What You Never Knew About Vladimir Putin

Vladimir Putin's name is certainly in the news lately, because the Russian president has decided to invade neighboring Ukraine, a move in which many public figures have shared their opinions. While it seems like Putin is the type of person everyone in the world knows, seeing as he has been in power in Russia for decades, there's surprisingly quite a lot about the man that isn't widely shared.


CNN notes that Putin was born in the Soviet Union in 1952, and he was interested in sports and intelligence as a child and teenager. He began working for the KGB, Russia's intelligence agency, in the 1970s and stayed with the bureau for many years before eventually transitioning to politics. He became president of Russia for the first time in March 2000, serving two terms before being forced to step aside due to Russian election laws.

In 2012, Putin assumed power again, quickly changing the laws so he could serve for two consecutive terms of six years. As it stands, Putin's term should end in 2024. Here's a look into the life of a man who challenges many.

Vladimir Putin experienced intense poverty as a child

In his 2000 book, "First Person: An Astonishingly Frank Self-Portrait," Vladimir Putin admits a lot. His father was away from the home for many of his formative years, and his mother was often on the brink of starvation. In fact, Putin writes, "Once my mother fainted from hunger. People thought she had died, and they laid her out with the corpses. Luckily Mama woke up in time and started moaning" (via the Mirror).


Those dire circumstances continued for many of Putin's formative years. Author Masha Gessen, who penned the book "The Man Without A Face: The Unlikely Rise Of Vladimir Putin," offered the Mirror details about the future leader's home life, telling the publication that Putin had a fairly lonely childhood. "Putin's parents worked pretty much around the clock, his mother various unskilled jobs, his father at a factory," they explained. "He was left to his own devices. He hung out in the courtyard with other boys, like all children did."

However, Gessen also stated that, despite those hardships, Putin's parents found a way to indulge him. As they noted, he was given a gift of a wristwatch, something that was hard for many families to come by, and when his parents won a car, they gave it to him. According to Gessen, this might have impacted the person he became. "There's a lot of proof he feels he is chosen now," they said (via the Mirror).


He is proficient in two types of martial arts

In her 2012 book, "The Man Without A Face: The Unlikely Rise Of Vladimir Putin," Masha Gessen reveals that Vladimir Putin endured a lot of bullying as a young child. She claims that he responded by studying the martial art Sambo (via the Mirror), a combat sport developed by the Soviet Union in the early 1920s (per Inside the Games). Gessen also claims that Putin eventually switched to studying Judo so he could enter competitions, eventually earning his black belt in the martial art.


Some have claimed that Putin's professed Judo skills are little more than false advertising, and, in 2018, editor and writer Benjamin Wittes challenged Putin to a Judo match, ostensibly to disprove claims that Putin is adept at the sport. On his site Lawfare, Wittes writes, "Putin only fights people who are in his power, whom he can have arrested, whose lives he can ruin. And I think they're all taking falls for him."

However, author Michael Veltri, a master-instructor of the Japanese martial art Aikido, wrote his own piece for Lawfare in which he defends Putin's skills, explaining, "What is clear in the videos is that Putin's technique is sharp, as are his reflexes — especially for a 65-year-old man."


As a teenager, Vladimir Putin hoped to work in intelligence

Vladimir Putin had an interest in working in intelligence for the Soviet Union from the time he was a teenager, and, according to the Kremlin website, he attempted to begin working for the KGB before he even graduated high school (via the Mirror). After volunteering for the intelligence agency at the age of 16, Putin went on to get his law degree at Leningrad State University along with a doctorate in economics, after which he eventually became one of 100 young people selected to work for the KGB. 


In 1975, Putin joined the staff of the First Chief Directorate for Foreign Intelligence, where he was assigned to tail foreign visitors to the Soviet Union. He continued to work for the agency for several years, with CNN noting that he steadily moved up in the ranks. In 1985, he was assigned to be an operative in Dresden — then, in East Germany — while also keeping tabs on which diplomats from the Soviet Union continued to be trustworthy and which were not. 

Putin stayed with the organization until his political career kicked off in the early 1990s, when he resigned with the KGB to work as the chairman of the committee for international relations (per CNN).

Vladimir Putin's rise to power in Russia was swift

In 1997, former Russian President Boris Yeltsin tapped Vladimir Putin as the newest deputy chief administrator of the Kremlin. From there, Putin's ascent to power in the country was quick. The following year, he became chief of the Federal Security Service, and, in 1999, was named secretary of the Russian Security Council before ultimately being appointed as prime minister in August of the same year (per CNN).


