Before he became the president of Russia, Vladimir Putin was a KGB spy — take a look at his early career

  • Vladimir Putin was recruited as a KGB agent after graduating from university.
  • The current president of Russia served as an agent in East Germany for five years.
  • Putin’s experience as a KGB operative may have helped to mould his worldview.

Vladimir Putin‘s KGB career may have ended decades ago, but that didn’t stop the Russian president from citing his spy credentials during Monday’s press conference with US president Donald Trump.

Dissmissing the idea that Trump’s presidential campaign colluded with Russia in 2016 and disputing the credibility of the Steele dossier, Putin said, “I was an intelligence officer myself, and I know how dossiers are made up.”

Russia is accused of hacking the DNC’s emails and engaging in other forms of cyber subversion in order to throw the race to Trump. A series of politically-charged and disinformation-spreading social media groups and advertising campaigns have been traced back to Russia.

Putin has denied hacking the election. Trump has argued that he “doesn’t see any reason” why Putin would meddle in the election, despite the consensus of the US intelligence community that Russia interfered in order to ensure a Republican victory.

Here’s a look into Putin’s early career as a KGB spy:


As a teenager, Putin was captivated by the novel and film series “The Shield and the Sword,” writes Steven Lee Myers in “The New Tsar: The Rise and Reign of Vladimir Putin.”

Mosfilm‘The Shield and the Sword’ (1968)

Source: “The New Tsar: The Rise and Reign of Vladimir Putin


The story focuses on a brave Soviet secret agent who helps thwart the Nazis.

Wikimedia CommonsAdolf Hitler.

Source: “The New Tsar: The Rise and Reign of Vladimir Putin


Putin later said he was struck by how “one spy could decide the fate of thousands of people.”

Source: “The New Tsar: The Rise and Reign of Vladimir Putin


Putin went to school at Saint Petersburg State University, where he studied law.

Wikimedia CommonsSaint Petersburg State University.

Source: “The New Tsar: The Rise and Reign of Vladimir Putin


His undergraduate thesis focused on international law and trade.

Source: “The New Tsar: The Rise and Reign of Vladimir Putin


After initially considering going into law, Putin was recruited into the KGB upon graduating in 1975.

Wikimedia CommonsKGB headquarters — also known as the Lubyanka Building.

Source: “The New Tsar: The Rise and Reign of Vladimir Putin


After getting the good news, Putin and a friend headed to a nearby Georgian restaurant. They celebrated over satsivi — grilled chicken prepared with walnut sauce — and downed shots of sweet liqueur.

Source: “The New Tsar: The Rise and Reign of Vladimir Putin


He trained at the Red Banner Institute in Moscow.

Wikimedia CommonsMoscow’s Red Square.

Source: “Mr. Putin: Operative in the Kremlin,” The Telegraph


Putin’s former chief of staff and fellow KGB trainee Sergei Ivanov told the Telegraph that some lessons from senior spies amounted to little more than “idiocy.”

Wikimedia CommonsSergei Ivanov.

Source: “Mr. Putin: Operative in the Kremlin,” The Telegraph


Putin belonged to the “cohort of outsiders” KGB chairman Yuri Andropov pumped into the intelligence agency in the 1970s.

Wikimedia CommonsVladimir Putin.

Source: “Mr. Putin: Operative in the Kremlin


Andropov’s goal was to improve the institution by recruiting younger, more critical KGB officers.

Wikimedia CommonsYuri Andropov.

Source: “Mr. Putin: Operative in the Kremlin


Putin’s spy career was far from glamorous, according to Steve Lee Meyers’ “The New Tsar.”

Pool/Getty ImagesPutin.

Source: “The New Tsar: The Rise and Reign of Vladimir Putin


His early years consisted of working in a gloomy office filled with ageing staffers, “pushing papers at work and still living at home with his parents without a room of his own.”

Source: “The New Tsar: The Rise and Reign of Vladimir Putin


He attended training at the heavily fortified School No. 401 in Saint Petersburg, where prospective officers learned intelligence tactics and interrogation techniques, and trained physically. In 1976, he became a first lieutenant.

Wikimedia CommonsSaint Petersburg.

Source: “The New Tsar: The Rise and Reign of Vladimir Putin,” “Mr. Putin: Operative in the Kremlin


Putin’s focus may have included counter-intelligence and monitoring foreigners.

Wikimedia Commons1987 anniversary celebration of the KGB.

Source: “The New Tsar: The Rise and Reign of Vladimir Putin


According to Meyers, Putin may have also worked with the KGB’s Fifth Chief Directorate, which was dedicated to crushing political dissidents.

Thomas Kronsteiner / Getty Images

Source: “The New Tsar: The Rise and Reign of Vladimir Putin


In 1985, Putin adopted the cover identity of a translator and transferred to Dresden, Germany.

Getty Images / StaffPutin.

Source: “Mr. Putin: Operative in the Kremlin


In the biography “Mr. Putin,” Fiona Hill and Cliff Gaddy speculate his mission may have been to recruit top East German Communist Party and Stasi officials, steal technological secrets, compromise visiting Westerners, or travel undercover to West Germany.

Handout/Getty Images

Source: “Mr. Putin: Operative in the Kremlin


Hill and Gaddy conclude that the “most likely answer to which of these was Putin’s actual mission in Dresden is: ‘all of the above.'”

Bert Kaufmann/FlikcrDresden, Germany.

Source: “Mr. Putin: Operative in the Kremlin


Putin has said that his time in the KGB — and speaking with older agents — caused him to question the direction of the USSR.

Source: “Mr. Putin: Operative in the Kremlin


“In intelligence at that time, we permitted ourselves to think differently and to say things that few others could permit themselves,” he said.

Source: “Mr. Putin: Operative in the Kremlin


At one point, crowds mobbed the KGB’s Dresden location after the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989.

Source: “Mr. Putin: Operative in the Kremlin,” The Telegraph


Putin has claimed to have brandished a pistol to scare looters from the office.

Source: “Mr. Putin: Operative in the Kremlin,” The Telegraph


The future Russian president didn’t return home till the 1990s.


It’s believed that Putin’s tenure in the KGB, which occurred during a time when the USSR’s power crumbled on the international stage, helped to shape his worldview.

Source: “Mr. Putin: Operative in the Kremlin,” “The New Tsar: The Rise and Reign of Vladimir Putin


“It was clear the Union was ailing,” Putin said, of his time abroad. “And it had a terminal, incurable illness under the title of paralysis. A paralysis of power.”

Sean Gallup / Getty ImagesPutin.

Source: “Mr. Putin: Operative in the Kremlin


Putin ultimately quit the KGB in 1991, during a hard-liner coup against Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev.

Getty Images/StaffPutin is sworn in as president.

Source: “Putin: Russia’s Choice


He became an official in Boris Yeltsin’s subsequent administration and was appointed to lead the FSB — the post-Soviet successor to the KGB — in 1998.

Source: “Putin: Russia’s Choice


Putin then took over for Yeltsin upon his resignation in 1999. One of his first acts as president was to pardon his predecessor for corruption.

Source: “Putin: Russia’s Choice,” PBS, Business Insider


Putin was ultimately elected president for the first time in 2000.

Source: “Putin: Russia’s Choice,” PBS, Business Insider

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