from a relatively obscure position as a Soviet intelligence officer
during the cold war. He was born in 1952 to a working-class family
in Leningrad (now St. Petersburg). An overachiever, Putin excelled
in his studies, particularly German, wrestling, and the humanities.
graduating from the law faculty of Leningrad State University in
1975, he began a fifteen-year career with the KGB’s foreign
intelligence arm, stationed in Leningrad and East Germany. In the
late 1980s, with the Soviet Union facing collapse, Putin retired
from the KGB with the rank of colonel and quickly began to build a
respectable career in reformist politics.
In the early
1990s, Putin joined St. Petersburg’s local government, first as an
aide and then as deputy mayor to Anatoly Sobchak, St. Petersburg’s
first post-Soviet elected mayor. Putin’s relationship with Sobchak,
an influential leader in the first wave of democratic reformers of
the Gorbachev years, was important, allowing him to burrow deeper
into the reform movement.
executive, Putin quickly became a key player in the St. Petersburg
administration. Sobchak relied heavily on him for day-to-day
management of the city’s affairs, especially in the area of
international investments. Putin was involved in attracting
companies such as Coca-Cola and the BNP-Dresdner Bank to St.
Petersburg, in setting up the city’s first hard currency exchange,
and in privatizing state assets, such as hotels. In short, he
quickly became the man to see if one wanted to do business in St.