Vladimir Putin has spent years building his image as a feared leader, but unearthed photos from his past show a very different side to the Russian President.
Due to his long political career, the majority of Russian President Vladimir Putin’s life has been spent in the public eye.
The Russian leader has worked hard to put forward an intimidating, macho persona to the public.
The Kremlin has helped things along by releasing images of Mr Putin doing manly things such as riding a horse and holding a rifle – all while shirtless, of course.
But it’s the President’s actions during his time in power that have really cemented his place as someone who should be feared, with Mr Putin proving time and time again how ruthless he can be to those who oppose him.
But how exactly did the 69-year-old become one of the most powerful, feared men in the world?
Here is a glimpse at the strange and mysterious life of the Russian leader.
Putin’s teenage years
Photos from Mr Putin’s youth show a very different side to the stony-faced leader we see now.
He was born on October 1, 1952 in Leningrad – now St Petersburg – in Russia. As a young child he began taking martial arts classes and quickly learned how to hold his own against his opponents.
By the age of 16, Mr Putin was a feared fighter excelling in a Russian combination of judo and wrestling known as sambo.
But it wasn’t just physical activities where the leader excelled, with his near-perfect grades earning him a spot at respected Saint Petersburg High School 281.
According to Notable Biographies, the school was one of the only institutions in Russia at the time to place significant importance on chemistry, which was an area of interest for a young Mr Putin.
He later turned his focus to biology and the liberal arts, with the teen also working at the school’s radio station.
Pictures unearthed from that time in his life show Mr Putin wrestling with a classmate. In another photo, he can be seen smiling while dancing with a young woman.
Working as a spy and political life
After high school, Mr Putin decided to follow his dreams of working for the KGB, Russia’s spy agency.
He went on to study law at Leningrad State University, graduating in 1975 and becoming the only person from his class of 100 to land a job as an intelligence officer.
The branch of the organisation he was assigned to was responsible for recruiting foreigners who could gather crucial intelligence for the KGB.
Declassified KGB documents described the future president as “conscientious and disciplined”.
“Comrade Putin … is constantly raising his ideological, political and professional level,” said the one-page document released to Russian media, written while Mr Putin was in his 20s.
“He’s actively engaged in party education work.”
The profile also describes him as “morally upstanding” and enjoying “well-deserved authority among colleagues”.
Mr Putin worked as an intelligence officer for 15 years, retiring in 1991 with the rank of Colonel in order to chase his political dreams.
He has had a hugely successful political career, serving as the President of Russia from 1999 to 2008 and from 2012 to the present day.
In between his presidential stints, he served as the country’s Prime Minister. This was because when he was first elected, presidents could only serve two consecutive terms.
After becoming Prime Minister for a second time, Mr Putin drafted a constitutional amendment in 2020 that would allow him to stay on as President of Russia for two more terms.
The changes mean he will now be able to run for two more six-year terms, extending his stay in office until 2036, when he’ll be 83 years old.
Mr Putin has used his time in power to cement Russia as a major political player.
He has expanded the country’s influence on the Middle East and worked to strengthen relationships with other global powers such as China.
Mysterious personal life and secret love child
Mr Putin and his administration have worked hard to keep much of his personal life under wraps, but rumours of a mistress and secret love child have plagued the President.
The Russian leader has two daughters from his first marriage to former flight attendant Lyudmila Shkrebneva, who he was married to for 30 years before their divorce in 2013.
Their daughters, Maria and Katerina, were born a year apart in 1985 and 1986. They were pulled out of school and began home schooling when their father became the President.
When they finished school, both daughters attended university under fake names.
Lyudmila described Mr Putin as a loving father who would always spoil their daughters.
“Not all fathers are as loving with their children as he is,” she was quoted saying in Mr Putin’s biography.
“And he has always spoiled them, while I was the one who had to discipline them.”
In 2020, an investigation by Russian media outlet Proekt linked Mr Putin to a woman named Svetlana Krivonogikh, who now lives in an elite area of St. Petersburg reserved for the President’s closest friends.
Her 17-year-old daughter, Elizaveta Krivonogikh, “bears a phenomenal resemblance to the Russian president,” the media outlet noted.
Proekt said Elizaveta’s birth documents do not list a father, and only list “Vladimirovna” as the name deriving from her father.
The teen has reportedly been living under an assumed name for years – and immediately deleted photos showing her face from her social media accounts when reporters started contacting her, the outlet said.
The report alleges Ms Krivonogikh was engaged in an affair with Mr Putin during his time in the KGB, as Prime Minister and during his first term as President.
Mr Putin’s spokesperson denied ever hearing about Ms Krivonogikh when probed by local reporters.
“This is the first time I’ve ever heard of such a woman and I can’t tell you anything about this,” Dmitry Peskov told reporters at the time.
“Yes, I was asked about this name and I have never heard anything about it and I do not know anything,” he insisted.
Putin’s long list of controversies
Putin has long been accused of corruption by detractors, with a long list of his most vocal critics meeting unfortunate ends in the past.
The most recent controversy involved 45-year-old opposition leader Alexei Navalny, who has already been behind bars for a year, after surviving a poison attack he blames on the Kremlin.
Navalny grew a wide following among liberal-leaning Russians with videos exposing the corruption among Russia’s elite. Many of the investigations gained millions of views online.
Putin’s alleged stifling of political opposition has also seen him accused of censoring the press. Investigations by the Proyekt investigative-journalism project – which the Russian government previously labelled an “undesirable organisation” – have been targeted, after Navalny‘s Anti-Corruption Foundation was also labelled an “extremist” group.
According to Radio Free Europe, the investigations contain “unanswered corruption allegations targeting President Vladimir Putin, former President Dmitry Medvedev, and others inside Russia’s ruling circle”.
Investigative journalist Ivan Golunov says Putin’s attack on free press is “far from the last list of investigations they will demand be deleted”.
“Their goal is to remove as much information as possible,” he said. ”I think that the investigations of Navalny‘s regional offices…will soon be targeted by the regional offices of Roskomnadzor. In effect, everything will be removed.”