Putin: From “Petty Spy” to the Most Brutal Dictator | FRIDAY DIGITAL

Putin: From “Petty Spy” to the Most Brutal Dictator

Putin Watcher Buntaro Kuroi Reads "Putin's True Identity" (Part 1)

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Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has been criticized by the international community, but there is absolutely no prospect of ending it. The “seeds” of this barbaric act are being nurtured by Russian President Vladimir Putin himself. Such a perspective is indispensable when considering this war. Military journalist and Japan’s number one Putin watcher, Buntaro Kuroi, deciphers Putin’s “true identity.”

The background of Putin’s rise from a mere spy to the worst dictator of the century. A Putin watcher deciphers the story of his rise to power Photo: Representative photo/Reuters/Afro

Putin’s Serious Illness Is Groundless

There are several of “rumors” flying around about President Vladimir Putin that are based on vague evidence.

One example is the “serious illness” theory. Various theories have been reported, including Parkinson’s disease, and some even say that he is scheduled to undergo surgery for cancer.

There were also plausible news reports that he had appointed Patrushev, secretary of the Security Council, as his deputy ahead of his cancer surgery or that he has appointed a 36-year-old presidential official as his successor. But there is no evidence at all of these either. The epicenter of this information is often the British tabloids, the London bureaus of some media outlets, or the British newspaper “The Times”.


Looking at the source of the stories, many of them are suspicious articles posted on Telegram, a popular social networking service in Russian-speaking countries, and sometimes they “originate from the Ukrainian intelligence service. The possibility is not zero, but the value of the information is low at this point. In any case, it would be wise not to jump on “information from London,” but to take a breath and see how other international media react.

Nevertheless, information on President Putin is important. The Russian invasion of Ukraine was decided by Putin and carried out on his orders. Putin is the source of this tragedy.

If this is the case, the future course of this war will depend greatly on what Putin thinks. While what goes on in an individual’s head cannot be known to others, speculation is useful. To understand “who Putin really is,” let’s look back at what kind of life he has led.

From a petty “spy” to a political career

Vladimir Putin was born in 1952 and is 69 years old as of May 2022. He was born in Leningrad (now St. Petersburg). There is an anecdote that he was fascinated with the KGB since his boyhood, but it may be an afterthought and may or may not be true.

He was an excellent student, graduated from the prestigious Leningrad University Law Faculty, and entered the KGB on a cadre course. In the KGB, he was assigned to the 2nd DG of the counterintelligence department and then to the 1st DG in charge of foreign intelligence activities. After working at the Leningrad Branch, he began working at the East German and worked in the Dresden branch.

Putin worked there until 1990. His service in East Germany lasted five years. In terms of age, he was between 32 and 37 years old, which would be the end of his career as a spy. Just before his return to Japan, at the age of 37, Putin experienced the “cataclysmic change of the times” that led to the demonstrations in Leipzig and the fall of the Berlin Wall. We can assume that this experience was significant for Vladimir Putin, but only he knows how he felt about it at the time.

 In any case, after returning to his hometown of Leningrad, Putin became a KGB reservist and worked at his alma mater, Leningrad University. He developed a relationship with Professor Anatoly Sobchak, his mentor from his university days. Sobchak had turned to politics at the time, becoming chairman of the Leningrad City Party, and Putin became his assistant and officially left the KGB.

Putin’s “rise to power” began

Sobchak became a high-profile standard-bearer of the reformist movement alongside Yeltsin, and went on to become mayor of St. Petersburg, while Putin served in the mayor’s inner circle, holding key posts in the city’s administration. He quickly rose through the ranks, becoming the first deputy mayor in 1994.

Later, in 1996, Putin resigned at the same time as his backer Sobchak resigned as mayor, but he had already gained some recognition in Russian government circles. He was invited by the Yeltsin administration to go to Moscow to assume a key position in the Russian Presidential Administration. The following year, in 1997, he was appointed Deputy Director- General of the Russian Presidential Administration,  and in 1998, Director-General of the FSB. In other words, he went from a mid-level field operative to a KGB retiree at the end of the Cold War and returned to his old post as head of the FSB in just eight years.

As director of the FSB, Putin put his old colleagues in key positions and took control of the FSB in a short period. One of his closest associates during that time was Nikolai Patrushev, a senior FSB official who had been with the organization for a long time. He was almost the same age and from Leningrad, and later became the Secretary of the Security Council, the command post for the regime’s foreign strategy, and continues to support Putin to this day.

The FSB director’s position was Putin’s first major breakthrough as a politician. He also had a hand in the scandal that led to the downfall of Prosecutor General Yury Skuratov, who was investigating allegations of corruption against President Yeltsin.

He was then named acting prime minister, soon after, he became prime minister in August 1999. At the time, President Yeltsin was severely alcoholic and unable to perform his duties, and the government was effectively headed by Prime Minister Vladimir Putin. Putin was 43 years old when he moved to Moscow, and a man completely unknown in the world of central politics quickly rose to become the “next supreme power” at the age of 46.

The “unknown 43-year-old” was on the attack on Chechnya.

At the time, Putin was an unknown newcomer to Russian politics. However, as soon as he became prime minister, he ordered an attack on Chechnya and launched the second Chechen war.

Putin thus created an image of a “strong leader” that made him popular among the Russian people, and at the end of 1999 he was nominated acting president, and in 2000, at the age of 47, he officially assumed the presidency. In the meantime, he quickly laid the groundwork for his dictatorship by placing his FSB Leningrad bureau colleagues, in key positions in his administration.

In this way, he was born and raised in the Soviet Communist Party/KGB culture until the age of 37. After the collapse of the Soviet Union, he experienced the collapse of Russia’s economy and social order while working as an assistant to a reformist mayor. Russia under Yeltsin was free but in dire straits, like the poorest countries in the world. Putin witnessed this misery from the age of 37, when he was part of the power structure, and seized power at the age of 46.

The “humiliation of Great Russia,” which he experienced between the ages of 37 and 46, is strongly reflected in Putin’s policies as he rose to power.


He began what he considered a kind of “world reformation,” employing friends from his days as a KGB agent in Leningrad and subordinates from his time as deputy mayor of St. Petersburg, who shared the same experience. The goal is to rebuild a powerful sphere of influence where the Russians reign, but he does not hesitate to “erase” outsiders who stand in the way of this process, or domestic people who oppose him. This method was a revival of the Soviet Communist Party and KGB-style methods. And the invasion of Ukraine was the result of that process.

 Vladimir Putin is 69 years old. The Russian president who started this war has no intention of stopping it. Continue to Part 2

Kuroi Buntaro: Military journalist, born in 1963. His book ” Putin’s Identity” ( Takarajimasya Shinsho), the culmination of 20 years of observation of Putin, was released on May 27.

  • Interview and text by Fumitaro Kuroi Photo Representative photo/Reuters/Afro

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