Vladimir Putin was born on October 7, 1952 in Leningrad (now St. Petersburg), Russia. He was the sole child of a factory foreman, living in a communal apartment along with several other families. As a child, he studied the martial arts with a concentration on sambo, a combination of judo and wrestling. He was chosen to study at Leningrad School 281, which prepared its students for college.
In 1970, Vladimir graduated from preparatory school and enrolled in the Leningrad University. There, he majored in studies of civil law, while also continuing his practice of martial arts. In 1974, he was the city's judo champion and graduated in 1975 with honors.
After he graduated, he was recruited by the KGB, the Soviet Union's intelligence organization. He was sent to Moscow, where he studied espionage and foreign intelligence. There, he learned the German language and was awarded a black belt in judo. After completing his studies, he was given a position in the KGB First Directorate as an agent of foreign intelligence.
In 1985, Putin was sent to Eastern Germany to live in Dresden under a fake name. He was given a false job at a German-Soviet friendship society, which had been set up by the KGB. It is believed that he was spying on NATO's member nations and recruiting new agents during this time. During his time in Germany, he was able to get an idea of Western cultures and ideas that changed his perspective of the world.
In 1990, the Soviet Union collapsed under the leadership of Mikhail Gorbachev. Putin returned to Russia after the KGB withdrew from reunited Germany and was highly decorated for his intelligence efforts. He was also given an administrative position at the Leningrad University, although he continued conducting intelligence gathering operations.
Putin was eventually hired as an assistant to his old professor of law, Anatoly Sobchak, who had become the chairman of the city council. When Sobchak was elected mayor of newly-renamed St. Petersburg in 1991, Vladimir was given the position of deputy mayor. During his time as deputy mayor, he helped direct foreign investors in the expansion of the city's economy and infrastructure.
In 1996, Sobchak lost his reelection campaign and left the mayoral office, along with Putin. Despite allegations and charges of corruption against Sobchak, Putin's career was not tainted. In 1997, he was given a position in the Kremlin as deputy to Pavel Borodin, the man in charge of the government's property department.
Putin put his time in the Kremlin to good use, making powerful friends and impressing his superiors. In 1998, he was appointed head of the Federal Security Service, the replacement for the KGB, by President Boris Yeltsin. In 1999, he was named prime minister by Yeltsin after numerous failures by other individuals appointed to that same office.
On December 31, 1999, Yeltsin resigned from his position before his term would end six months later. He appointed Putin as his acting successor, with the intention of ensuring that Russia entered the 21st century with a new wave of politicians who would continue reforming Russia. In the elections of March 2000, Putin won by a good margin, becoming Russia's youngest leader since Josef Stalin in 1922.
Throughout his tenure in office, Putin has been criticized for his handling of rebellions in Chechnya and Georgia, as well as the botched handling of a hostage situation that resulted in many deaths. More recently, he has been widely protested for his replacement of reimbursement for transportation and healthcare costs by cash, which many say does not fully cover the expenses. In spite of this, he has remained very open with Western countries and has implemented numerous beneficial social reforms in modern Russia, including the prosecution of the head of the Yukos oil corporation.