Useful Notes: Vladimir Putin

"Whoever does not miss the Soviet Union has no heart. Whoever wants to restore it back as it was has no brain."
— Paraphrasing a quote by French historian and statesman François Guizot

At the end of the 1990s, Vladimir Vladimirovich Putin was just another former KGB man attempting to make his way in The New Russia. Then he was selected to become Prime Minister. Whether you love him or hate him, Putin is the man who returned Russia to great power status after the disasters of the 1990s. Sometimes the President, sometimes the Prime Minister of Russia, but always the real power behind the state. Used to be a KGB boss in East Germany, then worked for the FSB, the successor organization to the KGB. Once possibly single-handedly saved a group of people from a wild tiger. Will not stand for rogue states seeking to possess nuclear wessels (unless they're Iran).

Bad Vlad, as he is known, has also gained significant Memetic Badass stature on the intrawebs, due to carefully perpetuating the image of a tough as nails manliness incarnate known for his personal attention to pressing problems, practicing extreme sports and other forms of peril-fraught recreation and having a fondness for snow leopards of all things. The stories of his KGB days, his expertise in Judo, and the fact that he looks like Daniel Craig help this. This is slightly undermined by the fact that he also looks like Dobby.

Vladimir Putin is very popular in Russia, with around half of the people supporting him and his party, United Russia. The main reasons people support him besides his Memetic Badass image include his successful efforts to increase Russian influence on the world stage. During the first years of his tenure, the Russian economy has indeed strengthened (although in no small part due to high oil prices) and the power of the oligarchs - or at least, those not in bed with the state - declined. However, his opponents claim he owes his high approval ratings to heavy-handed propaganda campaigns, preventing legitimate political competition through ruthless persecution of opponents (like Navalny, Khodorkovsky and Nemtsov), many cases of election fraud, at least some of which have been proven with near certainty, and, in the 2008-2014 period, cultivating dangerously nationalist sentiments for the purposes of gaining support for his tactics of meddling in the affairs of Russia's neighbors.

Some more people claim that his popularity is artificially inflated by a political machine that makes Boss Tweed green with envy, and they may be right after all, judging by the vehemence of 2011 protest demonstrations. Chief accusations against his rule involve: Lack of investment into industrial and scientific development, instead propping up Russia's economy with oil and gas exports, which proved extremely problematic for the country once oil prices began to stagnate. High amounts of corruption which explain why profits from said exports didn't make Russia enjoy Saudi Arabia level of advancement. Major embezzlement on just about any state-funded initiative. Undermining and takeover of major independent business, with owners frequently jailed under flimsy pretenses. Censorship and increasingly strict control of television, press, and the Russian Internet on "moral grounds". Last but not the least, the Russian army's proxy wars and misadventures in Chechnya, Georgia, and Ukraine.

As a result, Putin is criticized abroad for his aggressive foreign policy and increasingly autocratic rule. Let's leave it at that. But Putin isn't letting the criticisms get him down. Protests or no, Putin has been the unquestionable ruler of Russia (despite sometimes letting his "successor" play President) since 1999. This person, Dmitry "I-will-transmit-this-information-to-Vladimir" Medvedev, officially took over as head of state in 2008. His reign didn't last long: Putin ran for President again in 2012, swapping places with Medvedev, and won.

While the regime does the best in its power to ensure there are no serious challengers to Putin's candidacy, as of late, the Russian people had their largest protests of all time (since the fall of the Soviet Union) and the slogan "Russia without Putin" became a rallying cry. Western scholars and journalists (e.g., Slate, Foreign Policy) have increasingly begun describing Putin as a "petty tyrant" and cast his actual power into doubt, but foreign policy experts also failed to predict the end of the USSR, so for the time being, it's anyone's guess whether or not his presumably grand plans would come to fruition.

