Vladimir Putin, Russias longest serving leader since Josef Stalin, seeks a fourth term as president in this Sundays election.
Putin is a former KGB spy who earned a Ph.D. in economics and has a judo blackbelt. His tough-guy image is well known because he invited government photographers to tag along as he rode on horseback while shirtless, treated a tranquilized tiger and a polar bear, and flew in an ultralight with migratory birds. But here a few things you might not know about the Russian leader:
Putin is fabulously wealthy
According to Russias Central Election Commission, Putin earned $860,000 between 2011 and 2016. But estimates of his net worth range from $40 billion to $200 billion. The latter estimate would make Putin, a life-long public servant, more than twice as wealthy as Microsoft-founder Bill Gates, who holds the title as the worlds richest human.
How did it happen? As a KGB spy during the Soviet era, Putin maintained ties to organized crime, according to Karen Dawisha, author of Putins Kleptocracy; Who Owns Russia? As president, he steers government contracts and the sale of state-owned enterprises to businessmen who support his rule and present him with valuable gifts, Dawisha wrote in 2014.
The judo schtick might be just that
Putin has practiced some form of martial arts since he was 14, first with a Russian form called sambo and then switched to judo, according to his official biography and interviews. He told NPR in 2001 that he considered the sport a type of philosophy that he has practiced his entire adult life.
Legal analyst Benjamin Wittes of Lawfare blog says that while there are lots of photos of Putin warming up and throwing opponents, they seem to be willing participants.
“Putin is fraud martial artist,” Wittes wrote on Facebook. “He only fights people who are in his power, and they are all taking falls for him.”
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Putin used his martial arts prowess to earn good pay as a movie stuntman in the 1970s, according to a December report in the Russian Dozhd news site.
Putin’s judo buddies are really, really rich
Several members of Putin’s Yawara-Neva judo club in St. Petersburg became extraordinarily wealthy or powerful since Putin rose to power. They include Putin’s former sparring partner, Arkady Rotenberg, worth $3.1 billion, his brother Boris ($1.2 billion), oil trader Gennady Timchenko ($16.4 billion) and Vasily Shestakov. Shestakov, president of the International Sambo Federation who got his start as a judo trainer, is the only member who does not appear in the Forbes list of Russian billionaires.
Putin’s dissertation included extensive plagiarism
Putin in 1996 earned a post-graduate degree that is a rough equivalent of a Ph.D. at the St. Petersburg Mining Institute, though he never attended that school, according to a 2006 presentation by analysts Igor Danchenko and Clifford Gaddy at the Brookings Institution think tank in Washington, D.C.
His dissertation was on the investment in large-scale natural resource extraction, like oil and gas, to “restore Russia’s great power status.” Pages of it were largely copied from a 1982 American business school text book called Strategic Planning and Policy, Gaddy said.
Dark stories surround his rise
As prime minister in 1999, Putin was alleged to have been behind a string of apartment bombings that killed 300 residents and were officially blamed on Chechen separatists, according to Alexander Litvinenko, a former FSB officer and whistleblower who fled to Britain. Putin denied the allegations, which Litvinenko wrote in a 2001 book Blowing Up Russia. The bombings provided the rationale for a military campaign in Chechnya that coincided with Putins first run for the presidency.
Putins war in Chechnya employed a scorched-earth policy that left thousands of dead Chechens. Human rights violations were exposed by Russian reporter Anna Politkovskaya.
Several of his critics and opponents died in brutal ways
Politkovskaya was shot to death at the entrance to her apartment building in Moscow in October 2006. Litvinenko was poisoned to death in London with a rare radioactive isotope, polonium-210, the next month. At least three other people who investigated or worked to expose their findings about the apartment bombings were murdered. And opposition leader Boris Nemtsov was shot to death in 2015, while strolling near the Kremlin with his girlfriend after dinner.
wice married, two daughters
Putin married his first wife, flight attendant Lyudmila, in 1983, while he worked for the KGB. They had two daughters, Mariya, 32, and Katerina, 31.
Mariya studied medicine and has a Ph.D. in dwarfism. She was last known to be living in a penthouse in the “Crimean District” in Voorschoten, a suburb of the Dutch capital of the Hague. Katerina is a competitive rock n roll dancer and heads the Zhavoronki Acrobatic Rock’n’Roll Center, the worlds only facility dedicated to the sport, according to Reuters.
Putin divorced his first wife in 2013. He is rumored to have a girlfriend, gymnastics gold medalist Alina Kabaeva,34, who was photographed in 2015 wearing a wedding ring, according to British tabloids.