Vladimir Vladimirovich Putin is a strange old cove. Part saviour of the Russian Empire, part bare-chested butch gay icon, and part the most frightening man on the planet. It is also estimated that he is the wealthiest person on the planet. But what are his global intentions?
Vladimir Putin was born on October 7th, 1952 in Saint Petersburg. His mother was a factory worker and his father an officer in the Russian navy, serving in the submarine fleet, and later, at the outbreak of WW2, went on to serve in the Destruction Battalion of the NKVD. He retired in 1942 after being severely wounded. Putin had two brothers, Viktor and Albert. Albert died in infancy and Viktor died of diphtheria during the Siege of Leningrad.
Putin studied law at the Saint Petersburg State University in 1970 and graduated in 1975. His thesis was on ‘The Most Favoured Nation Trading Principle in International Law’. While there, Putin was required to join the Communist Party of the Soviet Union, and remained a member until December 1991. Putin met Anatoly Sobchak, an Assistant Professor who taught business law and was highly influential in Putin’s career.
On his childhood, he says: “I come from an ordinary family, and this is how I lived for a long time, nearly my whole life. I lived as an average, normal person and I have always maintained that connection. We lived simply - cabbage soup, cutlets, pancakes, but on Sundays and holidays my Mother would bake very delicious stuffed buns (pirozhki) with cabbage, meat and rice, and curd tarts (vatrushki)” Mr Putin says.
“My father was born in St Petersburg in 1911. When World War I began, life in St Petersburg became hard, people were starving, so the entire family moved to Pominovo, a village in the Tver region my grandmother came from. Incidentally, my relatives still vacation in the house where my grandparents lived. It was in Pominovo that my father met my mother, and they got married at the age of 17.”
After graduating from Leningrad State University, Putin was assigned to work in the state security agencies. “My perception of the KGB was based on the idealistic stories I heard about intelligence.” His interest was quickly taken by the intelligence services and he longed to be a spy. In 1975, he joined the KGB, and trained at the 401st KGB school in Okhta, Saint Petersburg. After training, he worked in the Second Chief Directorate (counter-intelligence), before he was transferred to the First Chief Directorate, where he monitored foreigners and consular officials in Saint Petersburg.
From 1985 to 1990, Putin served in Dresden, East Germany, using a cover identity as a translator which was a perfect cover as his innate talent for languages meant that his German and English are fluent although, to this day, he refuses to negotiate with world leaders in anything other than Russian.
According to Putin’s official biography, during the fall of the Berlin Wall that began on November 9th, 1989, he burned KGB files to prevent demonstrators from obtaining them. After the collapse of the Communist East German government, Putin returned to Saint Petersburg, where in June 1991 he worked with the International Affairs section of Saint Petersburg State University. There, Putin looked for new KGB recruits, watched the student body, and renewed his friendship with his former professor, Anatoly Sobchak, the Mayor of Saint Petersburg. Putin resigned with the rank of Lieutenant Colonel in August 1991, just before the 1991 Soviet coup d’état attempt against Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev. Putin said: “As soon as the coup began, I immediately decided which side I was on.” In 1999, he described Communism as “a blind alley, far away from the mainstream of civilisation.”
In 1996, Putin was called to Moscow, and in June of that year became a Deputy Chief of the Presidential Property Management Department, a position he occupied until March 1997. During his tenure Putin was responsible for the foreign property of the state and organised transfer of the former assets of the Soviet Union and Communist Party to the Russian Federation. This is really where his power started to grow. He had control of the state assets, fully understood that true power took a lot of cash and said that cash was the only way of controlling one’s enemies.
On 26 March, 1997, President Boris Yeltsin appointed Putin Deputy Chief of Presidential Staff, a post in which he remained until May 1998, and Chief of the Main Control Directorate of the Presidential Property Management Department. His predecessor in this position was Alexei Kudrin, and the successor was Nikolai Patrushev, both future prominent politicians and important future associates.
Yeltsin was a weak man and a prolific drunk who was easily manipulated, and Putin was there to take full advantage of the power vacuum. This is where his power base really took root and his eyes turned to the top spot in the Federation. The route to such power was to guarantee that Yeltsin could not be pursued through the courts for the countless laws that he broke on his own path to the top. Putin recognised that not only would this ensure Yeltsin’s full support but would also give him a bargaining chip should it ever be required.
On December 31st, 1999, Yeltsin unexpectedly resigned and, in accordance with the Constitution of Russia, Putin became Acting President of the Russian Federation. On assuming this role, Putin went on a previously scheduled visit to Russian troops in Chechnya.
The first Presidential Decree that Putin signed was titled “On guarantees for former President of the Russian Federation and members of his family.” This ensured that “corruption charges against the outgoing President and his relatives” would not be pursued. This was most notably targeted at the Mabetex bribery case in which Yeltsin’s family members were involved. On August 30th, 2000 a criminal investigation was dropped in which Putin himself was one of suspects as a member of the Saint Petersburg city government.
While his opponents had been preparing for an election in June 2000, Yeltsin’s resignation resulted in the Presidential elections being held within three months. Putin won in the first round with 53% of the vote.
