayor of St Petersburg.

Sobchak was both a reformer and a conservative, much like Putin himself.

The St Petersburg mayor was later forced to flee Russia after a criminal investigation was launched against him in 1997. Sobchak later returned to Russia and became an early political supporter of Putin, but he died in 2000 in an incident many consider to be suspicious.

Sobchak's daughter Kseniya, often referred to as Russia's 'Paris Hilton', has become a stern critic of Putin.

CONSPIRACY THEORY 1: Putin was planted with Sobchak by the KGB

There has been a variety of doubts cast on the official story of how Sobchak and Putin met, and Putin's story about quitting the KGB is inconsistent.

In her new book, the Man Without A Face, Russian journalist Masha Gessen talks to one former KGB agent who alleges that a senior KGB officer visited Putin before he left East Germany. Why would a KGB officer travel to visit a relatively minor like Putin? Perhaps to give him a new mission.

After St Petersburg, Putin moved to Moscow to begin working in central government

CONSPIRACY THEORY 2: A series of apartment bombings organised by Russia's secret service swept Putin into the president's office.

In 1999, a series of apartment bombings in Russia killed 224 people. Russia was terrified -- the bombs went off in crowded buildings in the middle of the night, killing families as they slept.

Putin, then prime minister, pledged direct action against the Chechen rebels who were thought to be behind the attacks, pledging to wipe them out even 'in the outhouse'. He was soon in the president's office with 53 per cent of the vote.

However, one event made many reconsider the attacks.

On 22nd September 2009 the city of Ryazan, an attack was apparently halted by an eagle-eyed member of the public, who was also able to give descriptions of two people who appeare to have planted explosives. A bomb squad came in and found tested the substances, declaring them explosives and defusing them.

Two days later the FSB (the successor to the KGB) announced that the explosives were in fact sugar and that the bombing attempt was just a training exercise committed by the agency.

One person who claimed this was a plot was murdered in 2006

Ex-KGB agent Alexander Litvinenko, died in London from radiation poisoning in 2006.

Litvenchenko's book, Blowing Up Russia, was one of the most complete investigations on the apartment bombings (it is banned in Russia).

The British police are still trying to get the two men suspected of poisoning him extradited, but Russian authorities have been uncooperative.

In the west, much of Putin's reputation is built upon his frequent publicity stunts, apparently designed to show off his masculine strength.

He's been photographed topless multiple times, discovered Greek urns while scuba diving, and even sang jazz standards with Goldie Hawn and Kevin Costner.

(For a full list of stunts, check FP's Passport blog)


A recent documentary reportedly shows a more tender side of him.

Putin 'wants to be understood, but he can't understand why we don't understand him,' I, Putin director Hubert Seipel told Der Spiegel.

'It also took me a while to gradually understand what makes him tick. Still, I can't say that I disliked him as a human being.'

Its unclear right now whether he will respond to the growing opposition movement with liberalization — or restriction.

Tens of thousands of Russians are planning to protest on Monday regardless.

Will Russia change after March 4?

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