Pseudo-dictator extraordinaire Vladimir Vladimirovich Putin was born in 1952 in the Soviet Union's second largest city, Leningrad (a.k.a. St. Petersburg), which was at the time still reeling from the aftermath of World War II. He always wanted to be a spy so young Vlad joined the infamous Soviet spy ranks of the KGB. In 1975, he was sent to East Germany on a mission and did not return to the USSR until 1989.
When Putin finally returned to Leningrad (soon to be St. Petersburg), he took a job in politics, working as an assistant to the mayor. He continued to work with the KGB, which remained powerful in Leningrad (so close to being St. Petersburg!), despite starting to lose influence elsewhere in Russia. On the mean streets of still-Leningrad, they continued getting up to fun spy stuff like monitoring the activities of local politicians and journalist, murdering major political and business figures, etc. You know, classic KGB stuff, and Putin was right there for it all.
In 1966, Putin left the mean streets of St. Petersburg and went to work in Moscow, where he became the head of the KGB's successor, the Federal Security Service (FSB). There, he caught the attention of the Russian Federation's first president, Boris Yeltsin. Yeltsin was in his second term and his support was on the decline, but his most influential buddy, Boris Berezovsky, had an idea. He knew Putin from back in St. Petersburg, where Putin had once refused to take a bribe from him. This left a very strong and, hilariously, a very positive impression on the bribe-offering Berezovsky, who encouraged Yeltsin to appoint Putin as a friendly and non-combative Prime Minister, consolidating his power. Yeltsin did just that in 1999 even though he thought Putin was "kind of small." HAHA. (Beginnings of an inferiority complex?)
At the beginning of his term, Putin had what we in the non-Russian world might call "suspicious luck." A series of bombs detonated in Russia at seemingly random apartment complexes, killing more than 300 and injuring around 2000. These bombings were blamed on Chechen terrorists and Putin took advantage of the panic they generated by acting the strongman, going on TV and promising to hunt down the perpetrators. His heroism in the face of this adversity is kind of complicated by the fact that many believe the bombing were actually perpetrated by FSB itself, which Putin had been in charge of not weeks before. RUSSIA, man. It's wild.
Either way, the "heroic nature" of Putin's response led him to the presidency, where he promptly introduced a series of laws that essentially abolished federal elections and appointed Putin loyalists to oversee the regional Governors, i.e. he became a dictator.
Putin is now firmly in charge of everything Russia, including taking photos like this, and rules with a heavy dose of manipulation. He's been compared to "the godfather of a mafia clan." Corruption is institutional under his regime, even when it's completely unnecessary and absurd. Some examples:
Putin's also up to more mundane dictator things like using public money to build large palaces for himself and eliminating any meaningful opposition in Russia's "elections." Dissidents are often murdered under his watch, sometimes with poison. In fact, Russia ranks 143 out of the 182 countries listed on the Corruptions Perception Index, which is...bad. Yeah, that's the word.
Putin's agenda now is pretty clear. He wants NATO, which we told you last week was literally formed to combat Soviet aggression, gone. It's basically the only thing keeping him from expanding Russian influence across Europe and now Trump is helping him make that case. Does it feel chilly in here to you? Something about the Cold War seems familiarů