Vladimir Vladimirovich Putin - 1975-1990
Putin served in the KGB for 15 years. From childhood, Putin wanted to be an intelligence officer, and it was this ambition that did the most to shape his adult outlook. After graduating from University, Putin decided to realize his childhood aspiration to work in the intelligence field. In 1975 he underwent training at the 401st KGB school in Okhta, Leningrad. He then went on to work in the Second Department (counter-intelligence) before he was transferred to the First Department, where his duties included monitoring foreigners and consular officials in Leningrad.
He was first appointed to the Directorate secretariat, then the counterintelligence division, where he worked for about five months. Half a year later, he was sent to operations personnel retraining courses. Putin spent another six months working in the counterintelligence division.
Putin was part of the so-called Andropov levy, the generation of KGB officers recruited during the long (1967–82) chairmanship of Yuriy Andropov. Andropov saw himself as an enlightened, liberal secret policeman who emphasized the need to “work with people” — that is, to try persuade dissidents to change their minds and support the Soviet regime. Dissidents knew that psychiatric hospitals and labor camps awaited those who failed to be persuaded by the KGB’s arguments.
The KGB's First Chief Directorate (PGU) was an elite division in charge of intelligence abroad. His duties included monitoring foreigners and consular officials in Leningrad. In 1984, Putin joined the Higher School of KGB (now the School of Foreign Intelligence) specializing in German-speaking countries.
In 1985 his KGB career took a new twist – a fluent German speaker, Putin was sent to Dresden in East Germany, where Soviet troops were stationed at the time. In 1985-1990 he worked for the KGB in East Germany under a fake name. He was given a false job at a German-Soviet friendship society, which had been set up by the KGB. Putin was a junior member of a small team of a dozen or so KGB officers in Dresden. His job was to recruit potential KGB agents.
He still remembers those years with special delight, which he confirmed in an interview on the on the anniversary of the troops’ pullout.
In 1985-1990, Vladimir Putin worked in East Germany. He served at the local intelligence office in Dresden. Over the course of his service, he was promoted to the rank of lieutenant colonel and to the position of senior assistant to the head of the department. In 1989, he was awarded the bronze medal issued in the German Democratic Republic, For Faithful Service to the National People’s Army. “My work was going well. It was a normal thing to be promoted just once while working abroad. I was promoted twice,” Mr Putin says.
Putin was quite a young agent (33 years old) when he was appointed to East Germany by his superiors in the KGB. At that time, he was already married to his (now ex-) wife Lyudmila and they had one child, his daughter, Maria (his younger daughter Ekaterina was born in Dresden in 1986). After completing his training at the Academy of Foreign Intelligence in Moscow, Putin, who speaks fluent German, had a choice. He could wait for several years to be posted to West Germany or he could go to the East right away. He chose the second option.
In the book of interviews, First Person, Putin recalls that KGB operativeswere interested in gathering all the information connected with their strategic adversary, by which he meant NATO. He modestly called his work “pretty routine,” and listed the things he used to do: recruiting informants, information gathering and transferring all received data to Moscow.
Dresden was as much of a backwater as the KGB had. Serving the KGB had no attraction to the foreign students he tried to recruit, and by all accounts, including Gessen’s, he accomplished nothing in East Germany. On his return to the Soviet Union, Putin’s performance earned him an assignment to Leningrad, rather than Moscow Center, and Putin seemed destined to be a second-rate KGB officer stuck in second-rate postings.
Masha Gessen notes that the young Putin had “loved the Soviet Union, and he loved its KGB, and when he had power of his own, effectively running [St. Petersburg] he wanted to build a system just like them. It would be a closed system, a system built on total control — especially control over the flow of information and the flow of money.”
In 2017, during an interview with Rossiya 24,astate-owned television channel, Putin said that all his work in foreign intelligence was closely connected with illegal intelligence. Considering that Putin himself was a legal KGB employee this means that he communicated with illegal residents and helped them keep in touch with “the center.”
As Russia’s president, Putin seemed to recall his years in Germany fondly, and he does not forget his old colleagues. For instance, in 2017 he personally visited and congratulated his ex-boss Lazar Moiseev, who was the former Representative of the KGB under the Ministry of State Security of the GDR, on the occasion of his 90th birthday.
Although much has been made of his spy career, including sly allusions from Putin himself, his biographer Masha Gessen has written that his time in Germany was "reduced mainly to collecting press clippings, thus contributing to the mountains of useless information produced by the KGB."
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