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A Somewhat Different ‘Past’

Russian President Vladimir Vladimirovich Putin recently said that he used to drive a taxi to supplement his income, following the fall of the Soviet Union. In upcoming documentary film, dubbed ‘Russia. Recent History’, by broadcaster Channel One, the Russian strongman has been seen saying: “Sometimes, I had to earn extra money. I mean, earn extra money by car, as a private driver. It’s unpleasant to talk about to be honest but, unfortunately, that was the case.

The Russian President had commented, while recalling the Soviet era. Putin believes that the fall of the Soviet Union spelled the end of “Historical Russia”. In the past, he had repeatedly mentioned that the collapse of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR) still remained a tragedy for many Russians, as the disintegration had triggered a severe economic instability in former Soviet Republics three decades ago. As millions were plunged into poverty, the newly Independent Russia had replaced Communism with Capitalism. Once, he had reportedly described the collapse as “the greatest Geopolitical Disaster of the 20th Century”.

President Putin

Although the Russian President claimed that he used to drive a taxi in order to earn money after the fall of the erstwhile Soviet Union, political experts have expressed doubt over the authenticity of such a claim. It is a well-known fact that Putin was a loyal servant of the Soviet Union, as he joined the KGB (or the Committee for State Security, the main security agency for the Soviet Union from March 13, 1954 until December 3, 1991) in 1975. After receiving training at the 401st KGB school in Okhta, Leningrad, he worked in the Second Chief Directorate (counter-intelligence). Later, Putin was transferred to the Leningrad-based First Chief Directorate, where he used to monitor foreigners and consular officials. In September 1984, the Soviet authorities sent him to Moscow for further training at the Yuri Andropov Red Banner Institute. From 1985 to 1990, he served in Dresden, East Germany, using a cover identity as a translator. However, this period in his career remained unclear and controversial.

In Putin’s official biography, it is mentioned that during the fall of the Berlin Wall on November 9, 1989, he saved the files of the Soviet Cultural Centre (House of Friendship) and of the KGB villa in Dresden for the authorities of the would-be United Germany. He did not allow demonstrators, including KGB and Stasi agents, to obtain and destroy those files. He had also sent many KGB documents to Moscow.

Putin’s East German identity card

After the collapse of East Germany, Putin resigned from KGB service, as suspicions arose regarding his loyalty to the Kremlin during demonstrations in Dresden. Upon his arrival in Leningrad in early 1990, he worked at the International Affairs Section of Leningrad State University for nearly three months, reporting to Vice Rector Yuriy Molchanov. Simultaneously, he used to look for new KGB recruits, apart from monitoring the activities of the student body. Later in May 1990, Putin became an Adviser on International Affairs to the Mayor of Leningrad, Anatoly Sobchak. Within a year, he became Head of the Committee for External Relations of the Mayor’s Office. On August 9, 1999, Putin was appointed one of three First Deputy Prime Ministers, and later on that day, was appointed acting Prime Minister of the Government of the Russian Federation by then President Boris Yeltsin. As President Yeltsin announced that he wanted to see Putin as his successor, the latter agreed to run for the presidency on that same day.

Naturally, the question arises here: When did President Putin drive a taxi to earn money? It has become a habit of authoritarian leaders across the globe to glorify their past lives in order to earn respect. Prime Minister of India Narendra Modi, popularly known as a friend of President Putin, often claims that he was the son of a tea-seller, who had a tea stall at Vadnagar Railway Station in Mehsana District of western Indian Province of Gujarat. It seems that these leaders have nothing, but to showcase their impoverished past lives to win people’s hearts.

Putin with Indian PM Modi

It may be noted that Adolf Hitler, after the demise of his mother on December 21, 1907, had run out of money and was forced to live a bohemian life in homeless shelters and a men’s dormitory at the age of 18. He used to earn money as a casual labourer, and by painting and selling water-colours of Vienna’s sights. However, he never discussed his struggle with others after becoming the Führer. Similarly, former British Prime Minister Margaret Hilda Thatcher‘s father Alfred Roberts was the owner of a grocery shop. She, too, never highlighted her childhood after becoming the Iron Lady of the UK. Similarly, Benjamin Franklin (January 17, 1706 – April 17, 1790) – an American polymath who was active as a writer, scientist, inventor, statesman, diplomat, printer, publisher and political philosopher – was a son of tallow chandler, soaper and candlemaker, while 42nd US President William Jefferson Clinton‘s father William Jefferson Blythe Jr was a traveling salesman, who had died in a car accident three months before his birth.

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