Things You Don't Know About Vladimir Putin

As Vladimir Putin ordered attacks on Ukraine in February 2022, polls show that the approval of the Russian leader in his country rose as Putin prepared for the invasion. Putin has been in leadership in Post-Soviet Russia since 1999, and even when he wasn't able to remain president, he took office as prime minister. The New Yorker notes that Putin, in his speeches, appears to be trying to bring Russia back into its imperialist history and away from the politics of Vladimir Lenin and communism.

Even with his current popularity ratings on the upswing, Arik Burakovsky at PBS noted that those historic highs are unlikely to last, even for Putin. Opinions from the public are also skewed because of fake news which has "normalized" fighting between Russia and Ukraine, Burakovsky added.

There is a lot to know about the man who has held significant power over the world's largest country for more than two decades. Who is the man leading Russia?

Vladimir Putin's childhood was difficult

When Vladimir Putin was a child, his family lived in severe poverty. He recounted in "In First Person: An Astonishingly Frank Self-Portrait" how he and his friends would chase the hordes of rats in their apartment building around with sticks, per Mirror. Emily Retter of the Mirror noted in her piece that the book is part of Putin's "carefully curated narrative," though it does give insight into his upbringing.

Per the Los Angeles Times, he was considered a "top student," although he didn't seek out attention. His classmate Sergei Kudrov told the paper that an older student kicked Putin, and Putin kicked back. Later, that same bully gathered his friends to wait for Putin after school, and Putin quickly took down the bully, and no one picked on him again.

His scrappy childhood taught him an important lesson he has shared with the public. In 2015, he said, "50 years ago the Leningrad street taught me a rule: if a fight is inevitable you have to throw the first punch" (via the Mirror.)

Being a KGB agent was once the Russian leader's dream

When Vladimir Putin was in 9th grade, he read a novel about a German spy and was inspired to join the KGB, per the Los Angeles Times. He has said that he was unaware of the agency's bloody history. According to the outlet, he said, "My impressions of the KGB were based on romantic stories about spies." Still, he showed up to the Leningrad KGB office uninvited and asked what to do to prepare to be an agent, to which an agent replied to go to law school.

Putin attended law school at Saint Petersburg State University and joined the KGB upon his graduation in 1975. According to Steve Lee Meyers' "The New Tsar," Putin's first years in the agency weren't exciting — he spent his time "pushing papers at work and still living at home with his parents without a room of his own" (per Insider.) Meyers' book also notes that Putin may have been involved with the Fifth Chief Directorate, an arm of the KGB "dedicated to crushing political dissidents," per Insider. His KGB career ended in 1996, although city councilors wanted him out six years prior. However, he'd become close to Mayor Anatoly Sobchak, which is likely what saved his job.

What is the KGB

The KGB, or the Komitet Gosudarstvennoy Bezopasnosti, was the primary security agency for the Soviet Union from 1954 until 1991 when the Soviet Union collapsed. Per History, the agency performed several roles, including "intelligence agency and a force of 'secret police.'" The outlet also noted that the organization was established under the leadership of Nikita Khrushchev, with its precursor being NKGB operating right before and during World War II when Joseph Stalin was still leading the country.

ThoughtCo. says that even though the Western world greatly feared the KGB (hence the Red Scare), its work was more central to policing the people in the USSR and Eastern Europe. They went on to note that the biggest foreign accomplishments of the agency included "suppressing the Hungarian Revolution in 1956" and "installing a Communist government in Afghanistan." Now Russia is watched over by the FSB (The Federal Security Service of the Russian Federation) and the SVR (The Foreign Intelligence Service of the Russian Federation), which ThoughtCo. liken to the FBI and CIA.

Putin has a black belt in Judo

The internet is full of examples of Vladimir Putin's Judo prowess. Putin is so enamored with martial arts, in fact, that he sees it as an activity that teaches the kind of skills leaders need to be effective. He's quoted on the Kremlin site as saying, "I was just a boy when I started judo. I became deeply interested in martial arts, their special philosophy, culture, relations with the opponent, and the rules of combat" (via Rolling Stone). Still, his aforementioned Judo mastery skills are something that have been called into question more than once -– especially since videos of Putin are so readily available online.

