Truth or Fiction? The Strangest Facts and Rumors about Russian President Vladimir Putin

These are the most outlandish things we know—or think we know—about Vladimir Putin. Getty Images

There’s no denying the power of Vladimir Putin. He has ruled over the ninth most populous country in the world since 1999, weathering accusations of human rights abuses, corruption and autocracy. He won the March 2018 elections, and remains a popular figure within Russia.

His continuing appeal has disheartened Western critics, who are wary of Putin’s insidious power on the international stage. His government has been accused of meddling in the 2016 U.S. elections which saw Donald Trump rise to power, illegally annexing Crimea and refusing to condemn Syrian leader Bashar al-Assad.

He’s racked up a number of misdeeds within his own country too. Russia ranks poorly on Transparency International’s Corruption Perceptions Index (CPI) and the country’s billionaires are now richer than ever, despite U.S. sanctions hitting smaller factory towns hard.

So why do Russians keep re-electing their controversial strongman leader? Although his approval rating dropped from 79 to 72 percent recently, it’s still not bad. Trump, in comparison, has a 48 percent approval rating.

Perhaps the answer to his success lies with the man himself. Putin has certainly created a strong, recognisable image for himself, seemingly taking elements from Hollywood action movies, Cold War spy novels and Soviet propaganda alike.

Read more: Truth or Fiction? The Strangest Facts and Rumors About North Korean Leader Kim Jong Un

As all eyes swing towards Russia as it hosts the World Cup, we’ve collected the strangest facts about the Russian leader. From his rat-catching childhood to his rumored dalliances with spies, these are the most outlandish things we know—or think we know—about Vladimir Putin.

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His family has historical links
Putin’s grandfather, Spiridon Putin, worked as a chef for Lenin and Stalin, the Russian leader claimed in a 2018 documentary. His father (pictured) fought in the Second World War and worked in a factory.
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Two of his brothers died before his birth
Almost 20 years before he was born, his parents had two older children named Albert and Viktor. Albert died as a baby, followed by Viktor, who died of diphtheria during the siege of Leningrad in the Second World War. Vladimir is his parents' youngest and only surviving child.
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He grew up in poverty
Putin reportedly spent his childhood hunting rats in the hallway of his parent’s communal apartment. His old schoolteacher remembers that the family shared one room measuring about 20 meters square.
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He was a spy (but not a particularly good one)
Putin was posted to the backwater of Dresden for five years. When the Berlin wall fell, according to the BBC, he and his KGB colleagues frantically burned evidence of their intelligence work. "We had the horrible feeling that the country that had almost become our home would no longer exist," said his wife Lyudmila. "My neighbour, who was my friend, cried for a week. It was the collapse of everything—their lives, their careers."
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He has two mysterious daughters
Putin was married to a former flight attendant Lyudmila Shkrebneva (pictured right) from 1983 to 2013. Together they had two daughters, Mariya Putina (left) in 1985 and Yekaterina Putina in 1986. He keeps his family out of the spotlight, and very little is known about them. Business Insider says that both girls attended university under false identities, and that Putin is now a grandfather.
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German secret service documents allege he beat his wife
In 2011, documents from the archive of the BND, Germany's spy agency, say that while he was spying in Germany Putin was a "wife beater and a philanderer" who had numerous extramarital affairs. A spokesman for the Russian prime minister, said that the "stories were complete nonsense."
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He might have a secret German lovechild
The German newspaper Bild reported on the long-standing speculation that when the Putins left East Germany in 1990, Vladimir left behind an illegitimate child.
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He’s rumoured to be secretly married to a gymnast
Alina Kabaeva, a 34-year-old ex-Olympic gymnast, has been the center of rumors about Putin’s love life since 2008. She runs a pro-Kremin media company and is thought to have two children—possibly by Putin, who refuses to talk about his private life.
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He is rumored to have had an affair with a spy
Business Insider has reported on the rumor that Putin was, during his marriage, once linked to spy-turned-lingerie model Anna Chapman (pictured), who was arrested in the U.S. in 2010 for espionage. She became a celebrity in Russia after a prisoner swap took her back to her home country that year. The Kremlin denies any of Putin’s affairs.
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He returned to Russia broke
After the fall of the Berlin Wall, Putin was at a loss. According to the BBC, German friends gifted him a 20-year-old washing machine which he transported back to Leningrad. On returning, he wasn’t sure what his post-Soviet career would look like—he even considered becoming a taxi driver.
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When he became Prime Minister, hardly anyone in the West had heard of him
Putin became the Russian Federation’s fifth Prime Minister in 1999. "You can do business with that kind of person. I don't expect a setback for democracy under Putin," Dutch Foreign Minister Jozias van Aartsen told the Associated Press after Putin’s appointment.
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