Putin's power: From mean streets to Kremlin

FILE- In this file photo taken on Tuesday, Feb. 17, 2004, Russian President Vladimir Putin watches a military exercise aboard the Arkhangelsk nuclear submarine in the Barents Sea, Russia. Putin on Wednesday, Dec. 6, 2017 declared his intention to seek re-election next March, a vote he appears certain to win. (Sputnik, Kremlin Pool Photo via AP, File)
FILE - In this file photo taken on Monday, March 20, 2000, Russian President Vladimir Putin, wearing a blue helmet and an oxygen mask, sits in Su-27 fighter jet after his flight into the war zone in Grozny, Chechnya. Putin on Wednesday, Dec. 6, 2017 declared his intention to seek re-election next March, a vote he appears certain to win. (Sputnik, Kremlin Pool Photo via AP, file)
FILE - In this file photo taken on Tuesday, Aug. 16, 2005, Russian President Vladimir Putin wearing a jump suit sits in the cockpit of a supersonic strategic bomber ready to leave for a training mission, in Moscow, Russia. Putin on Wednesday, Dec. 6, 2017 declared his intention to seek re-election next March, a vote he appears certain to win. (Sputnik, Kremlin Pool Photo via AP, File)
FILE -In this file photo taken on Sunday, April 12, 2015, Russian Orthodox Patriarch Kirill, left, talks to President Vladimir Putin, right, during the Easter service in Christ the Savior Cathedral in Moscow, Russia. Putin on Wednesday, Dec. 6, 2017 declared his intention to seek re-election next March, a vote he appears certain to win. (AP Photo/Ivan Sekretarev, File)
FILE- In this file photo taken on Wednesday, Aug. 17, 2005, Russian President Vladimir Putin, wearing sailor's uniform, observes naval manoeuvres of Russia's Northern Fleet aboard the nuclear-powered Peter the Great missile cruiser in the Barents Sea near the northern city of Murmansk. Putin on Wednesday, Dec. 6, 2017, declared his intention to seek re-election next March, a vote he appears certain to win. (Alexei Panov, Sputnik, Kremlin Pool Photo via AP, File)
FILE - In this file photo taken on Monday, Aug. 3, 2009, Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin swims while traveling in the mountains of the Siberian Tyva region (also referred to as Tuva), Russia, during his short vacation. Putin on Wednesday, Dec. 6, 2017 declared his intention to seek re-election next March, a vote he appears certain to win. (Alexei Druzhinin, Sputnik, Kremlin Pool Photo via AP, File)
FILE- In this Tuesday, Aug. 10, 2010 file photo, then Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin sits in the co-pilot's seat in the cockpit of an Emergencies Ministry's Beriev Be-200 amphibian multirole jet, flying drop water over forest fires in Ryazan region, some 180 km (111 miles) southeast of Moscow. Putin on Wednesday, Dec. 6, 2017 declared his intention to seek re-election next March, a vote he appears certain to win. (Alexei Nikolsky, Sputnik, Kremlin Pool Photo via AP, File)
FILE - In this file photo taken on Sunday, May 7, 2000, Russian President Vladimir Putin, left, and former President Boris Yeltsin watch Kremlin guards marching in Moscow's Kremlin, Russia. Putin on Wednesday, Dec. 6, 2017 declared his intention to seek re-election next March, a vote he appears certain to win. (AP Photo/Alexander Zenlianichenko, File)
FILE - In this file photo taken in April 6, 2000, Russian President Vladimir Putin looks through the periscope of a nuclear submarine during a visit to the Northern Fleet on the Barents Sea, Russia. Putin did not interrupt his summer vacation on the Black Sea when the nuclear submarine Kursk was crippled and sank in the Barents Sea on Aug. 12, 2000 with 118 sailors aboard. Putin on Wednesday declared his intention to seek re-election next March, a vote he appears certain to win. (AP Photo, File)
FILE- In this file photo taken on Tuesday, Feb. 17, 2004, Russian President Vladimir Putin is seen aboard the Arkhangelsk nuclear submarine in the Barents Sea, Russia. Putin on Wednesday, Dec. 6, 2017 declared his intention to seek re-election next March, a vote he appears certain to win. (Sputnik, Kremlin Pool Photo via AP, File)
Russian President Vladimir Putin speaks at a meeting with workers of the GAZ factory in Nizny Novgorod, Russia, Wednesday, Dec. 6, 2017. Putin says he will seek re-election in next March's election. (Mikhail Klimentyev, Sputnik, Kremlin Pool Photo via AP)
FILE- In this file photo taken on Saturday, Aug. 1, 2009, Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin, left, climbs aboard a mini-submarine before his descent in Lake Baikal, the world's largest fresh water lake, about 4200 kilometers (2,600 miles) east of Moscow, Russia. Putin on Wednesday, Dec. 6, 2017 declared his intention to seek re-election next March, a vote he appears certain to win. (Alexei Druzhinin, Sputnik, Kremlin Pool Photo via AP, File)
FILE- Vladimir Putin, then Russian President Boris Yeltsin's deputy chief of staff, center, poses with his friends at a party in St.Petersburg, in this February, 1997 file photo. Shown from right are: Alexander Bespalov, now presidential envoy in St.Petersburg, Alla Manilova, editor-in-chief of St.Petersburg's daily Nevskoye Vremya, Putin, Natalya Chaplina, editor-in-chief of St.Petersburg's weekly Chas Pik, and an unidentified man. Putin on Wednesday, Dec. 6, 2017 declared his intention to seek re-election next March, a vote he appears certain to win. (AP Photo/Dmitri Lovetsky, File)
