The Rise of Vladimir Putin: Former KGB Spy to President

By Anoushka Desai and Aayushi Vanzara, SVKM’s Pravin Gandhi College of Law, Mumbai University:

When Russian President Boris Yeltsin abruptly resigned on December 31, 1999, personally culling a former KGB official only a few years into politics as his successor, few predicted that Vladimir Putin would still hold power 20 years later, a Kremlin tenure only eclipsed in the modern era by the late Soviet dictator Josef Stalin.

When the Berlin Wall collapsed, Putin was 40 years old and was serving as an undercover agent for the Soviet intelligence agency, the KGB, in East Germany. The Soviet Union disintegrated into 15 new countries, one of which being the new Russian Federation. Russia had just lost nearly two million square miles in Putin’s sight. He later referred to that as the century’s biggest geopolitical calamity. Condemning the fact that millions of his countrymen and women found themselves across Russian borders.


Vladimir Putin was the youngest of three siblings born in Leningrad, now St. Petersburg. He completed his education at Leningrad University in 1975 after which he started working for the KGB and operated as an undercover spy. Putin worked for the KGB (Committee for State Security) for 15 years as a foreign intelligence officer, including six years in Dresden, East Germany. He retired from active KGB duty in 1990. Following which he returned to Leningrad University to briefly work in the International Affairs department of the university.


Putin was named deputy chief of the Presidential Staff by President Boris Yeltsin in 1997, a position he held until May 1998, thereafter Yeltsin appointed him Director of the Federal Security Service, the Russian Federation’s premier intelligence and security organisation and the successor to the KGB.

Putin was named as one of three First Deputy Prime Ministers in August 1999, and subsequently that day, he agreed to run for President as Yeltsin desired.


Putin became Russia’s seventh prime minister in less than two years when Yeltsin selected him in August 1999. The prime minister, who answers to the president, is the second-highest official in Russia. On New Year’s Eve 1999, Yeltsin abruptly announced his resignation and proclaimed Putin the interim President. The election was then won by Putin in March. Putin prioritised domestic issues throughout his first term. The conflict with Chechnya and the oligarchs of the Yeltsin period were the two primary issues on his agenda. The Russian Constitution says the President can only serve two consecutive terms, but sets no limit on the total number of terms one can serve. Therefore, he took up the term of Prime minister. Later on, Putin announced his candidacy for President and won the 2012 election by a preposterous margin.


Putin has long been at the helm of the Russian Federation, ruling for two decades, in what he describes as a Russian brand of democracy but what most analysts call an authoritarian regime. It is far from that, flipping back and forth between the role of the President and Prime Minister to avoid constitutional limits on power. Indeed, Putin’s presidency has been marred by several scandals and cover-ups, but his approval ratings have stayed consistently high — frequently rising in the aftermath of military action.

Putin’s presidency tenure becomes the reason for him to have experienced so many significant events. The Chechen war that led to the Moscow theatre hostage crisis, when Putin seizes Crimean Peninsula just days after the 2014 Olympics in Sochi ended, armed “little green men” show up in Crimea, Ukraine, seizing control of important buildings. Putin first denied that the armed men wearing plain clothes were acting on his orders, but he subsequently acknowledged that they were indeed Russian soldiers.

But what is more important is that Putin’s authoritarian methods is what has sparked controversy in the new world order. His regime has developed and adopted the most effective “Cyber Army” and is used it to wreak havoc in the west.

Despite widespread outrage, Putin refuses to back down. Evidently, his assertive foreign policy effectively undermines his neighbours while also uniting the Russian people behind him. However, all of this was done at the expense of his own people. After his incursions, the west imposed severe economic sanctions. The value of Russian rubbles has drastically decreased, and the country’s energy sector is in a complete disarray.

On February 24, Putin launched the invasion of Ukraine and told the Russians his intention is to “demilitarise and de-Nazify” Ukraine”. Putin refuses to call it an “invasion” or “war” and continues to operate the largest war in Europe since 1945. A month into the invasion, Russia withdrew from Kyiv and asserted that its primary objective was the “liberation of Donbas,” which is a general term for the eastern Ukrainian provinces of Luhansk and Donetsk. In a conflict that started in 2014, Russian backed forces had already taken control of more than a third of this region; now, Russia wants to annex the entire region. The first phase of the invasion, which the Kremlin defined as significantly lowering Ukraine’s military capabilities, was said to have “largely accomplished” its objectives.


Martirosyan, L., 2019. 20 years of Putin in power: A timeline. [online] The World. Available at: <; [Accessed 15 January 2020].

Vox, 2022. [image] Available at: <; [Accessed 24 August 2022].

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s