Many people today often hear of Vladimir Putin and his policies and actions inside Russia and outside Russian borders. Could we predict how his policies in Russia and abroad are shaped from events that occurred decades ago?
KGB: Soviet intelligence and secret police agency run to military standards responsible for gathering of intelligence internally and externally through illegal and legal means. Also responsible for counter-intelligence services, some internal security, and possible kidnapping and assassinations. The KGB was feared for effectiveness and brutality (torture). Disbanded after the fall of the Soviet Union. (Comparable to some roles of the Central Intelligence Agency of the United States.)
Stasi: Ministry for State Security of the German Democratic Republic. Another intelligence and secret police agency, known for being effective and brutal. (Ex. Reports were that some interrogations consisted of being placed in front of an x-ray machine for hours on end; when the person tried passing a border checkpoint the person would immediately trigger radiation alarms.)
FSB: Current Russian internal intelligence, security agency responsible for intelligence gathering, counter-intelligence, counter-terrorism, and other internal security.
First Chief Directorate: Of the KGB, responsible for foreign intelligence gathering, such as industrial espionage, controlling field agents in different countries.
Second Chief Directorate: Of the KGB, responsible for counter-intelligence and internal security.
GDR: German Democratic Republic, aka East Germany.
Putin was born in Leningrad (Saint Petersburg) in 1952. Initially in school he was considered a troublemaker, who was often late to class. However, after the encouragement of his parents and teachers, Putin started exceling in his subjects, started to show his leadership qualities, and started engaging in various sports like sambo (Russian form of judo). Before he left high school, Putin felt destined to work for the state’s intelligence services, influenced by local cinema. He later recalled: “One man’s effort could achieve what whole armies could not. One spy could decide the fate of thousands of people.”
Vladimir Putin graduated from the Law Department of Leningrad State University in 1970, immediately working for the KGB in the Second Chief Directorate. Later, he was moved to the First Chief Directorate, monitoring official and perhaps non-official foreign diplomats in his home town of Leningrad.
In 1985, Putin was posted to Dresden, Germany. Due to its proximity to Western Europe, and the fact that its capital was shared between rival powers, the GDR had an abundance of spies, diplomats, defectors, etc. from both sides.
As the years past, Soviet head of state Mikhail Gorbachev slowly allowed eastern European nations, formerly under Soviet influence, to reform. Large scale demonstrations soon occurred, and soon enough, to Putin’s dismay, the Berlin Wall fell.
A few weeks later, on the evening of the 5th of December 1989, crowds of (former) East German citizens stormed the Dresden Stasi headquarters. The once feared and despised intelligence service was now helpless in the face of reform, democracy, and people power.1 The mob then shifted across the street to a house that served as the local headquarters of the KGB, where Putin was in. As they approached the entrance, Putin, now a Major, stepped out brandishing a pistol, and calmly addressed the people in fluent German: “Don’t try to force your way into this property. This is Soviet territory… I’m serious when I say that I will shoot trespassers.” With the determination and assurance in his voice, the crowds withdrew; the offices of the KGB were saved from being ransacked momentarily.
In the following days as the German Democratic Republic continued to crumble, the threat of demonstrators and rioting East Germans was still grave, grave enough to the point where Vladimir Putin called a nearby Soviet armoured unit to ask for protection and possible evacuation. To his surprise and horror, the armoured unit refused to do anything without orders from central command– “Moscow is silent.”
With Moscow having troubles of their own and unable to respond to the overwhelming issues2, Putin, still a staunch Soviet, decided to act. Classified and other sensitive documents such as official communiqué from KGB headquarters were destroyed to prevent them from falling into protestor’s or foreign intelligence service’s hands. The furnace that was used burst from the quantity of material.
Putin was traumatized by the fall of everything he so dearly loved and served, intent on preventing a repeat of the collapse of a state. Instead of finding a common job when he returned to Russia, he decided to maximize his skills and high level connections, allowing him to flourish personally and politically.
Vladimir Putin saw first-hand what a mass of reform-minded populous could do to a nation once controlled by feared police services. He somewhat relived that experience when Euromaiden protests started occurring, and Ukraine plunged into civil war, supported by insignia-less Russian forces Putin summoned. Holding the title of President of the Russian Federation for the third term (not consecutive), his bravado and determination to ensure such events do not repeat themselves have yielded confidence by the Russian people to him.
Perhaps Putin would like to see the Russian Federation elevated back to the superpower title in the Cold War, reminiscent of his memories of the USSR that he faithfully served. He has resumed Russian strategic bomber flights near NATO countries. In 2007, Putin ordered the Russian aircraft carrier and other naval vessels from the Black Sea Fleet into the Mediterranean Sea as a show of force projection, the major naval operation in the region since the dissolution of the Soviet Union. Recently, Russia has also concluded a large-scale military exercise in the Arctic region with tens of thousands of soldiers, hundreds of aircraft, and dozens of naval assets. With many of Russia’s neighbours aligned to a rival Western powers, could one blame him for wanting to ensure the integrity of Russia by trying to form another buffer zone of friendly nations?
But one thing is for certain; Moscow will not be silent as long as Vladimir Putin has some position of power and influence, because Putin is now Moscow.
1 The various security and police services were heavily burdened by the chaos as they were essentially trying to control the entire population.
2 Gorbachev refused to use force, changing government, possible coup d’etat forming, the USSR would be no more within two years.
3 Putin became an assistant for the Mayor of Saint Petersburg, then rose rapidly through the ranks in part due to his connections and his personality, reaching the position of Director of the FSB, and later the President of Russia. Most of the people Putin met in Dresden now also occupy senior positions in government and state-owned companies such as Gazprom and Nordstream.
4 Putin has also initiated re-armament programmes by pouring trillions of rubles into the Russian military to modernize the weapons systems and to transform the army into a professional one [comparable to Western militaries].