FILE- In this file photo taken on Friday, May 7, 2004, Russian President Vladimir Putin walks through St.George's Hall to take part in an inauguration ceremony in Moscow's Kremlin, Russia. Putin on Wednesday, Dec. 6, 2017 declared his intention to seek re-election next March, a vote he appears certain to win. (AP Photo/Alexander Zemlianichenko, Pool, File )
FILE -In this file photo taken on Friday, May 19, 2000, Russian President Vladimir Putin smiles during his visit in Ashgabat, Turkmenistan. Putin on Wednesday, Dec. 6, 2017 declared his intention to seek re-election next March, a vote he appears certain to win. (AP Photo/Alexander Zemlianichenko, File)
FILE - In this file photo taken on Sunday, March 26, 2000, acting Russian President and Presidential candidate Vladimir Putin talks with representatives of the news media at a polling station in Moscow, Russia. Putin on Wednesday, Dec. 6, 2017 declared his intention to seek re-election next March, a vote he appears certain to win. (AP Photo/ Alexander Zemlianichenko, File)
FILE - In this Sept. 2010 photo released on Saturday, Oct. 30, 2010, Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin carries a hunting rifle during his trip in Ubsunur Hollow in the Siberian Tyva region (also referred to as Tuva), on the border with Mongolia, Russia. Putin on Wednesday, Dec. 6, 2017 declared his intention to seek re-election next March, a vote he appears certain to win. (Dmitry Astakhov, Sputnik, Kremlin Pool Photo via AP, File)
FILE - In this file photo taken on Friday, May 9, 2014, Russian President Vladimir Putin attends a parade marking the Victory Day in Sevastopol, Crimea. Putin on Wednesday, Dec. 6, 2017 declared his intention to seek re-election next March, a vote he appears certain to win. (AP Photo / Ivan Sekretarev, File)
FILE- In this file photo taken on Tuesday, Feb. 17, 2004, Russian President Vladimir Putin thanks the crew of the Arkhangelsk nuclear submarine in the Barents Sea, Russia. Putin went out to the Barents Sea on board the Arkhangelsk nuclear submarine to observe the manoeuvres set to involve numerous missile launches and flights of strategic bombers in what Russian media described as the largest show of military might in more than 20 years. The sign in the background reads Arkhangelsk and shows the city's emblem. Putin on Wednesday, Dec. 6, 2017, declared his intention to seek re-election next March, a vote he appears certain to win. (Sputnik, Kremlin Pool Photo via AP, File)
FILE - In this file photo taken on Thursday, Feb. 23, 2017, Russian President Vladimir Putin attends a wreath-laying ceremony at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier in Moscow, Russia. Putin says he will seek re-election in next March's election. (AP Photo/Ivan Sekretarev, File)
Russian President Vladimir Putin applauds as he attends the annual Volunteer of Russia 2017 award ceremony at the Megasport Sport Palace in Moscow, Russia, Wednesday, Dec. 6, 2017. Putin has moved an inch closer to announcing his intention to seek re-election in the next March's vote, saying he would weigh the move based on public support.(Alexei Nikolsky, Sputnik, Kremlin Pool Photo via AP)
File - In this file photo taken on Sunday, Aug. 31, 2008, Prime Minister Vladimir Putin locks a collar with a satellite tracker on the tranquilized five-year-old Ussuri tiger in a Russian Academy of Sciences reserve in Russia's Far East as he took a part in the national program for preserving the population of the Ussuri tiger conducted by researchers of the Russian Academy of Sciences. Putin on Wednesday. Dec. 6, 2017 declared his intention to seek re-election next March, a vote he appears certain to win. (Alexei Druzhinin, Sputnik, Kremlin Pool Photo via AP, File)
FILE - In this file pool photo taken on Wednesday, Aug. 17, 2005, Russian President Vladimir Putin smiles at an airfield near the northern city of Murmansk, Russia, shortly after landing there aboard a supersonic Tu-160 strategic bomber. Putin on Wednesday, Dec. 6, 2017 declared his intention to seek re-election next March, a vote he appears certain to win. (Alexei Panov, Sputnik, Kremlin Pool Photo via AP)
FILE- In this file photo taken on Sunday, March 4, 2012, Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin, who claimed victory in Russia's presidential election, tears up as he reacts at a massive rally of his supporters at Manezh square outside Kremlin, in Moscow, Russia. Putin on Wednesday, Dec. 6, 2017 declared his intention to seek re-election next March, a vote he appears certain to win. (AP Photo/Ivan Sekretarev, File)
FILE - In this file pool photo taken on Monday, Aug. 3, 2009, the then Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin is seen riding a horse while traveling in the mountains of the Siberian Tyva region (also referred to as Tuva), Russia, during his short vacation. Putin on Wednesday, Dec. 6, 2017 declared his intention to seek re-election next March, a vote he appears certain to win. (Alexei Druzhinin, Sputnik, Kremlin Pool Photo via AP, file)