Alex Hollings on We Are The Mighty, who notes that he is by no means a Judo expert but instead someone with years of training in multiple forms of martial arts, was undefeated in a short semi-professional fighting career, and asserts that Putin may have been a master at some point but isn't anymore. In reviewing a video of Putin demonstrating his skills, Hollings had a few things to note: Putin's sparring partner was letting himself be taken down, and Putin's "footwork and use of leverage" suggests an awareness of body and technique, even if he doesn't need to exert any "intensity" as it isn't a real fight.

He could be president until 2036

In April 2021, Vladimir Putin passed a law that would allow him to run for president in Russia two more times, which could mean he remains in office until 2036. The Guardian notes that, if he were to remain in office until that time, his leadership term will bypass Joseph Stalin's, making Putin the longest-serving leader since the Russian empire. The outlet added that the new law "zeroed out" Putin's terms so that his past four terms do not count toward the new law of allowing Russian citizens two presidential terms per lifetime. Therefore, he can run twice more.

If Putin were to remain in office until 2036, he would be 83 by the time he terms out. And, per Russia's Central Election Commission, 77% of voters were in favor of the constitutional change, though that may not be an accurate depiction due to the numerous irregularities and packaging together of amendment changes.

But even if the referendum wasn't a difficult win for Putin, it was a message. It was a "way for Putin to say, 'Look, I'm still in charge here. I'm the one with the popular mandate. Everyone quiet down,' as a way to demonstrate his power," Ora John Reuter, associate professor at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, told Vox.

No one really knows what Vladimir Putin's net worth is

According to Celebrity Net Worth, Vladimir Putin is worth a jaw-dropping $70 billion – although his annual salary is reportedly only $187,000. How he has amassed such wealth has been a frequent topic of discussion since no one really knows if the number is $70 billion, $200 billion, or something far greater. Back in 2017, financier Bill Browder testified to the Senate Judiciary Committee that he believes Putin has amassed $200 billion of "ill-gotten gains" in his (at that time) 17 years in power (per The Atlantic).

"While working in Moscow I learned that Russian oligarchs stole money from shareholders, which included the fund I advised," Browder told the committee. "... even though I've never met Putin, he would often step into my battles with the oligarchs and crackdown on them. That all changed in July 2003, when Putin arrested Russia's biggest oligarch and richest man, Mikhail Khodorkovsky." According to Browder, after that arrest, the other oligarchs asked Putin how to avoid being arrested and Putin told them "fifty percent." Which, to Browder, signified 50% of their fortunes to Putin. Browder was deported two short years later.

Even Forbes says deciphering Putin's net worth is "the most elusive riddle." They've been working on cracking that egg for two decades, to no avail. Suffice it to say a lot of publications, experts, and researchers have their theories.

The Russian president kept his marriage private

Despite holding such a large role on a global stage, Vladimir Putin is adamant about his privacy. "I have a private life in which I do not permit interference," he said (per the Mirror). "It must be respected." Just shy of their 30th anniversary, Putin and his wife Lyudmila Putina (now Shkrebneva) announced their divorce on Russian state television in 2013, per Reuters. Putina cited not seeing each other anymore because of Putin's work as their reason for divorce.

Reuters noted that the public not seeing Putina in the years leading up to the divorce led to rumors that she had gone into a convent. At the time, Vladimir Shevchenko, a former aide to Putin and his family, told Reuters that being Russia's first lady was "not her thing" and "she was not a public person ... [and] did not like the camera. But as a person, she was just amazing."

Despite the privacy of his marriage, Putin was hounded by love affair speculation before his divorce, according to the Mirror. Namely, he was allegedly involved with Olympic gymnast Alina Kabaeva as early as 2008.

His alleged mistress was out of the public eye for years

Olympic gold medal gymnast Alina Kabaeva vanished from the public eye after rumors swirled that she was pregnant with twins in 2018 — children that were reportedly fathered by Vladimir Putin. The Daily Mail noted that major Russian newspaper Moskovsky Komsomolets carried a story reporting that Kabaeva had given birth to twins in May 2019, only to then completely erase all mention of the claims even from their cache. The newspaper also noted that "many Russians" saw their alleged relationship as the reason Putin's marriage to Lyudmila ended.

Kabaeva's last public appearance for a few years was in October 2018 when she defended her doctorate at a university in St. Petersburg. The Daily Mail then reported that she was quoted in a public statement in May 2021. The statement was directed at the Russian women's gymnastics team in which she said, in part, "I know that every one of you has worked and trained hard, and that now you are ready and set to win for your country, for those who support you." She also quoted a man Putin admires, according to the Daily Mail, Russian Tsarist general Alexander Suvorov: "Pray to God as this is where victory comes from. God is our general, God leads us."

