Vladimir Putin is continuing to cause international concern as western nations warn of a Russian invasion of Ukraine. Last night, White House principal deputy press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre just warned that: “We are in the window when an invasion could begin at any time”. At the daily media briefing at the White House a little earlier, she added: “The path for diplomacy remains available … But we are clear-eyed about the prospects on the ground”. Her comments came after 100,000-plus Russian troops massed along the Ukraine border.
NATO’s secretary-general Jens Stoltenberg has also warned today that “we have not seen any sign of de-escalation on the ground from the Russian side”.
Putin is known worldwide as a ruthless leader, with political opposition regularly quashed in Russia.
Researchers have tried to dig deep into what makes the Russian leader tick, and this has involved exploring his upbringing.
In 2015, a series of photos were released showing Putin at various stages of his youth.
Images courtesy of Getty Images included a photo of Putin dated 1960, in St Petersburg, Russia, when he was just eight years old.
Another shows a class photo of Putin back in 1966
One image shows Putin with his classmate Elena during a party in St Petersburg, Russia, 1970.
In 1971, Putin can also be seen wrestling with a classmate.
Insight into the Russian leader’s early life is hard to come by, but in 2019, his KGB (the main security agency for the Soviet Union) file was declassified, revealing some information about his time there.
The document describes him as “morally upstanding” and enjoying “well-deserved authority among colleagues.” It also highlights that he won a judo championship in 1978.
The profile added: “Comrade V V Putin constantly improves his ideological and political standards.”
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Putin’s career in the KGB, a path he has previously stated he always wanted to take, came after graduating in law from university in Leningrad, as St Petersburg was then known.
He served as a KGB spy until the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, rising to the rank of lieutenant colonel. He was posted to Dresden, East Germany from 1985 to 1990 and was later appointed head of the FSB, the KGB’s successor agency.
Putin had experienced unrest during his time in East Germany, sparking an unconfirmed story that he threatened to shoot protestors targeting a KGB office.
One demonstrator present at the time told the BBC that “an officer emerged” from the building and was “quite small, agitated”.
They added: “He said to our group: ‘Don’t try to force your way into this property. My comrades are armed, and they’re authorised to use their weapons in an emergency.'”
This provoked the group to withdraw from the area, according to the witness.
Following the collapse of the Berlin Wall in 1989 and then the Soviet Union in 1991, Putin returned home to St Petersburg.
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But after 1991, the city where Putin grew up had descended into violence.
St Petersburg had fallen under the control of a number of organised criminal groups such as Tambov Gang, Malyshev Gang, Kazan Gang and other criminal groups, engaged in racket, extortion, and violent clashes with each other.
In 2018, Putin admitted that he slept with a gun by his side during the violent period in order to protect himself.
He said: “In my country home, I had to put a pump-action shotgun near my bed, this is true. But these were the times back then – better to be safe than sorry.
“There are so many fairy tales about criminal St Petersburg. But things were violent.
“And it’s true I slept with my gun, such were the times.”