During this time, Yeltsin was in the throes of his own political scandal, and he ultimately resigned from office in December 1999. Putin assumed the role of acting president at that moment, gave Yeltsin immunity, and was elected president in March 2000. As shared by CNN, he campaigned as an independent candidate and won re-election in 2004.

Putin made a lot of nontraditional moves for a Russian president, including a 2005 visit to Israel, which marked the first time a leader from the Soviet Union or Russia had visited the country (via History).

The Russian leader had to wait until 2012 to be president again

Vladimir Putin wasn't eligible to run for president a third time in Russia in 2008 due to election laws, which, at the time, dictated that candidates can only enjoy two consecutive terms. However, he was able to put his colleague, Dmitry Medvedev, in the role instead (and Medvedev, subsequently, named Putin prime minister) and then ran for president a third time in 2012 (via CNN).


Putin's election in 2012 wasn't exactly celebrated by everyone in Russia, and there were even some who believed the results were fraudulent. As CNN noted at the time, one of Putin's first steps was to amend the constitution to allow for a president to serve for six years instead of four, a move that would allow him to serve back-to-back terms until 2024. 

Unsurprisingly, Putin was thrilled with his victory. The Guardian notes that, in his celebratory speech, he proclaimed, "We showed that no one can direct us in anything! We were able to save ourselves from political provocations, which have one goal: to destroy Russian sovereignty and usurp power."

The Russian president has two daughters he never mentions

While Vladimir Putin is certainly a very public and well-known figure, there is one area of his life that many people know very little about: his personal relationships. In fact, it's not completely understood how many children Putin has, and, of the children that are known, he has not acknowledged his paternity in a public way. Business Insider has reported that Putin has two daughters with ex-wife Lyudmila Shkrebneva, whom he was married to for 30 years. One daughter, Maria, was born in 1985, and the second, Katerina, was born the following year.


Both girls are well into adulthood at this point. Maria reportedly works as a medical researcher and lives with her husband, Jorrit Faassen, in Moscow, while Katerina is a former acrobatic dancer who works a senior role at Moscow State University (per Business Insider). In recent years, Katerina has stepped into the spotlight as well. In 2021, the current deputy director of the Institute for Mathematical Research of Complex Systems joined an international business conference and spoke about litigating international investment disputes, and The Washington Post notes that both women have hinted at an interest in having their own public positions in the future.

Vladimir Putin has many Soviet heroes

As the leader of Russia, it's, perhaps, not surprising that Vladimir Putin draws inspiration from former Soviet Union leaders, despite their track record of quite unsavory and, at times, devastating choices. In a 2022 speech meant to underscore the reasons why Putin is pursuing aggressive tactics against Ukraine, Putin noted his belief that Lenin, who led the Soviet Union from 1917 to 1924, is the "author and creator" of the country (via Newsweek).


The National Post has also noted that poet and philosopher Vladimir Solovyov is another hero of Putin's. Judith Deutsch Kornblatt, who wrote a biography of Solovyov, told the National Post that the poet believed in the "divinely inspired historical mission" of Russia, which also aligns with Putin's current philosophies. 

Neil MacFarlane, who works as the Lester B. Pearson Professor of International Relations at the University of Oxford, also contributed thoughts on the topic, telling the National Post that, what "we don't know is whether [Mr. Putin] actually believes this stuff or not," what is clear is that the leader of Russia has certainly expressed an interest in ideas relating to old Russia.


He allegedly keeps the Russian media in check with fear

Most people have a strong interest in the personal and professional lives of the people who run their countries. But, in Russia, Vladimir Putin's personal life is said to be completely off limits, which is something many have said Putin enforces through fear tactics. In October 2021, British publication The Spectator published a piece claiming Putin has a third daughter he never mentions and who isn't even able to show her face on social media. 


The Spectator cited a report published by Russian outlet The Proekt, in which the website claimed Putin's alleged third daughter was born in 2003. The website was then shut down quickly, and its editor, Roman Badanin, was declared a "foreign agent." This wasn't the first time a publication had felt Putin's wrath; in 2008, the Moskovsky Korrespondent was closed after it published a report claiming Putin was preparing to marry another rumored mistress (per The Spectator).

At a press conference that year, Putin told a roomful of journalists, "I have a private life in which I do not permit interference. It must be respected" (via The Spectator). Meanwhile, it seems that a persistent state of fear is exactly what helps ensure that happens.