Russian President Putin celebrates 70 years: From ex-spy to fearsome tyrant, seven key moments in his life

1. Macho Putin culture

Vladimir Putin was born in Leningrad in 1952, in the midst of the Cold War. He grew up in a bleak neighborhood in the center of Leningrad. The city was inundated with gang violence during that period, which led, among other things, to Putin taking lessons in sambo, a popular Russian combat sport. Putin was a bit of a fighter at school. A close friend stated that he “can argue with anyone because he is not afraid of anyone”. Later, Vladimir Putin also started judo. He was very firm and disciplined, which gave him a black belt in combat at the age of eighteen.

Putin’s experience in combat sports is part of a carefully crafted macho image that the president keeps to himself. It is an important part of Putin’s vision. When a fight is inevitable, he says you must strike first, so hard that your opponent can’t stand on his feet anymore. The image that Putin sends into his own world, often carefully photographed and captured by paparazzi, embodies this vision. In 2007, Putin was photographed topless while hunting, and in 2009 he appears on a horse in the Siberian mountains.

Vladimir Putin rides a horse in the Siberian mountains while on vacation

2. Vladimir Putin as a KGB spy

When he was 16, young Vladimir Putin needed a new challenge. He hoped to find him with the KGB, the Russian state security service. However, when he registered with the receptionist, he was told that he needed military training or a law degree. Since then, Putin has been determined to get a law degree. He succeeded and was enlisted in the Russian KGB. However, his career in the security service didn’t really take off until he took German lessons. Suddenly speaking fluent German, he was transferred to Dresden in East Germany in 1985.

He lived a comfortable life there as an undercover agent, until the East German regime collapsed in 1989. That same year, the KGB headquarters in Dresden was surrounded by an angry crowd. Unsuccessfully, Putin asked for help from the nearest garrison of the Red Army, but they were not allowed to take any action without Moscow’s permission. That permission never came, something Putin still blames then-Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev. He narrowly escaped death that day.

Vladimir Putin was a KGB spy

3. Putin’s secret private life

Very little is known about the family life of the Russian president. Putin and his administration are keen to release information about his family. “I have a private life in which I do not allow interference. That must be respected,” he said. In 1983, he married a former flight attendant Lyudmila Shkrebneva. After thirty years of marriage, the couple broke up in 2013. They said that they broke up on a good relationship, although Lyudmila hinted that her husband did not have much time for her. He was very busy with his work as a world leader.

Together they had two daughters: Maria and Katerina. The lives of the two daughters are very secretive. They even used pseudonyms to enroll in the university and it is not known for certain in which country the girls are currently residing. Maria is sometimes referred to as “Putin’s secret daughter” because she should not have been photographed throughout Putin’s rule. However, his ex-wife called Lyudmila Putin a loving father. “Not all parents treat their children as lovingly as he does,” she wrote in his autobiography.

Putin standing with his wife Lyudmila in front of the Taj Mahal in 2000

However, an investigation by the Russian press agency Proekt claimed that Vladimir Putin has a secret relationship with Svetlana Krivonozhikh. This could have happened since his time with the KGB. According to Proekt’s investigation, President Putin is said to be the father of her 17-year-old daughter, Elizaveta Krivonozhikh. The president denies the relationship with Svetlana. She now lives in a neighborhood in Saint Petersburg dedicated to the Russian president’s close friends.

Family photo of Vladimir Putin, his wife Lyudmila and daughter Maria

4. Politics as a profitable sector

To be sure, his political career did no harm to Putin. According to experts, the value of the Russian president is 200 billion euros. That would make Putin the richest man in the world. The Russian president discovered that politics can be very lucrative early in his political career, when he worked as an assistant to the mayor of Saint Petersburg. In 1992, he was appointed to establish the “Oil for Food Program” to support the population after the economy collapsed. The goal of this program was to replace $100 million worth of oil and minerals with food. But practically no one saw food, because the money disappeared into the pockets of Putin and his comrades.

The president still lives in great luxury. The palace complex, nicknamed “Putin’s Palace” and located on the Black Sea, would have cost at least 1.4 billion. Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny accuses the president in a video of theft and corruption in the construction of the imposing structure. The video has been viewed more than 100 million times.

Watch – this is what Putin’s palace looks like, according to Navalny:

5. An unpredictable warlord…

When President Putin took office in 2000, he initially hoped to establish a positive relationship with the West. Today there is not much left of that positive relationship. After the Russian invasion of Ukraine, relations between Russia and the West soured. However, diplomatic relations have already suffered severely.

In 2008, Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili announced that his country wanted to join NATO, the Western military alliance. Putin never agreed. Russia used Georgia’s attempt to regain control of South Ossetia, a breakaway region from the state backed by Russia, as a mistake to invade the country. It took the Russian army only five days to defeat the Georgian army. The raid ended with a humiliating peace treaty. The West responded fiercely to the raid. However, it was clear to Putin that, despite the harsh words, the West would always bow if he persevered.

A woman mourns the dead soldiers after the 2008 Russian invasion of South Ossetia


AFP or licensors

6. Death to COVID-19

The Russian president was very afraid of contracting COVID-19. Putin isolated himself from everyone else. Only a few advisers were able to get to the president. Anyone who met the president was placed on probation for two weeks. Then they had to pass a special hall that thoroughly disinfected the president’s guests with ultraviolet rays and disinfectants. Even important guests, such as French President Emmanuel Macron, had to sit at a long table so as not to injure the president.

Since only the most loyal advisers had access to the president, Putin had no ear (even less) for alternative views. During that time he may have come to the conclusion that all his prejudices about the West were correct. The seed that later led to the invasion of Ukraine was planted. There was little that could make Vladimir Putin change his mind.

French President Emmanuel Macron had to sit at a very long table during his visit to Russia.


Sputnik

7. “The Missing Journalists”

During his reign, Putin (and his administration) has been accused several times of corruption, theft, and even murder. In particular, Alexei Navalny, the opposition leader who has been in prison for more than a year, has reached millions of viewers with his videos about corruption within the Russian elite. Later, Navalny was poisoned with novichok by the Russian KGB security service and had to go to Germany for treatment. Upon returning to Russia in 2021, he was imprisoned.

Even for journalists who have a different opinion, the situation is often unsafe in Russia. Over the years, hundreds of journalists have been said to have been killed or mysteriously disappeared. The death of Anna Politkovskaya, a Russian journalist and human rights activist, caused an uproar around the world. At the age of 48 she was shot and killed in the elevator of the apartment building in which she was staying. The culprit turned out to be a former police officer Dmitry Pavlyuchnikov. He was sentenced to eleven years in a penal camp. However, the Russian government is suspected of being responsible for the murder, although this has not yet been confirmed.

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