Vladimir Putin was not a Soviet super spy in East Germany in the 1980s but a plodding pen-pusher eager to please his superiors, an investigation has found.
Germany’s Spiegel magazine investigated Mr Putin’s murky past on the suspicion that stories of his exploits as a KGB agent were exaggerated.
Instead of conducting vital missions to hold back the forces of democracy, Spiegel said that Mr Putin was focused on “banal” administrative work during his KGB posting to Dresden, “endlessly sorting through travel applications for West German relatives or searching for potential informants among foreign students”.
Mr Putin was a 32-year-old officer when he was sent to Dresden in 1985, a tense time with the Kremlin’s grip over its vassal states fracturing.
KGB officers were tasked with supporting East Germany’s Stasi secret police. Although the mission ultimately failed with the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989 and the collapse of the Soviet Union two years later, stories of Mr Putin’s alleged valour have become legend.
Perhaps the most famous is how in December 1989 he single-handedly faced down protesters planning to storm the KGB headquarters.
‘Facts and fiction sometimes blur’
However, this probably didn’t happen, the magazine reported.
“According to one version [of the story], a single small man stood at the entrance to the nearby Stasi headquarters and watched the spectacle from a safe distance,” Spiegel said. “It cannot be proved that the current Russian president was even there.”
Spiegel also said that witnesses quoted widely on Mr Putin’s other alleged KGB heroics could not be trusted.
A story about Mr Putin helping anarchists in West Germany plot assassinations was based on testimonies from a serial liar with a criminal record, Spiegel said.
Another story of how he had groomed a German neo-Nazi leader into an informant was based on interviews with a former Stasi agent who has admitted that he embellished his statements.
In fact, there was nothing in the Stasi archives to suggest Mr Putin was anything other than risk-averse, the magazine said.
“Facts and fiction sometimes seem to blur,” Spiegel said. “Today’s Russian president was probably not a top agent.”
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