Vladimir Putin may be the wild card in world affairs right now, but he didn’t gain that influence overnight.
The Russian President’s ascension to power is filled with spies, armed conflicts, oligarchs, oil and (of course) judo.
So here’s how a onetime “nobody” climbed up the ranks to become the “World’s Most Powerful Person.”
Vladimir Putin was born in Leningrad on Oct. 7, 1952.
Vladimir Vladimirovich Putin is the only child of a decorated war veteran and factory worker in the slums of Leningrad. He grew up in a Soviet Union styled communal apartment with two other families — as was typical at the time.
As a teen Putin worked at his school’s radio station, where he reportedly played music by the Beatles and other Western rock bands.
The photographer Platon — who took Putin’s infamous Time Magazine cover in 2007 — said that Paul is Putin’s favorite Beatle, and “Yesterday” is his favorite song.
However, “by [Putin’s] own account, his favorite songs are Soviet standards, not Western rock. He has been deeply conservative his whole life,” Karen Dawisha wrote in her new book, “Putin’s Kleptocracy.”
Early on in life, Putin got into judo. He was his university’s judo champion in 1974.
Former deputy finance minister and first deputy chairman of the Central Bank Sergey Alaksashenko believes that Putin’s love of judo says something about his foreign policy.
“Unlike chess, a judo fighter should not wait for the opponent’s move. His strategy is to wait until he gets a chance to execute a single quick move — and then take a step back. Successful judo fighters must anticipate their opponents’ actions, make a decisive, preemptive move and try to disable them,” he wrote in the Moscow Times.
He also really loved spy novels and TV shows — especially one about a Soviet double agent.
Putin reportedly loved the popular 1960s book series turned TV series “17 Moments of Spring” starring the Soviet double-agent Max Otto von Stierlitz (né Vsevolod Vladimirovich Vladimirov) who rose up the ranks into Nazi elite during World War II.
Putin said about the series: “What amazed me most of all was how one man’s effort could achieve what whole armies could not.”
And in a moment of life imitating art, in 1985 the KGB sent Putin to Dresden, East Germany where he lived undercover as a “Mr. Adamov.”
Reportedly, Putin mastered the German language so well that he could imitate regional dialects. Unlike most KGB agents, Putin liked hanging out with Germans. He was particularly fond of the “German discipline.”
But how exactly Putin spent his time in East Germany is relatively unknown. According to the Kremlin, he was awarded the bronze medal “For Faithful Service to the National People’s Army.”
Additionally, Putin was once investigated for “allegations of favoritism in granting import and export licenses.”
… but the case was dismissed pretty quickly “due to lack of evidence.”
Back in the early 1990s, Putin was in charge of a deal where $100 million worth of raw materials would be exported in exchange for food for the citizens of St. Petersburg. Although the materials were exported, the St. Petersburg citizens never got the food.
Reportedly, Putin was the one who signed off on the deal — but the Kremlin denies this.
When Sobchak lost the re-election for mayor, the victor offered Putin a job. However, Putin turned it down saying: “It’s better to be hanged for loyalty than be rewarded for betrayal.”
Putin was the campaign manager for Sobchak’s re-election. Vladimir Yakovlev, who had the support of the powerful Moscow mayor, ran against Sobchak and won. He offered Putin a gig in his office, but Putin declined it.
And then — seemingly out of nowhere — Yelstin stepped down as president and named Putin the acting president on New Year’s in 1999.
Many people believed that Yeltsin propelled Putin to presidency in order to protect himself: The war in Chechnya was starting to curdle, and his ratings were starting to drop.
Interestingly, one of Putin’s first moves was to pardon Yeltsin “immunity from criminal or administrative investigations, including protection of his papers, residence and other possessions from search and seizure.”
In his first speech as acting president, Putin promised freedom of speech, freedom of conscience, freedom of the press, the right to private property …
The exact quote from his speech is:
“I want to warn that by any attempts to go beyond the Russian laws, beyond the Constitution of Russia, will be strongly suppressed. Freedom of speech. Freedom of conscience. Freedom of mass media. Property rights. These basic principles of the civilized society will be safe under the protection of the state.”
Putin recognized that the Yeltsin-era oligarchs had the potential to be more powerful than him … so he struck a deal with them.
“In July of , Putin told the oligarchs that he would not interfere with their businesses or renationalize state resources as long as they stayed out of politics — that is, as long as they did not challenge or criticize the president,” according to the Council on Foreign Relations.
And then Putin established his reputation as a “man of action” with his handling of the Second Chechen War.
In 2002, a Moscow theatre was seized by 40 Chechen militants, who were led by the warlord Movsar Barayev, and 129 out of the 912 hostages died during this three-day ordeal.