Putin strengthened the Shanghai Cooperation Organization, an international organization (that does — or did — nothing and was created as a symbol of cooperation) it helms with China. He also suceeded in making the Russian-led Eurasian Union with Belarus and Kazakhstan an actual entity, at least on paper. Both China and Russia are permanent members of the United Nations Security Council and The New Tens have seen the emergence of China and Russia forming a tacit alliance within the UNSC. No, not that one.

He was ranked as the world's most powerful man in 2013 according to Forbes. Also in the same year, he's granted ninth-degree black belt, by World Taekwondo Federation— which means he exceeds Chuck Norris (eighth-degree) in badassery.


  • Adventurer Archaeologist: One of his more infamous publicity stunts included "accidentally" finding an ancient Greek urn while scuba-diving in the Black Sea.
  • Ambiguously Gay: Between the shirtless pics with tigers/bears/horseback and the seemingly out-of-nowhere LGBT oppression, he gets a lot of this.
  • Blood Knight: Was allegedly this when he was a young man, according to some sources. Indeed, he joined the Young Pioneers very late (some say not at all) because of his propensity for playground brawling.
    Newsweek interviewee: A tram pulled up, but it was not going where we needed to go. Two huge drunken men got off and started trying to pick a fight with somebody. They were cursing and pushing people around. Vovka calmly handed his bag over to me, and then I saw that he had just sent one of the men flying into a snowbank, face first. The second one turned around and started at Volodya, screaming, ‘What was that?’ A couple of seconds later he knew exactly what it was, because he was lying there next to his buddy. That was just when our tram pulled up. If there is anything I can say about Vovka, it’s that he never let bastards and rascals who insult people and bug them get away with it.
  • Blue Blood:
    • There are no ancestral records of anyone beyond Vladimir's grandfather, Spiridon Ivanovich Putin, who has the surname "Putin" who could reasonably be connected to Vladimir Vladimirovich. It has been suggested by Pravda that he may be a descendant of the royal Tverskoy family - the family book of Tver (where Spiridon was from), mentions an aristocratic family called the House of Putyatin, descendants of Prince Mikhail of Tver, a Russian Orthodox saint and Mediaeval potentate. It was common practice to abbreviate the names of Russian aristocratic families' bastard children, and in Soviet times that practice expanded to all nobles desiring to avoid attention of the Moscow Centre, so it is not impossible that Putyatin could become Putin.
    • Another rumor claims that Spiridon Putin's real last name was Rasputin.
  • The Chessmaster: Is often ascribed a Machiavellian genius of epic proportions. Others (mostly American, admittedly) see him as being not quite as clever as he thinks he is.
    • This guy is sometimes described as the real-life Lord Vetinari.
    • He's also been described as the closest the world could get to a Blofeld-type Bond villain.
    • Masha Gessen, a journalist who holds dual Russian and American citizenship and who has been a vocal critic of Putin, has suggested that he's reached the level where everyone is afraid to question him, point out when he's wrong, or bring him any information that could embarrass him. This in turn makes him more prone to receiving erroneous information or making decisions based off of such. She details a meeting with him during an NPR interview starting at 27 minutes in here.
  • Conspiracy Theorist:
    • He has garned a fanbase among actual conspiracy theorists, who consider him (and, to a lesser extent, depending on who you ask, the leaders of China) one of the few leaders against the NWO and the Illuminati. It's mostly due to massive Cultural Cringe aimed against the West and criticism of it's foreign policy. It may also be outright cynicism along the lines of "our leaders say Putin sucks, so he must be perfect". Other conspiracy theorists like Henry Makow and some Russian ones consider Putin NWO's prime puppet in Russia.
    • He's the subject of a conspiracy theory related to the apartment bombings that triggered the Second Chechen War, which produced a tremendous amount of public support for the heretofore unknown Putin. It's alleged that FSBnote  agents placed the bombs as part of a False Flag Operation in order to provide an excuse to restart the war and to make Putin a national hero. Even the most savage critics of Putin's rule can be found debunking this one, although the idea refuses to die.