The inauguration of President Vladimir Putin occurred on May 7th, 2000. Putin appointed the Minister of Finance, Mikhail Kasyanov, as the Prime Minister.
The first major challenge to Putin’s popularity came in August 2000, when he was criticised for the alleged mishandling of the Kursk submarine disaster. That criticism was largely because it was several days before Putin returned from vacation, and several more before he visited the scene.
Between 2000 and 2004, Putin set about reconstruction of the impoverished condition of the country, apparently winning a power struggle with the Russian oligarchs, reaching a ‘grand bargain’ with them. This bargain allowed the oligarchs to maintain most of their powers in exchange for their explicit support for, and alignment with, Putin’s government. A new group of business magnates emerged, including Gennady Timchenko, Vladimir Yakunin, Yury Kovalchuk, Sergey Chemezov and Chelsea Football Club owner, Roman Abramovich, and all had close personal ties to Putin. These men, and many more besides, owed their vast fortunes to Putin’s patronage and toed the line out of fear of his terrible retribution.
Putin had now secured his power base and his coterie of billionaires, who had pledged undying support. This was not necessarily due to their political allegiance to Putin but rather out of self-preservation. Crossing Vladimir Putin normally resulted in a one-way visit to a Siberian gulag or a radioactive cup of tea.
Putin now had control of the largest country on earth, trillions of dollars and of one of the largest standing armies in the world, with the second-largest nuclear arsenal.
And now we arrive at the political structure of the world in 2016 and one can only admire, through gritted teeth, Putin’s remarkable progress in transforming a country that was on its knees into the belligerent superpower we see before us. And this is where the real terror begins, as Putin sees himself as the saviour of the Russian Federation, and this moral justification is all he needs to assume the mantle of the worlds policeman.
Having an opponent in the White House with absolutely no appetite for aggression and who set uncrossable red lines within the Syrian nightmare just served as an invitation to Putin to cross every one of them. When there were no repercussions from the US, he was emboldened and swept into the country as its ‘saviour.’ This also afforded Russia a base of operations in the Mediterranean - one that the West will surely live to regret. He then invaded Ukraine and took Crimea and the West blustered and made grand statements, but did absolutely nothing about it. Now Putin had a Baltic sea base. Again, Putin was emboldened, and his intention to reunite the old Soviet Union took a giant leap forward. But who is there to stop him? The US, at present, will not and the European Union couldn’t run a whelk stall, so he is free to do whatever he wishes. This is a situation as dangerous as any we have seen in human history.
Russia have total control of the air space above Syria and, in response to the US bluster of closing Syrian airspace, they have placed S-300 anti-aircraft missiles in the area and vowed to shoot down any US jets. Three war ships are currently sitting in the Mediterranean armed to the teeth with Malachite cruise missiles along with the Admiral Kuznetsov aircraft carrier. They have just moved Iskander-M missiles, capable of carrying nuclear warheads, into Kalingrad on the Polish border.
A Russian news presenter, dubbed the “Kremlin’s chief propagandist”, has warned the United States that any “impudent behaviour” towards Moscow could have “nuclear” implications. Dmitry Kiselyov, who was appointed by Putin to head the country’s government-owned news agency, made the warning on a recent edition of his flagship current affairs programme Vesti Nedeli (News of the Week). Relations between the two countries hit a new low on Friday after Washington accused Moscow of war crimes following a sustained bombardment of the besieged Syrian city of Aleppo, where at least 250,000 people are still living in the rebel-held east of the city.
Mr Kiselyov said there had been a “radical change” in the relationship between Russia and the US in recent weeks, the BBC reports. “The loud talk in Washington of a ‘Plan B’ for Syria. Everyone understands what this means: direct military force in Syria,” he said.
During Monday’s programme a Russian Defence Ministry spokesman also warned US bombers not to target the Syrian army. “We’ll shoot them down,” commented Mr Kiselyov. In the past he has boasted that Russia was the only single country “genuinely capable of turning the USA into radioactive ash” and claimed last year: “In Syria, America stands on the side of the terrorist caliphate.”The German Foreign Minister claimed that mounting tensions between the US and Russia have led to a global political situation which is “more dangerous” than the Cold War.
As if all this were not bad enough, Putin has ramped up the rhetoric and the possibility that he is ready to go to war. Putin has issued an emergency decree that all officials urgently repatriate any family members living abroad amid fears the world is about to be plunged into a new global conflict.
According to reports, the Russian leader has told diplomats of all ranks to “bring relatives home to the Motherland”. Administration staff, politicians and public sector workers have been ordered to take their children out of foreign schools immediately. Russian political analyst Stanislav Belkovsky told the Daily Star: “This is all part of the package of measures to prepare elites for some ‘big war’.” The worrying development, which follows Putin’s suddenly cancelled visit to France, applies to all state employees. Workers were reportedly told to pull their children out of school immediately, even if it was in the middle of term.
Anyone who fails to act will put their chances of promotion at risk, local media reported. Putin’s cancellation is the latest deterioration in ties between Moscow and the West.
