The making of Vladimir Putin

How did a former KGB agent rise to become one of Russia’s longest-serving ruler since Stalin? Here’s everything you need to know:

Where did Putin grow up?
He was born in Leningrad, now St. Petersburg, in 1952. The city was still recovering from the German siege during World War II, in which Putin’s older brother died and his mother nearly starved to death. Post-siege Leningrad was, in the words of Russian journalist Masha Gessen, “a mean, hungry, impoverished place that bred mean, hungry, ferocious children.” Putin grew up with two other families in a communal apartment, with a shared sink and stove and no hot water. Short and slight, he was always getting into fights with bigger and stronger children — a disadvantage he overcame by studying judo and the Russian martial art sambo. Putin became, in his own words, “a real thug,” and adopted a belligerent approach to combat. “The Leningrad street taught me a rule,” he said in 2015. “If a fight is inevitable, you have to throw the first punch.”

When did he join the KGB?
In 1975, after studying law at Leningrad State University. He learned German at the KGB’s spy school in Moscow, and in 1985 was posted to Dresden. Four years later, Putin watched in dismay as the Berlin Wall came down and communist East Germany crumbled. The KGB headquarters was mobbed by protesters, and when Putin called the local Soviet military command, he was told they could do nothing because “Moscow is silent.” Putin faced the crowd himself, warning that his soldiers — who were actually unarmed — would fire if protesters tried to enter the building. Putin’s German biographer, Boris Reitschuster, says the sight of a mob of formerly docile citizens overthrowing their authoritarian leaders was a shock that shaped Putin’s worldview. “I think it’s the key to understanding Putin,” Reitschuster says. In post-Soviet Russia, Putin worked in St. Petersburg for the city’s first democratically elected mayor and quickly built a reputation as an effective back-room fixer. He resigned from the KGB in 1991 — though he retained close links to the agency. “There is no such thing,” he said in 2004, “as a former KGB man.”

How did he rise to the top?
In 1996, Putin moved to Moscow to work in the Kremlin and was quickly promoted to be the chief administrator’s number two. Soon enough, he found another leader in need of a reliable deputy: the drunken and erratic President Boris Yeltsin, who in 1998 made him the head of the FSB, successor to the KGB. Regarded as a malleable figurehead for Yeltsin and his business allies, Putin was appointed prime minister in August 1999. He immediately made his mark, launching a brutal campaign against separatists in Chechnya after a series of terrorist bombings that killed almost 300 people. (Critics claim the attacks were in fact orchestrated by the FSB to provide a pretext for the war.) On New Year’s Eve 1999, Yeltsin stepped down, making Putin acting president.

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Source:: The Week – World


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