    • European leaders such as Angela Merkel have described Putin as sometimes being "in another world", becoming paranoid and incoherent in times of crisis. Or rather, consistent with what the Russian media are churning out, which generally present "the West" as being in another world whenever there's a major crisis (e.g. 2008, 2014), and mostly operate under the presumptions of a hardcore conspirologist (with the US/NATO as the default Nebulous Evil Organisation, naturally).
  • Dangerously Genre Savvy: Up to interpretation, but could you expect anything else from a former KGB agent?
  • Deadpan Snarker: The term "Putinisms" was coined for his most famous snarks, such as the brief "It sunk" in response to Larry King's question about the Kursk submarine. Captain Obvious reportedly died of envy when he heard that.
  • Didn't See That Coming: The rapid drop in the price of oil in 2013-14 (on account of massive harvesting of oil shale in the Dakotas and Canada) seems to have caught Putin and his economic team by surprise, leading to distinctly unpleasant economic consequences for the Russian people (budget cuts, high inflation, and a plummeting exchange rate). Time will tell how Putin handles this.
  • Divide and Conquer: Putin's politics, domestic and foreign, rely heavily on keeping his opponents squabbling among themselves, and his own forces and allies united. Inside the country, he depends on the opposition being fragmented and not being able to offer a strong unified support for any candidate, and outside, he tries to keep the Western powers - the US and European Union members - disagreeing on what action to take should Russia attempt to act aggressively towards their interests.
  • Does This Remind You of Anything?: There's been a lot of talk lately about how after his 2012 re-election, Russia under his rule eerily resembles Germany in The Thirties. Specifically,
    • Putin and his government handing out overly harsh prison sentences like candy to any who dare oppose them, their constant attempts to scapegoat liberals and the LGBT community for all that's bad with the country, and one foreigner-targeting nationalist riot after another all bring certain very disturbing parallels to mind.
    • In 2014, Putin sent troops into a Russian-speaking region of unrest-hit Ukraine to "safeguard Russians against extremism". Then again, the new government in Kiev does contain Neo-Nazis; the motto of the Svoboda party, for example, is "one race, one nation, one fatherland" and that they're fond of torch-carrying rallies. The Russian media invokes this to turn Svoboda and the Right Sector into Those Wacky Nazis and tap into the inexhaustible supply of Patriotic Fervour left over from World War II. All this despite the party never winning more than a small percentage of seats in parliament.
    • There's their view of history. Putin paints the Russian Nineties in much same light that Hitler painted the Weimar Republic. To be entirely fair to Putin on this one, for many Russians the Nineties weren't a time of sunshine, cabaret and ice cream.
    • There's the requisite "stab-in-the-back" theories explaining the collapse of the Soviet Union, though Putin (unlike Hitler) doesn't espouse them himself.
    • Another possible parallel is the entrenchment of Joseph Stalin's power in Soviet Russia – an initially unimportant figure eliminating or sidelining all his rivals to attain total political power, overseeing an economic and military buildup, and trying to assert control over rebellious areas (like Ukraine) that were once part of the Soviet Union...
    • In '89, revolution dealt a sharp blow to the old regime. Then in the '90s, the country tried to transition to a democratic government, but was beset by chaos and disaster. Then the only competent guy came into power and brought back some of the trappings of the old regime. His work at restoring national greatness did a lot to make him very popular with his people and to put neighboring countries on edge.
  • Either World Domination or Something about Bananas/In My Language That Sounds Like:
    • "P-u-t-i-n" in French would be pronounced the same as putain, which is French for "whore". As a result, the French Academy in Paris recommended that his name be spelt "Poutine" in French, which approximates the Russian pronunciation. However, in Canada, "poutine" is a very popular dish consisting of pommes frites, cheese curds, and gravy.... Cue jokes across Canada (and not just French Canada, since even Anglophone Canadians know what poutine is). The news even hit the US, when William Safire learned about the issue and dedicated a disapproving "On Language" column in The New York Times in 2005.
