Long before Vladimir Putin became Russian President and started his war with Ukraine, he worked as a KGB officer in Dresden, which was then part of East Germany or the German Democratic Republic (GDR). The now 70-year-old was first stationed there in the mid-Eighties until the fall of the Berlin Wall, living in an apartment block with other KGB and Stasi officers. Many think of Putin’s past as gritty, but a former colleague once shed light on the reality of the leader’s daily life as an intelligence officer — and how he indulged in Western goods.
In Dresden, Putin shared an office with fellow KGB officer Vladimir Usoltsev, earning a salary of just $100 a month (£225), to support himself, his wife and his young daughter.
Putin and Lyudmila’s second daughter, Katerina, was born while they lived in Germany.
While the salary may have been low, the Putin family found the standard of living much higher than what they had experienced in Soviet Russia — and Putin could enjoy the forbidden joys of the West.
According to Mr Usoltsev’s 2003 memoir, Comrade in Arms, Putin had “good” KGB contacts who would get him West German mail-order catalogues which he would pour over.
The Red Army Faction, a West German radical group formed in 1968, was also told to bring him “luxury” items from West Germany such as a stereo.
In 2015, Putin biographer and critic, Masha Gessen, told the BBC podcast The Moment That Made Putin: “They lived in East Germany, they lived in one of those apartment blocks that we wouldn’t have found terribly impressive coming from the West…
“As is well known, the Red Army faction funded some of its activities through theft and robbery.
“He said that when they would steal cars in West Germany, they would remove the stereo and take it to East Germany for Putin as a gift and he absolutely loved it.”
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She added: “But coming from Leningrad where they had always lived in communal apartments where they didn’t have basic necessities like a washing machine — that was impressive. The beer was good and Putin drank a lot of it.”
The now 70-year-old drank six pints a week of his favourite beer, Radeberger, which eventually caught up with him as he put on 13 kilogrammes while living there.
Mr Usoltev also revealed that Putin, who spent the best part of a decade working for the KGB in Dresden, was not the linguistic genius he is said to be, nor was he particularly bright.
He continued: “He spoke simple German and his intellect was good but not extraordinary.”
Much of Putin’s time was spent carrying out humdrum work, attempting to find and recruit agents to spy on the West. But at each time, the KGB only had some 20 agents in West Germany.
Although the work and money may have been poor, Dresden will always be significant to Putin, particularly as Katerina was born there in 1986.
His fondness for the country came through when German biographer Boris Reitschuster spoke to him and the Russian President described himself as “close to” the country.
Mr Reitschuster also told the BBC: “It was one of the very few moments when he seemed a little bit emotional and touched. He said, ‘oh my daughter said her first words in Germany. I’m very close to this country’. You could see that he was moved.”