Kabaeva then appeared in public in August 2021 wearing what appeared to be a wedding ring, on camera, to denounce the Tokyo Olympic judges for not awarding Russia the gold medal in rhythmic gymnastics.

Vladimir Putin has two daughters

Like his marriage, Vladimir Putin doesn't talk about his daughters publicly — though it is known that he has two daughters with his ex-wife. Maria was born in 1985, while Katerina was born the next year in 1986, according to Insider. Per the site, the two girls are named after their grandmothers and were removed from school to transition into homeschooling when their father became president of Russia. Both women reportedly use surnames that are not shared by their father. A senior Russian insider told Reuters in 2015 that Katerina uses the last name Tikhonova, which was taken from her grandmother Yekaterina Tikhonova Shkrebneva, per Russian blogger Oleg Kashin. And Reuters reported that Maria uses the last name Faassen, taken from her husband Jorrit Faassen.

Maria reportedly has a child, who, in an interview with Oliver Stone in 2017, Putin said he "very seldom[ly]" sees. She is a medical researcher living in Moscow, according to Insider. Katerina is "an accomplished acrobatic dancer" who is overseeing a $1.7 billion incubator at her alma mater Moscow State University. She was married to Russian billionaire Kirill Shamalov from 2013 until 2018, when they divorced (via Bloomberg).

A young woman may be the politician's secret love child

Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny revealed in early 2021 that Vladimir Putin may have a secret daughter with former cleaner and rumored ex-mistress Svetlana Krivonogikh. (Navalny is known to be a critic of Putin and was almost killed by a nerve agent in 2020.) The investigative website Proekt was banned on the grounds of national security after they revealed the existence of this supposed secret daughter, 18-year-old Elizaveta Krivonogikh, a.k.a. Luiza Rozova, whose mother was linked in the Pandora Papers leak of hidden financial records in 2021.

It was discovered in those documents that Svetlana had a net worth of $100 million and moved into a $4.1 million penthouse shortly after giving birth to her daughter, according to the Latin Times. Per The Sun, neither Luiza nor Svetlana have said anything directly about the claim of Putin's paternity, though Luiza did tell Russian GQ that she "'probably' looks 'similar' to a young Putin." Luiza was a regular poster on Instagram, showing off her lavish home, designer goods, or hot spots. She has not posted on the platform since October 2021.

Her followers are concerned that she may have been silenced by authorities. Her posts are still getting comments, however, many in light of Russia's invasion of Ukraine in February 2022, with some posting about Putin reportedly being her father and his attack on Ukraine.

Vladimir Putin's hobbies uphold his 'macho' reputation

Whether he is spending hours a day swimming or playing ice hockey, Vladimir Putin does what it takes to uphold his "macho" appearance. That appearance comes at a cost. One of his workout outfits cost a whopping $3,200 back in 2015, according to Esquire. Despite his hard appearance, he is also known for his love of dogs and caring for "endangered Amur tigers," per the BBC. He also enjoys a variety of outdoor activities, abstains from alcohol, and is widely acknowledged to be a man of action, per the Kremlin's "public relations machine," via The Conversation.

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov even told the media in spring 2021 that Putin watches German television in order to maintain his German language skills. "Putin is also a newspaper reader," he added. "Reading is his main hobby, especially reading historical literature and notes." Also, Peskov noted he had never seen Putin with cats, only dogs. 

Putin may own a secret billion-dollar palace

"[They] built a palace for their boss with this money," Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny said in a video, asserting it is a secret palace built by Vladimir Putin using money from his wealthy friends (via Insider). Insider goes on to explain that the video, almost two hours long, seems to show drone footage of a mansion with "two helipads, a guest house, and multiple other structures" along the Black Sea property. They note that the palace is worth a reported $1.4 billion, but the Kremlin and Putin's office both deny it belongs to the Russian leader.

Spokesperson Dmitry Peskov told CNN that there is no connection between Putin and the palace: "They are repeating the old story. It was the year of 2017 or 2016, if I'm not mistaken, that the first time it was mentioned there should be the so-called palace of Putin in Gelendzhik. This is not true. There is no palace. He is not the owner of any palace."

At the end of January 2021, billionaire Arkady Rotenberg, former judo partner to Putin, came forward and said he owned the mansion, according to the BBC. He noted that it was going to take a couple of years to finish and become a hotel.