This was a critical moment for Putin, and many expected his domestic approval to plummet. But his “ruthless handling of the siege and his refusal to negotiate with the hostage-takers further shored up his reputation as a man of action.”
His approval rating was up at 83% after it was all over.
In 2004, Putin was re-elected for a second term. He continued to focus on domestic affairs, but drew major criticisms for his crackdowns on the media.
Journalist Anna Politkovskaya was murdered in her apartment lobby after she wrote about corruption in the Russian army with respect to Chechnya. Many in the Western media criticized Putin for failing to protect the media.
Those accused of the murder “testified that Akhmed Zakayev and Boris Berezovksy (one of the Yeltsin-era oligarchs) could be the clients, who ordered the murder of Anna Politkovskaya,” according to TASS.
In 2008, Dmitry Medvedev was elected president. One day later, he made Putin the new Prime Minister … And then Russia got clobbered by the financial crisis.
When the global financial crisis hit, things got really got bad. The Russian economy was slammed particularly hard because it relied heavily on Western investment.
Additionally, the financial crisis really showed just how dependent the Russian economy is on oil and gas, and how intertwined the industry was with the country’s political economy, according to the Brookings Institute.
In that same year, Russia got involved in a five-day international conflict — the Russo-Georgian War.
The Russo-Georgia conflict involving Russia, Georgia, and the two regions South Ossetia and Abkhazia. The two regions have been trying to get formal independence since the 1990s — Russia recognizes the independence, which has been condemned by Western nations.
“After the 2008 conflict, Moscow declared that it would formally recognize the independence of both South Ossetia and Abkhazia. Russia’s allies Nicaragua and Venezuela followed suit, as did a number of small Pacific island states,” according to the BBC.
Two years later, in March 2014, Putin annexed Crimea in one of the most complicated and controversial geopolitical moves of the year.
The ousted Ukrainian president Viktor Yanukovych “sent a letter to” Putin “requesting that he use Russia’s military to restore law and order in Ukraine.”
The Russian Parliament granted Putin “broad authority to use military force in response to the political upheaval in Ukraine that dislodged a Kremlin ally and installed a new, staunchly pro-Western government, the Ukrainian government in Kiev threatened war if Russia sent troops further into Ukraine,” reported The New York Times.
On March 2, Russia took complete control of Crimea, and on March 16, an “overwhelming majority” of Crimeans voted to secede from Ukraine and join Russia.
No one’s quite sure what Putin’s next move will be, but since he’s considering a fourth term, we may be seeing much more from him until at least 2024 …
Back when Putin was a deputy mayor in St. Petersburg, his inner circle cronies referred to him as “Boss.” Today, they refer to him as “Tsar,” and Forbes just named him the most powerful person in 2014.
And there’s no telling what people will call him next.
Then the late 1990s Asian financial crisis hit Thailand. Bangkok’s grand plans for its carrier were significantly hobbled. Commissioned in 1997, the same year the financial crisis struck the country, the Chakri Naruebet — which means “Sovereign of the Chakri dynasty,” the Thai monarchy’s ruling family — was mostly consigned to sitting in port due to lack of funding.
Now, according to The Motley Fool, Asia has plenty of aircraft carriers, as China, India, Japan, and South Korea all have carriers of different sizes. Not wanting to be left out, Singapore is on its way to constructing a carrier too.
All this competition has only made Thailand’s once-proud carrier look like a bizarre reminder of the country’s dysfunction, rather than the symbol of growing prestige that it was intended to be.
According to The Diplomat, Thailand’s AV-8S Matador (Harrier) accompanying jet fleet was withdrawn from service in 2006, leaving Bangkok with an aircraft carrier without aircraft. Thailand experienced a military coup that same year, along with a second one in 2014.
Thailand ordered its aircraft carrier from Spain in 1992. The vessel was commissioned five years later, in 1997
Almost immediately, Thailand ran into budget constraints. The Chakri Naruebet was put to port for the better part of each month and in 2006 its associated air wing was withdrawn. The Harriers are now over 30 years old.
Even while operational, the carrier has been outclassed by the larger vessels of India and China, not to mention the US’s super carrier fleet pictured below. It’s now the smallest functioning aircraft carrier in the world.
Still, despite its shortcomings, the Chakri Naruebet has proved useful in humanitarian missions. The Diplomat notes that the carrier was used after the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami as well as in rescue operations after flooding in Thailand in 2010 and 2011.
If you need to cross a danger area, why run when you can just skate?
