10 Insightful Facts About Vladimir Putin

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Russia President Vladimir Putin has been in news for a number of reasons, good and otherwise. From his implicit support to the Ukrainian rebels, to his narcissistic photo-ops and his defiant machismo; Putin has been described as an enigmatic personality in world politics. Here are 10 facts which could help decode his actions:

1. Grandfather
Putin’s maternal grandfather, Spiridon Putin, was a chef at the Astoria Hotel in St. Petersburg, where he also served Rasputin. Rasputin, incidentally, tipped him after noticing the similarity in their surnames. Spiridon was, later, the cook for Lenin’s country dacha, and also served Stalin from time to time. He died when his grandson, Vladimir, was 13 years old.

2. Experiencing war
Putin’s family had suffered due to World War II- his father was left with a limp due to shrapnel wounds, and his sibling died due to malnutrition-triggered diphtheria. However, born in 1952, Putin never witnessed the world war first-hand. In fact, he is the only Russian leader after Czar Alexander III to not have witnessed a world war first-hand.

3. Adoption
The birth of Vladimir was miraculous for the Putins who had lost two children in the past, and were in their early 40s when he was born. In fact, before his first presidential election, a Georgian woman came forward and declared she had given him up for adoption when he was nine years old. Unproven rumours of his adoption have been strengthened by the fact that no one remembers the boy before he started school, and that his parents were remarkably doting.

4. Volodya, the thug
Volodya, as Putin was called in his childhood, grew up in a rough neighbourhood; and constantly picked fights when rubbed the wrong way. Such response to the slightest provocation continued even in school, due to which, he was not allowed membership of the communist organisation for 10-14 year olds- called ‘Young Pioneer’. When his biographers asked him about this in 2000, he responded with pride, “I was no pioneer. I was a hooligan… A real thug.”

5. Jewish connection
Putin grew up in a neighbourhood with many practising Jews. One of them was Mina Yuditskaya, who taught German to young Putin. Several years later, in an official visit to Israel to meet with Jewish war emigrants, Putin contacted and met with Yuditskaya. He also bought old Yuditskaya a fully-furnished, easily accessible apartment in Tel Aviv.

6. KGB
Putin has worked with the former Soviet spy agency, KGB. In mid 1980s, he had been posted in what was then East Germany. He had aspired to be in the secret services since a young age, following the footsteps of his father who worked as a spy for the NKVD- a precursor to the KGB. It is this stint in the agency that began shaping his ideology. An instance of this would be when a group of demonstrators came marching to the KGB headquarters in Dresden, a few weeks after the collapse of the Berlin Wall. It was Putin who dispersed the crowd, and called the Soviet’s Red Army tank unit for protection. He was told that they cannot take action without the permission of the government in Moscow, and that “Moscow is silent”. By 1990, Putin had quietly returned to the Soviet.

7. Honeymoon in Crimea
Putin’s interest in Crimea could be seen long before the region acceded into the Russian Federation in March 2014. Putin, with his airline-stewardess wife, Lyudmila (divorced in 2014), went on a long honeymoon to Crimea after their marriage in July 1983.

8. Sports
Putin has a Master of Sports degree and an honorary doctorate in Judo- he has been practising the sport since the age of 11, and has also co-authored a book on the sport in 2004. Apart from this, he also holds a Master of Sports degree in Sambo, and a black belt in Karate. Also, he is interested in and adept at skiing and ice-hockey.

9. Angela Merkel
Putin and German Chancellor Angela Merkel share a special bond. Apart from being able to converse both in German and Russian, both also admire each other’s pragmatism, and share an interesting friendship. An episode to exemplify their relation would be when world leaders had visited Putin at his residence in 2007 to negotiate energy supplies. He let one of his dogs approach Merkel, who is petrified of dogs after being bitten by one in 1995. As she stood terrified, Putin watched amusedly. Later she told reporters, “I understand why he has to do this—to prove he’s a man”.

10. Animal protection
Putin is the Chairman of the Russian Geographical Society’s Board of Trustees, and has several rare species under his personal patronage- Amur tiger, white whale, polar bear and snow leopard. He is an activist for preserving animals in their natural habitat and also takes part in scientific projects like satellite tracker collar for the Amur tiger, etc.

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