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Vladimir Putin timeline: An enigmatic leader's rise to power

Russian president came from humble beginnings, spied for the KGB

Feb. 5, 2014

Vladimir Putin was a virtual unknown when he arrived on the political stage in August 1999. And even after many years in the public eye, Russia's president continues to be a man of many contrasts and layers. His personality, underneath a finely groomed public image, can be tough to fully grasp. Critics have accused him of leading an increasingly authoritarian regime that flouts electoral law and silences dissent. In 2010, demonstrators flocked to Moscow to protest what they deemed to be a fraudulent parliamentary election.

While Putin's popularity rate holds steady, he has faced criticism for his controversial anti-gay laws and treatment of political prisoners. International observers meanwhile have scrutinized his backing of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and his granting of asylum to Edward Snowden.
Select the links below to learn more about his life and career.


Vladimir Putin was born on Oct. 7, 1952 in St. Petersburg, then called Leningrad.

He and his parents shared a room in a hardscrabble communal apartment. Vladimir, Putin's father, worked as a factory foreman, among other jobs.

"I come from an ordinary family, and this is how I lived for a long time, nearly my whole life," Putin is quoted as saying on his official website.

Putin went on to get his degree in international law and economics from Leningrad State University in 1975.

Putin attends an Orthodox Christmas ceremony in 2011 in Turginovo, the village where his parents were baptized. (Alexander Zemlianichenko/Reuters)

KGB career

After graduating from university, Putin decided on a career in the intelligence service.

He joined the KGB in the mid-1970s, working in the counterintelligence unit for a time. There, he tracked the whereabouts of foreign visitors in Leningrad, among other duties.

Putin climbed the ladder of command, eventually earning the rank of lieutenant-colonel. He was posted to Dresden, East Germany, in the mid-1980s, staying until the fall of the Iron Curtain.

Shortly after returning to the Soviet Union in 1990, Putin took a post at Leningrad State University. The following year, he resigned from the spy service.

(Alexey Druzhinin/AFP/Getty)

Entering politics

Putin began his bureaucratic career with the Leningrad city council in 1991. Three years later, he was a top aide to the city's mayor, the liberal but often controversial Anatoly Sobchak.

He moved with his family to Moscow in 1996, holding posts of increasing responsibility within Boris Yeltsin's government.

By 1998, he was named head of the federal security service, the KGB's successor as spy agency.

A little more than a year later, Yeltsin named Putin as Russia's prime minister and anointed him as his chosen successor.

That preference would be put to the test when Yeltsin made a surprise exit from politics on Dec. 31, 1999.

(Alexei Nikolsky/AFP/Getty)

President Putin

Putin, now the acting president, was elected to the post on a full-time basis in March 2000.

"We want our Russia to be a free, prosperous, flourishing, strong and civilized country, a country that its citizens are proud of and that is respected internationally," he said in his inauguration speech.

Putin was re-elected to a second term in 2004.

During these two terms, his administration butted heads with powerful oligarchs and media tycoons who had prospered in the post-Soviet years.

Putin also faced two deadly hostage-takings in 2002 (Dubrovka theatre) and 2004 (Beslan school), both blamed on Chechnyan insurgents.

But as the economy grew rapidly, fuelled at least in part by rising oil prices, Putin remained popular as his term wound down in 2007.

(Mikhail Klimentyev/AFP/Getty)


Putin was constitutionally barred from running for a third term in 2008.

So he stepped aside in favour of Dmitry Medvedev, pictured at right, a former deputy prime minister and Putin loyalist.

Medvedev easily won election, then nominated Putin to be his prime minister.

Russian analysts spoke of a "tandemocracy," a new arrangement where power was shared between the two levels of government.

When Medvedev's term expired in 2012, Putin stepped forward to stand for the presidency. Medvedev became his prime minister.

Tens of thousands of Russians protested in the streets in 2011 and 2012, claiming vote fraud on the part of the administration and suppression of freedom of speech and other democratic rights.

(Dmitry Astakhov /AFP/Getty)

Personal life

Putin had two brothers who died young. He was raised as an only child.

He met his future wife through a mutual friend. Lyudmila Shkrebneva, pictured at right, had been a flight attendant on a domestic airline. They married in 1983 but in 2013 the couple announced they were divorcing.

The Putins have two daughters: Maria, born in 1985 and Katerina, born in 1986. But they keep a low profile and are rarely seen in an official capacity.

"Not all fathers are as loving with their children as he is," Lyudmila is quoted as saying on Putin's official website.

Putin also reportedly has a soft spot for animals and is photographed often with dogs, horses and even tigers.

(Alexey Druzhinin/AFP/Getty)

A sporting sort

In recent years, Putin has become the king of the sporty photo-op.

He has, quite famously, been photographed without his shirt or engaged in any number of macho activities to fine-tune his "superman" image.

Even when the cameras are away, Putin is said to be a sporting sort.

Martial arts are a particular passion. An accomplished judoka, Putin also holds a black belt in karate.

Putin also takes to the slopes, seen often on skis at Krasnaya Polyana, the home of the Sochi 2014 Winter Games.

(Alexey Druzhinin/AFP/Getty)


Putin has never shied away from making controversial decisions in his domestic and foreign policy. At home, Putin introduced anti-gay legislation that forbids gay couples from adopting children. It also bans propagandizing "non-traditional" relationships to minors. These laws spurred international condemnation and calls for boycotts of the Sochi Olympics.

Observers in the West have also long criticized Putin's alliance with Syria's embattled President Bashar al-Assad. Tensions ratcheted up in late 2013 after it was alleged that al-Assad used chemical weapons against rebel forces. Amid threats of a U.S. strike against Syria, Putin helped broker a plan in which Syria agreed to surrender its chemical weapon stockpile.

Putin also made the controversial decision in August 2013 to grant asylum to NSA leaker Edward Snowden. Relations with the U.S. have remained chilly.

(Alexei Nikolsky/RIA Novosti, Presidential Press Service, AP)

Sources: CBC News stories, wire service reports, official bio