    • In Spanish, his name tends to sound something like little male prostitute.
  • False Flag Operation: Several supposed terrorist attacks have been blamed on the FSB trying to incite terror and inspire the Russians to rally behind Putin. To be specific, the 1999 apartment bombings that triggered the Second Chechen War are the subject of a conspiracy theory. As Putin was relatively unknown at the time Yeltsin chose him, Putin suddenly found himself in the spotlight and became a national hero for his comments regarding the incidents. According to conspiracy theorists, the FSB murdered civilians and fabricated the terrorist plot in order to gain public support for a re-invasion of Chechnya and for Putin's rule. The 2004 Beslan incident (in which terrorists made hostages of primary school children) and the Moscow metro bombings are usually not tied into conspiracy theories.
  • Fan Nickname:
    • Media (outside Russia at least) frequently refer to him and Medvedev as Vova and Dima.
    • In a case of A Name to Run Away From, certain Russian bloggers nicknamed him Putler. The more loyalist bloggers answered with "Putmarck", remarking on his policy of reintegration of the post-Soviet states.
  • Forehead of Doom: Depends on how you view him.
  • Freudian Excuse:
    • According to leaked diplomatic cables, The Pentagon believes he has Asperger syndrome and uses this as an explanation behind a lot of his behavior and actions.
    • Possibly. Putin was serving as a KGB agent in East Germany during the time of the Hole in Flag revolutions. Some months after the Berlin Wall came down and before German reunification, the KGB building in East Germany was besieged by a crowd of angry East Germans. In Putin's own words, "I phoned our military representatives and told them what was going on. And they said, 'We cannot do anything until we have orders from Moscow. And Moscow is silent.' A few hours later, our military did come and the crowd dispersed. But I remembered that: 'Moscow is silent.' I realized that the Soviet Union was ill. It was a fatal illness called paralysis. A paralysis of power." It's easy to imagine how this experience, and others like it in the collapsing East Germany, might have influenced his later political views.
  • Friend to All Living Things: Has used several eco-themed publicity stunts to bolster his image, including flying with cranes, and is very much of a dog person. He's also an enthusiastic hunter.
  • Hair-Trigger Temper:
    • When he was younger, he took shit from precisely no-one:
    Newsweek: “If anyone ever insulted him in any way,” a friend recalled, “Volodya would immediately jump on the guy, scratch him, bite him, rip his hair out by the clump—do anything at all never to allow anyone to humiliate him in any way.”
    • As President, he's usually icy-calm – but it's hard to forget how dangerous he is even behind that cool façade.
  • He Knows Too Much: Essentially everyone who knew Putin before he became president is either working for him, living in exile, or dead.
  • Heteronormative Crusader: Has refused to do anything about (or even speak out against) the anti-gay laws, while making excuses for them at points that border on Get Back in the Closet and victim blaming.
  • Hypocrite:
    • Putin and his supporters accuse the West of this whenever they criticize his policies, which may be somewhat Truth in Television. In academia, this is much less prominent, as turn-of-the-century Russia was frequently likened to America's "Robber-Baron" era.
    • Putin and his regime themselves are not free of hypocricy either; to take the Ukrainian crisis as an example, the government started a massive propaganda campaign to support the pro-Russian separatists in eastern Ukraine while at the same time passing a law increasing the punishments for separatism in Russia (despite constantly accusing the West of using double standards).
  • I Know Judo: Is an accomplished judoka. He also knows sambo, karate and taekwondo, and has a very high level in each one.
  • Kicked Upstairs: Was appointed Prime Minister in 1999, in the middle of a permanent government crisis (in a year, Russia went through four Prime Ministers), a terrorist insurgency in North Caucasus, financial instability, and President Boris Yeltsin's failing health. Prime Minister at the time was a completely thankless role that had wrecked several prominent political careers, and Putin wasn't expected to do any differently. And yes he did.
