This article first appeared in The Havok Journal on 13FEB15.
The odds are pretty good that most of you first heard about Vladimir Putin around 1999, probably right after he was appointed as Prime Minister in August or when he was appointed President in December. If you are a student of Soviet policy you might remember Putin as Assistant Rector for International Affairs at Leningrad State University and some of you old spooks might even remember him as head of the Komitet Gosudarstvennoy Bezopasnosti detachment in Dresden. All of you probably know him as the current leader of the Russian Federation and a thorn in the side of every free nation.
As for me, my first encounter with Vladimir Putin was in late 1985 right after he surfaced in DDR. He was an unknown KGB officer at the time and I had already been with a HUMINT operation working out of the Vogelsberg area of Germany for almost 6 years. We operated exclusively east of the Elbe with DDR as part of our main area of operation.
In early ’85 we got wind of a new KGB head in Dresden. Dresden was a “Messe Stadt”; a convention or tradeshow city. Soviet economics were not working so they were opening up extensive trade with the west via the Federal Republic of Germany. Dresden was like a big shopping center for western companies to buy inexpensive supplies and sell basic technology.
These trade shows and conventions were an excellent place to recruit assets and glean information but the Soviets were as good or better at it as we were. I was the only born English speaker in my group so one of my “additional duties as assigned” was to help my boss make sense of the OBREPS our guys passed home along with Intel reports from sister agencies. I also proofed his English translations of reports before he sent them up to Bad Godesberg. Consequently I ended up with a scary understanding of the big picture.
One of our field assets described Putin as smart, handsome, charismatic, likable, ruthless and dangerous with a propensity for violence. One of my personal assets was Stasi and she told me even Stasi were afraid of this new guy. The thought that the Stasi, who had operated unchecked with impunity for 40 plus years, feared him disturbed me. It meant he probably had Central Committee authority.
The Soviet system was already collapsing even if we could not see it yet. The Central Committee replaced a large number of local party chiefs and installed new, more loyal, personalities to regain control. Putin was the Soviet solution to their problems in DDR. We were part of their problems in DDR.
The Frogs had a HUMINT Op running at the Messe (convention center) in Dresden. It was a trade office belonging to a Ni-Cad Battery manufacturer out of Austria. Their cover was as the DDR outlet for NI-Cad batteries that old CPUs needed to maintain memory.
We always reciprocated basic information with other organizations including the French. We recieved a report detailing how four of their local assets were found in the trade office one morning; naked, beaten and dead, each with a bullet hole in each eye socket. It was a message from the new KGB chief. The French pulled the op.
I think every other NATO organization probably made the same assumption as we did. The Frogs just did something stupid that compromised their assets and got them killed. The only other possibility was a security breach but it was the French and no one really trusted Frog Intel services anyway so we didn’t really care.
Things like that happened. It was just part of life; the odds were it wouldn’t affect any change to our ops. We did not know we were about to encounter KGB Maj. Vladimir Putin.
No, I never met the man but I did spend a week in Jan ‘86 trying to get him on film. We needed a good image of him so we could figure out just who in the hell he was. As a general rule a hooker and a bottle of Glenlivet was more useful than sodium pentothal for gathering information but not with this new guy.
Another half dozen assets including my Stasi asset ended up with their eye sockets blown out. She had the words “НЕ БОЛТАЙ” (DON’T TALK) carved into her chest before she was shot; probably because she was Stasi and that made her worse than any civilian who turned on Mother Russia. The message was damn clear and Dresden went from a honey hole of Intel to a black hole swallowing up every asset Putin sniffed out.
Officially Putin left the KGB in 1991 and when Boris Yeltsin was appointed President Vladimir Putin was appointed his “advisor”. However, Putin was always the decision maker. He officially became president in 1999 but could not run again in ’08 so he installed Medvedev as a figurehead President and took the office of Prime Minister until he could legally retake the office of President in 2011.
Do the math; Putin has been in charge of the Russian Federation since 1991. He has successfully held his position for 24 years by keeping to old Soviet principles of governance and administering an incredible domestic propaganda program.
Men who are driven to succeed often do it because they have discovered a kernel of truth, something that becomes their motivation. A good man chooses a kernel of good truth and holds to it knowing it leads to honor; power will follow him. An evil man will chose a truth that leads to power; honor will flee from him.
If you are a simple man, as I am, you might find that kernel of truth in the Declaration or the Oath, as I did. If you are one who lives the Scroll this kernel of truth might be from your Creed or maybe Standing Orders. Whatever your truth is, it will drive a good man to do right.
There was a professor by the name of Dimitri Manuilsky who taught at The Lenin School of political warfare in the late 30’s; he is said to have been a personal adviser to Lenin during the October Revolution. More importantly, he mentored the men who mentored Putin.
I’ll end with an excerpt from a speech all KGB officers studied and were required to recite. I believe it is Putin’s driving kernel of truth.
“War to the hilt between Communism and Capitalism is inevitable… To win, we shall need the element of surprise; the bourgeoisie will have to be put to sleep. So we shall begin by launching the most spectacular peace movement on record. There will be electrifying overtures and unheard-of concessions. The capitalist countries, stupid and decadent, will rejoice to cooperate in their own destruction. They will leap at another chance to be friends. As soon as their guard is down, we shall smash them with our clenched fist…” –Dmitri Z. Manuilsky – Moskva, 1939
Vladimir Putin is in fact the President of the Russian Federation but DO NOT make the mistake of thinking Vladimir Putin is Russian. Tchaikovsky was Russian, Solzhenitsyn was Russian, even Boris Yeltsin was Russian but Vladimir Putin is a Soviet to the marrow.
You make your own conclusion about who Vladimir Putin is…
I made mine in 1985.
 KGB – Soviet intelligence Agency
 DDR : Deutsche Demokratische Republik – East Germany (theirs)
 HUMINT: HUMan INTelligence
 Federal Republic of Germany ; West Germany – our side
 OBREP: OBservation REPort.
 STASI: Staatssicherheit – State Security
 The equivalent of the Executive Branch of Government.
 Any Ranger will tell you he Tab is a graduation gift, the Scroll is a way of life.