Earlier, the Russian strongman said the United States would have to compromise in the war in Syria, saying: “There is a need to behave like partners and take each other’s interests into account. We are ready for that.”
He also launched a stinging attack on France, accusing President Francois Hollande of deliberately luring Moscow into vetoing a United Nations resolution on Syria and questioned whether Paris was doing the bidding of the US.
His next move in this political game of chess was to get involved in the US Presidential elections, openly stating that Americans should vote for Donald Trump as President or risk being dragged into a nuclear war, according to a Russian ultra-nationalist ally of President Vladimir Putin who likes to compare himself to the U.S. Republican candidate.
Vladimir Zhirinovsky, a flamboyant veteran lawmaker known for his fiery rhetoric, told Reuters in an interview that Trump was the only person able to de-escalate dangerous tensions between Moscow and Washington. By contrast, Trump’s Democratic rival Hillary Clinton could spark World War Three, said Zhirinovsky, who received a top state award from Putin after his pro-Kremlin Liberal Democratic Party of Russia (LDPR) came third in Russia’s parliamentary election last month.
“Relations between Russia and the United States can’t get any worse. The only way they can get worse is if a war starts,” said Zhirinovsky, speaking in his huge office on the 10th floor of Russia’s State Duma, or lower house of parliament. “Americans voting for a President must realise that they are voting for peace on Planet Earth if they vote for Trump.
But if they vote for Hillary it’s war. It will be a short movie. There will be Hiroshimas and Nagasakis everywhere.” Zhirinovsky’s comments coincide with deep disagreements between Washington and Moscow over Syria and Ukraine and after the White House last week accused Russia of a campaign of cyber attacks against Democratic Party organisations.
Even as WikiLeaks released another trove of internal documents from Clinton’s campaign on Wednesday, Putin insisted his country was not involved in an effort to influence the U.S. presidential election.
Zhirinovsky once proposed blocking off mostly Muslim southern Russia with a barbed wire fence, echoing Trump’s call for a wall along the U.S. border with Mexico.
Zhirinovsky, who said he met Trump in New York in 2002, revels in his similarities with the American businessman — they are the same age, favour coarse, sometimes misogynistic language and boast about putting their own country first. Zhirinovsky has even said he wants a DNA test to see if he is related to Trump.
But unlike Trump, a billionaire real-estate developer who casts himself as the anti-establishment candidate in the U.S. presidential race with no past political experience, Zhirinovsky is a consummate political insider who has sat in the Duma for more than two decades.”Trump will have a brilliant chance to make relations more peaceful ... He’s the only one who can do this,” he said, adding that Trump could even win a Nobel peace prize.Though Putin and Trump have never met, Zhirinovsky said he believed they could establish a close working relationship, adding: “Victory for Trump would be a gift to humanity. But if Hillary Clinton wins it will be the last U.S. president ever.”
Speculation over the size of Putin’s personal fortune has gone on for almost a decade, following reports in 2007 that he was worth at least £40 billion, based on leaks from inside his own presidential administration. In 2010, US diplomatic cables suggested Putin held his wealth via proxies.
The President formally owned nothing, they added, but was able to draw on the wealth of his friends, who now control practically all of Russia’s oil and gas production and industrial resources. Putin’s actual wealth is, of course, unknown, but estimates of in excess of $100 billion would not be far off the mark. This makes him the richest person on planet earth.
So money is certainly not the driving force behind his actions and, worryingly, that only leaves his desire to see Russia as the world’s greatest superpower, regaining the lost Soviet empire and, the most dangerous emotion of them all, ego.
Here’s a man who likes to parade himself shooting bears and riding horses bare-chested. A judo black belt who greatly enjoys denigrating women, as was witnessed at a meeting with Angela Merkel during which, knowing her fear of dogs, he called in his own dog to prowl around Merkel’s chair whilst he chuckled and she shook with fear.
While Putin has been mocked for some of his pretensions, not least his penchant for being photographed in the midst of “manly” pursuits, that is seriously to underestimate his nous. This is particularly true when he is speaking to his constituency, an alliance of nationalists, conservatives and a vast, sprawling middle ground. According to Clifford Gaddy, a fellow at the Brookings Institution, Putin interposed himself as a key political fixer under the patronage of Yeltsin-era figure Anatoly Chubais in the mid-1990s. Putin, he says, “understood the principles of the British intelligence chief John Masterman’s double-cross system: don’t destroy your enemies. Manipulate them and use them for your own goals.”
Putin did, and continues to do, precisely that. He has targeted the oligarchs, whose secrets he captured in his rise to power, first as the Prime Minister, under whose auspices the brutal second Chechen war was prosecuted. He has broken those who have stepped out of line.
In the meantime, the horror of the war in Syria will drag on and on. On the question of red lines, Obama’s has been crossed to no effect, while Putin’s red line on western intervention has been defended at the cost of yet more Syrian lives on both sides of the war and with no real prospect of a negotiated peace.
Somewhere, a black dog is smiling a wolfish grin and the world as we know it is more dangerous than at any time in human history.