MOSCOW — As a kid in a dismal Soviet communal apartment, Vladimir Putin was a scrapper who dreamed of being an operator — diligently training in martial arts and boldly walking into a KGB office to inquire about how to become a spy.

As Russia's leader in the 21st century, he's been the epitome of both traits — fighting Chechen rebels, directing the annexation of Crimea and, allegedly, approving an extensive and devious campaign to undermine American democracy.

His announcement that he'll run for a fourth term in office came rather late — a little more than three months before the March 18 election — but hardly as a surprise. The man and the office are indistinguishable.

As Russia's leader since New Year's Eve 1999 (he switched to prime minister from 2008-12 but was still seen as being in command) Putin clearly relishes the spotlight. Now 65, his displays of physical prowess such as bare-chested horseback riding have mostly faded away, but the hours-long annual news conferences and call-in shows testify to vigor and discipline. He still enjoys mixing it up in ice hockey games, though he once likened his skating to "a cow on ice."

Few, if any, politicians have stepped more quickly from the shadows into rapt attention at home and abroad. Before being named President Boris Yeltsin's prime minister in August 1999, he had been head of the Federal Security Service, one of the KGB's successor agencies, which inherently is not a high-visibility position.

Many observers pegged him as a gray mediocrity, laughingly suggesting that his service with the KGB on the friendly turf of East Germany suggested he had not been very adroit as an intelligence agent. Yeltsin shuffled prime ministers at an alarming rate, and Putin might have been just the latest through the revolving door.

But the next month, he showed himself when commenting on the early days of the second war against Chechen rebels, saying "if we capture them in the toilet then we will waste them in the outhouse." Adamant, macho, and a touch of crude language — the remark seemed to reveal the essence of Putin that was formed in his youth.

When he became acting president upon Yeltsin's resignation, his language was more refined but his mien just as tough. "I want to warn that any attempts to go beyond Russian law ... will be decisively repressed," he said, one arm resting on a desk, resembling a loan officer dealing with a delinquent client.

Putin was born Oct. 7, 1952, to factory-worker parents in Leningrad, now St. Petersburg, a city pervaded by memories of the horrific suffering of the nearly 900-day Nazi siege in World War II. One of Putin's elder brothers died of diphtheria during the siege and the other died a few months after birth. According to "First Person," interviews published after he became acting president, Putin and his parents lived in a dismal communal apartment with a wretched toilet down the hall.

Putin said he responded to these rough circumstances by becoming a childhood "hooligan," one of the few in his school not allowed into the Communist Young Pioneers. In his early adolescence, Putin channeled his aggressive tendencies into the martial arts, a sport he practiced avidly into late middle-age.

As a teen, Putin aspired to join the KGB — apparently more for adventure than out of ideology — and succeeded after graduating from Leningrad University's law faculty in 1975.

Putin worked in counterintelligence, monitored foreigners in Leningrad and in 1985 started his post in Dresden. He returned to Leningrad in 1990 and started work for the city's reformist mayor. Putin resigned from the KGB a year later, on the second day of the abortive coup attempt against Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev, which was backed by the KGB.

Putin married Lyudmila Skrebneva, an Aeroflot flight attendant who later became a university lecturer in German, in 1983. Thirty years later, the couple appeared on state TV in a faux-causal interview to announce their marriage was ending; Putin was reportedly too devoted to his job to be an attentive husband.

Despite rumors of a dalliance with a comely female gymnastics star, Putin publicly presents himself as upright and abstemious. He is only rarely seen with a glass of vodka and almost never actually drinking.

Although reports have suggested that Putin has accumulated vast wealth, he shows little taste for real ostentation outside the gilded halls of the Kremlin. His public face is an older, better-fed version of the tough teen from a bad part of town, determined to dominate.

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