When did he join the KGB?
In 1975, after studying law at Leningrad State University. He learned German at the KGB’s spy school in Moscow, and in 1985 was posted to Dresden. Four years later, Putin watched in dismay as the Berlin Wall came down and communist East Germany crumbled. The KGB headquarters was mobbed by protesters, and when Putin called the local Soviet military command, he was told they could do nothing because “Moscow is silent.” Putin faced the crowd himself, warning that his soldiers—who were actually unarmed—would fire if protesters tried to enter the building. Putin’s German biographer, Boris Reitschuster, says the sight of a mob of formerly docile citizens overthrowing their authoritarian leaders was a shock that shaped Putin’s worldview. “I think it’s the key to understanding Putin,” Reitschuster says. In post-Soviet Russia, Putin worked in St. Petersburg for the city’s first democratically elected mayor and quickly built a reputation as an effective backroom fixer. He resigned from the KGB in 1991—though he retained close links to the agency. “There is no such thing,” he said in 2004, “as a former KGB man.”