  • Loophole Abuse: Has successfully gamed the shaky and unbalanced legal system left behind by Yeltsin. For instance: the Russian constitution limits a president to two consecutive terms; it does not, however, limit the number of terms a president can serve in his lifetime. You do the math.
  • Loyal Animal Companion: His black lab, Koni, who goes with him everywhere. She's even with Putin during press conferences and meetings with other world leaders, at one point terrifying Germany's dog-phobic Angela Merkel before snuggling up against her feet.
  • Make the Bear Angry Again: In the West, he is often cited as "rebuilding Russia's military might", indulging in "nationalist chest-thumping" and adopting an "aggressive foreign policy". His detractors in Russia claim that he's been running the army further into the ground all the time. Both sides had a point.
  • Man Behind the Man:
    • During the interlude between his presidential terms. Dmitri Medvedev was his hand-picked successor, and as Putin stayed on board the government as Prime Minister, it's clear who was ''really'' in charge.
    • There is a quite popular school of thought arguing he is essentially this to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, owing to Russia's involvement in that country's civil war. Whether the people believing this are right, we'll leave for you to decide.
    • In similar "let's-not-get-too-deep-into-it-here" terms, it's widely believed in the West that the 2014 insurgency in Eastern Ukraine is basically taking orders from Moscow.
  • Memetic Sex God: Invoked in his 2012 campaign ads.
  • Mother Russia Makes You Strong: All those days in the cold and KGB made him a Memetic Badass.
  • The Napoleon: Quite short.
  • The New Russia: One of its most prominent figures. Arguably, he is the New Russia, as Yeltsin's rule was somewhat chaotic, to put it politely, and the Russian state that now exists was formed by Putin.
  • Noodle Incident: Using an interpreter at an official meeting is required by the diplomatic protocol, because interpreters also serve as the official witnesses. Even if both meeting figures know each other's languages perfectly, their meeting without the interpreters could be only unofficial.
  • Old Shame: He consider's Russia's bad history of antisemitism this and even called for the end of discrimination against Jews in Russia in some of his speeches. In fact, one of his justifications for the 2014 acception of Crimea into the Russian Federation was that Ukrainian neo-Nazis were threatening Russian-speaking Jews in the region.
  • Permanent Elected Official: May be on the road to this. The wheel of history is still in spin, but if he keeps up that Loophole Abuse example above...
  • Our Presidents Are Different:
    • Cultivates a President Action image. A joke circulated a while ago stating that the Russian voted for him so that they'd have a president that could physically beat the crap out of all other world leaders if worst came to worst.
    • In reality he's well-known to be President Iron. Portrayed by his detractors both in Russia and abroad as President Evil or at least President Corrupt. To everyone, he's always a President Scheming.
  • Pint-Sized Powerhouse: A fairly short man, but physically powerful and politically almost unstoppable. Especially funny/creepy when you see him shaking hands with much taller world leaders who are clearly very afraid of him.
  • Politically Incorrect Villain: To his critics, especially ever since his administration released the infamous set of laws banning "gay propaganda" which are, needless to say, at least passively homophobic. Though some suggest that he doesn't actually have anything against gays - he just uses the laws to censor detractors, regardless of sexual orientation.
  • Rated M for Manly: Has successfully cultivated a macho image by posing shirtless or in wife beaters (revealing his mighty pecs) and indulging in manly hobbies (hunting, hiking, scuba-diving, and flying fighter planes).
  • Realpolitik: It's increasingly clear that Putin is focused on restoring the military strength, economic power and diplomatic influence of any means necessary.
  • A Real Man Is a Killer: Of animals at least. He's certainly presided over the deaths of thousands of people in various wars, although it's unclear whether he's killed people himself.
  • Red Oni, Blue Oni: The red to Dima's blue.
  • Shirtless Scene: So often he's practically a Walking Shirtless Scene.
  • Shout-Out: His personal vehicle has the license plate number 007. (As if you didn't think he was a Bond villain already.)