That seemed to be the reasoning shown in this video, which purportedly shows a Libyan rebel wearing roller blades in the middle of a firefight. The fighter points his AK and fires off a few rounds as he crosses the street, which the opposing side can probably claim as a drive-by shooting.
At the end of April 2021, intelligence reports indicated the use of directed-energy attacks on American troops over the course of the previous year. Politico reported that two groups of lawmakers were briefed about an investigation into the use of the weapons, both in writing and in person.
According to those intelligence briefings, the Pentagon believes intelligence points to the energy attacks on American service members in Syria and they believe that Russia is responsible. Gen. Frank McKenzie, head of U.S. Central Command, later told Congress he had seen “no evidence” of the attack.
In the fall of 2020, a number of U.S. troops in Syria began presenting with flu-like symptoms, the Politico report says. Similar symptoms have affected American diplomatic officials in Havana, Cuba since 2016. The “Havana Syndrome,” as it’s come to be called, is believed to be caused by a kind of directed-energy weapon.
The symptoms of those affected in Cuba not only include flu-like symptoms, but far-ranging and more severe symptoms. American diplomats have reported ringing and pressure in their ears, loss of equilibrium, and persistent headaches. The worst reports confirm long-term brain damage.
When U.S. troops in the vicinity of Russians began to mysteriously develop the same early symptoms, the Pentagon allegedly set up a task force to investigate. Politico says the details about the attacks and the suspected weapons systems aren’t clear.
What is known is that the attack used concentrated beams of electromagnetic energy, high-frequency radio waves, particle beams, or microwaves to hit their targets.The attacks disrupt electronic equipment and cause neurological and other kinds of injuries.
In Havana, researchers discovered the effects of the weapons can create air pockets in the fluids near the inner ear. Those bubbles float in the paths that carry blood to the brain. Once the cavities reach the brain, they can cause stroke-like effects.
The Office of the Director of National Intelligence has declined to comment about the reports but insiders told Politico that Congress has been briefed about Russia’s use of the weapons in Syria, but the only response from Congress came from Sen. Jim Inhofe, who only said that they would be talking about it and that discussion would be classified.
Amid the global COVID-19 pandemic, and without any direct intelligence of the weapons involved, it’s difficult to know for certain if the attacks on Americans in Syria are really directed-energy attacks or if they are in any way similar to the Cuba attacks.
Not much is known about the energy attacks on the U.S. embassy in Havana. Without knowing for certain the weapon exists, it’s unlikely the United States would blame Russia for an attack that could just be an unrelated illness.
Scientists and researchers conducted thorough tests on more than 100 other embassy personnel in Cuba. Since some of the embassy workers were attacked in their homes, they also tested other people living in their respective buildings. No one else appeared to have been the victim, as they displayed none of the neurological damage or symptoms associated with the mysterious “Havana Syndrome.”
The team that investigated those attacks ruled out any kind of head injury, instead finding that 100 percent of those who claimed to be affected suddenly began suffering from acute onset balance disorders, cognitive issues, and other neurological problems.
Featured image: Image created for the Directed Energy Weapons section of the “Competing in Space” unclassified report, depicting threats that can temporarily impair or permanently damage space-based systems.
When you hear the word “jetpack,” you picture someone zooming through the sky like the Rocketeer. But DARPA and Arizona State University’s version of the jetpack is a complete let down.
“We’re not able to fly with our jetpack,” said graduate engineer Jason Kerestes, in a video from Arizona State University. “We have instantaneous thrust and we can pretty much trigger it to allow for faster movement and agile motions.”
The pack is designed to enable troops to run a mile in four minutes, but it doesn’t look like they’re quite there yet. At 3:07 of the video, the engineers say to a runner that his time improvement with the jetpack was only three seconds.
The official Japanese surrender ceremony took place aboard the USS Missouri anchored in Tokyo Bay on September 2, 1945. Here’s some amazing B-roll uncovered by the Naval History and Heritage Command that shows behind-the-scenes stuff like the Japanese delegation coming aboard American warships on their way to the ceremony as well as what it looked like to the hundreds of sailors perched above the main deck when it all went down. The ceremony was a veritable who’s who event with military rock stars of the day like MacArthur, Nimitz, and Halsey in attendance. (There’s no sound on the video, but it’s worth the time.)
The Army is celebrating it’s 240th birthday today (June 14). Formed in 1775 by an act of the Continental Congress, the Army has grown from a ragtag group of state militias to one of the strongest combat forces in history. Check out this video to learn more about how the Army began and what its missions are today:
A helicopter doesn’t fly; it beats the air into submission.
With the capacity to lift 88,000 lbs, the Sikorsky CH-53K King Stallion is a true workhorse. It’s primed to be the premier lift helicopter by leveraging the lessons learned from its predecessors, the CH-53A, D and E.
