Vladimir Vladimirovich Putin was born in the old country, the Russian Federative Socialist Republic, in 1952. He grew up in Cold War Leningrad, a city still reeling from its bombardment during the Second World War. He joined Russian intelligence after graduating from law school in 1975, still very much a time of nuclear-fueled fear of the West.
Pictured here on the far left is Putin, disguised as a tourist, with American President Ronald Reagan nearby.
Nearly 40 years after enrolling in KGB school, Vladimir Putin is one of the most powerfully divisive characters on the planet. He’s scripted like a Bond villain, intimidating world leaders by day and riding horses shirtless by night.
But the story of Vladimir Putin is no laughing matter. His meteoric rise to the top of the notoriously cutthroat Russian government is nothing short of incredible.
After the fall of the Soviet Union, Putin worked for the mayor’s office in St. Petersburg and Moscow under Preisdent Boris Yeltsin. He served as FSB (Russian successor to the KGB) Chairman and Chief of the Presidential Staff before being appointed President after Yeltsin’s abrupt resignation.
Putin was reelected in 2004. After his second four year term, the Russian Constitution’s two-term maximum rule made a third election bid impossible. Putin was legally done.
But that didn’t stop him.
Dmitry Medvedev was officially elected Russian President, with Putin assuming the role of Prime Minister (a role with considerably less constitutionally-assigned power). And then, in a move of political sabotage and genius that Frank Underwood could only dream of pulling off, Putin usurped power from Medvedev, worked around the Russian Constitution, and attempted to run for a third term in 2012. He won in an election marred with allegations of voter fraud and intimidation.
Putin, perhaps still ignited by Cold War era sentiment, has gone toe-to-toe with a number of world leaders. In 2008, Putin’s Russia took on Georgian forces in the Russo-Georgian War. He’s taken a hard stance, however unpopular these stances are on the world stage, on topics like natural gas, electoral rights, gay rights, and other issues.
But Putin really flexed his muscles in Crimea. He enforced pro-Russian support of a separatist movement, and then took it upon himself to annex the Crimea region.
When Ukraine rejected this annexation, Putin sent in ground troops to stabilize the region. Allegations of Russian government involvement were directed at Putin when pro-Russian separatists shot down Malaysian Flight 17 over Ukraine.
Putin is an incredible interesting figure. Forbes magazine named him the most powerful man on the planet for two years running. He has the entire world at his beck and call.
When he disappeared for 2 weeks in March 2015, internet conspiracy theorists slung wild accusations around: he had been assassinated, or was abducted by aliens, or was hiding for fear of nuclear war.
In 2013, heads of member nations of the G-8, including the US (President Obama), China (President Xi Jinping), and Germany (Chancellor Angela Merkel), kicked Russia and Putin out after complications during peace talks.
So as the halfway point of the decade looms, Putin is cementing himself in the history books. And with an extraordinary amount of power, it doesn’t look like he will be stepping down any time soon. Vladimir Putin, whether he decides to take Russia on a path to superpower status or back down (not likely), Putin’s legacy will surely be a divisive one.