  • Shrouded in Myth: His past and his ancestry has been described as this in Western media, with varying degrees of accuracy - his family tree can be traced to his grandfather, but no further, though there are some theories (see above). His past is fairly well-documented, however - he led a reasonably typical 1950s-60s Soviet childhood, with perhaps an unusual propensity for martial arts.
  • Suspiciously Specific Denial: In an interview in 2015, Putin said that Russia had absolutely no intentions of attacking NATO countries and that the West had nothing to fear. Regardless of this statement's veracity, it's quite an interesting way of addressing the problem.
  • Tears of Joy: His tears during a rally after his victory in the 2012 elections were captured on camera and quickly went memetic. A number of media outlets implies that the tears were caused by harsh winter wind; maybe.
  • Vetinari Job Security: Even his supporters acknowledge that he has a lot of flaws as a president, but still vote for him because they don't see a viable alternative. In fact, if anything happens to Putin, Russia will be wrecked by a full blown Succession Crisis.
    • To understand Putin's airtight political support in Russia, one has to understand how miserable Russian life was in the 1990s. Under Putin's leadership not only has he been able to return Russia to a respected global influence, but the economy has grown by leaps and bounds, wages have more than tripled, poverty has more than halved, the standard of living has improved dramatically, and the country has become politically stable for the first time since Brezhnev's government was in charge. It's up to debate whether high oil/gas prices in the West did the trick despite/with Putin being in charge, but its easy to understand why the Russian public has kept him in power for so long.
    • Lesser Of Three Evils: His opponents in the 2012 election had been the Strawman Communist Gennady Zyuganov and Strawman Nationalist-Populist Vladimir Zhirinovsky. Both are more or less clowns; Zyuganov's clowniness is only apparent to real Communists, but Zhirinovsky is commonly seen as nothing more than a political performer. Did we mention that Zhirinovsky has released rap music?
    • To an extent, Yeltsin also benefited from this trope, as he was able to stay in power despite his widespread unpopularity primarily because his biggest political opponent was the Russian Communist Party. But even then, he barely won reelection in 1996 over his communist opponent despite having rating of 8% six month before elections (Its now known in hindsight that the Clinton administration propped up Yeltsin in the election). That's right, Yeltsin was so unpopular that nearly half of the Russian population was willing to go back to communism if it meant that they could get rid of him. He would leave office on the eve of Y2K with a 2% approval rating.
    • Both Yeltsin and Putin have successfully invoked this trope by using presidential power and repression to prevent any viable rival from gaining popularity or national name recognition. It's sort of like Watergate in the US except it's been going on for two decades. One of the main things Russian political opposition demands is fair elections, though even they recognize that most people still vote for current government.
    • Yeltsin benefited greatly from the largesse of the United States, who honestly believed Zhirinovsky was a threat and engaged in "helpful" meddling. Whether Russia was ever a democracy is a contentious question, as Yeltsin's rule was inept at best, and the majority of early scholarship regarding Putin noted that many of his seemingly-authoritarian reforms were necessary. At the time Putin took office, asymmetric federalism was so entrenched that federal laws were enforced only if a region felt like it, pensioners weren't receiving payments, and the army wasn't getting paid either.
  • Voice of the Resistance: Due to the efforts of Russia Today, he is seen as this by many people critical of the West's foreign policy and by genuine conspiracy theorists, despite limiting free speech or democratic liberities as president of Russia.
  • With Us or Against Us: In 2002, a French reporter asked Putin during a press conference if Russia's 'anti-terrorist' operation also meant combating Chechen locals. Putin replied, quite angrily, that if he didn't like it, he could always become an Islamist and get circumcised.
  • Xanatos Gambit: At least according to this article, the international reaction provoked by the Crimea crisis was All According to Plan no matter what it was. If there was no outrage, Russia would easily gain Crimea; however, the ensuing reaction and sanctions further solidifies his rule, at least from his perspective.