The new metal beast of the air had its first flight on October 27, 2015. The 55-minute flight at Sikorsky’s West Palm Beach flight test center was a real milestone considering the technical delays since 2014, mainly from the main gearbox.
The King Stallion will replace the current largest and heaviest helicopter in the military, the Marine Corps’ CH-53E Super Stallion, which has been in service since 1980. Like the CH-53E, the King Stallion will also serve in the Corps. Although it’s not a game changer, it’s an overall improvement in power, speed, lift, structure, and more.
Israel responded to a barrage of rockets Thursday with more airstrikes and artillery shells as it called up thousands of reservists for a possible invasion, The Associated Press reports.
The last major Israeli ground offensive into Gaza began on July 17, 2014 — 10 days into a serious conflict with Hamas that would last 50. The ground invasion was the expansion of Operation Protective Edge, which began on July 7 in response to Hamas rocket fire following smaller clashes and elevated tensions.
The invasion that summer was the first significant armed incursion into Gaza since 2009, when Israel and Hamas fought a horrible three-week fight that took over 1,400 Palestinian and 13 Israeli lives.
“We have hit Hamas hard and we will continue to hit Hamas hard,” the Israeli military said on social media as the invasion began. Hamas said the Israelis had “taken a dangerous step,” warning that “the occupation forces will pay a high price.”
Numerous Israeli infantry and artillery units, supported by air and naval assets, entered the Gaza Strip focused on crippling Hamas ability to fire rockets at Israel and destroying the dozens of tunnels used to infiltrate Israel and launch assaults.
Dozens of Palestinians were killed on the first day of the ground offensive, both combatants and civilians, Reuters reported at the time, citing Palestinian and Israeli officials.
Similar to the Biden administration’s official statements on the latest round of fighting between Israel and Hamas, President Barack Obama acknowledged Israel’s right to self-defense but said “we are hopeful that Israel will continue to approach this process in a way that minimizes civilian casualties.”
The fighting that followed caused significant devastation inside the Gaza strip.
Almost two weeks into the conflict, the number of fatalities had risen to nearly 400, almost double what it was a few days prior, with Palestinians making up the overwhelming majority of the deaths, The Associated Press reported.
Among Israel’s casualties, the Israeli military also saw losses in the fighting.
The official end of hostilities, however, did not come for almost another month. Israel and the Palestinian militant forces agreed to an unconditional ceasefire on August 26, 2014.
“Palestinians and Israelis were profoundly shaken by the events of the summer of 2014,” a UN report on the bloody conflict said. “In Gaza, in particular, the scale of the devastation was unprecedented.”
UN investigators said that Israel conducted more than 6,000 airstrikes during the conflict while Palestinian militants fired over 6,600 rockets and mortars at Israel.
The report said that 2,251 Palestinians died during the fighting.
Among the dead were 1,462 Palestinian civilians, including 299 women and 551 children. Another 11,231 Palestinians were wounded, with at least 10% suffering some form of permanent disability. Israel was critical of some of the report’s findings.
In Israel, six civilians and 67 soldiers were killed, and 1,600 people, including 270 children, suffered injuries as a “tragic result of the hostilities,” the report said.
The UN team acknowledged that the casualty figures collected by the UN, Israel, the Palestinians, and non-governmental organizations vary.
“Regardless of the exact proportion of civilians to combatants,” the UN report argued, “the high incidence of loss of human life and injury in Gaza is heartbreaking.”
There are concerns that another ground offensive could also have devastating results.
Speaking to Insider about past and present conflicts, Israel Defense Force spokeswoman Capt. Libby Weiss told Insider Thursday that “after every operation that the IDF has, there is an extensive process of learning, understanding what took place, and applying those lessons to training and to better preparedness for the future.”
She said that the challenge is that Hamas operates in and around civilian infrastructure in a densely populated area, making it difficult for Israeli forces to target Hamas and ensure its own defense without sometimes affecting civilians.
That said, Weiss stressed that “when it comes to our practices in the Strip, we are obviously very concerned about the impact on the civilian population within Gaza.”
No military aircraft – past or present – can beat the altitude and airspeed performance of the SR-71 Blackbird.
It’s design and performance evolved out of necessity: “We had a need to know what was going on in other countries,” Jeff Duford, a historian at the National Museum of the US Air Force, said. “And the way that we were going to do that was having a photographic aircraft that could fly very high and very fast. And much faster than the U2, which proceeded it. The SR-71 was that answer for the US Air Force and for the United States.”
Here’s the remarkable story of the SR-71 in a 3 minute mini-doc: