President Donald Trump met today with Russian President Vladimir Putin for a summit in Helsinki, Finland. During the meeting President Trump said both sides are to blame for the United States’ bad relationship with Russia. In response, TGC Council member and ERLC president Russell Moore said, “Vladimir Putin ruthlessly persecutes those who preach the gospel of Jesus Christ, holds orphans hostage from waiting families for his political purposes, murders dissidents and journalists, attacks democratic institutions and nations. Morality is not relative.”

Here are nine things you should know about the controversial Russian leader.

1. Vladimir Vladimirovich Putin was born in Cold War-era Russia in 1952. His mother worked in a factory during World War II, and his father was drafted into the army, where he served on a submarine fleet. During his younger years, Putin was an atheist. He says he turned to the church after two major accidents in the 1990s—his wife’s car accident and a house fire. He now considers himself to be a devout member of the Russian Orthodox Church.

2. In 1970, Putin became a student at Leningrad State University’s law department, where he wrote a thesis on “The Most Favored Nation Trading Principle in International Law.” During his time in college he became a member of the Communist Party. (In 2016, he said he still likes the ideas of theoretical communism “very much” and still has his Communist Party membership card at his home.) When he was there as a student, Leningrad State University’s law department was a training ground for the KGB (Committee for State Security). Putin has said that the KGB targeted him for recruitment even before he graduated in 1975. “You know, I even wanted it,” he said of joining the KGB. “I was driven by high motives. I thought I would be able to use my skills to the best for society.”

3. Putin served 15 years as a foreign intelligence officer for the KGB, including six years in Dresden, East Germany. While in Germany, his roles likely included recruiting members for the East German Communist Party and the secret police (Stasi), stealing technological secrets, and compromising visiting Westerners. In 1990, he retired from active KGB service with the rank of lieutenant colonel.

4. After his retirement—and the collapse of the Soviet Union—Putin returned to his former university and served for 18 months as the assistant to the rector. He later admitted that he was “a KGB officer under the roof, as we say,” whose roles were to recruit and spy on students. While at the school, he reconnected with his former law professors, including Anatoly Sobchak, a leader in the first wave of democratic reformers in the Gorbachev years and elected chairman of the Soviet-era Leningrad council. Putin served as Sobchak’s aide and later became the first deputy mayor of St. Petersburg (formerly Leningrad).

5. In 1996, Putin moved to Moscow and served on the presidential staff as deputy to the Kremlin’s chief administrator. Two years later Russian President Boris Yeltsin appointed Putin to be the director of the Federal Security Service, the domestic successor to the KGB, and later as head of the Kremlin Security Council. Putin somehow managed, while working important roles at the Kremlin, to write a 218-page dissertation and earn a prestigious candidate of science degree—the equivalent of a PhD—from the Mining Institute in St. Petersburg. In August 1999,  President Yeltsin appointed Putin as acting Prime Minister of the Government of the Russian Federation. When Yeltsin unexpectedly resigned that December, Putin became President.

6. Although Putin only earns a salary equivalent to $137,000 a year, because of corruption and cronyism he’s believed to secretly be one of the wealthiest men in the world. Putin is reported to have used his political influence to acquire stakes in several Russian and Ukrainian corporations (especially oil and gas companies) that would make him worth between $30 billion and $70 billion. (By comparison, Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg is worth $74 billion.) According to a former Russian deputy prime minister, Putin owns 20 palaces (including one valued at $1 billion), four yachts, 58 aircraft, and a collection of watches worth half a million dollars. Most of his assets are hidden through shell companies and other tactics used to shield his net worth from public scrutiny.

7. Putin’s style and agenda have given rise to the term “Putinism.” As M. Steven Fish explains, Fish says it’s conservative not only in its promotion, at home and abroad, of a traditionalist social agenda, but also because it “prioritizes the maintenance of the status quo while evincing hostility toward potential sources of instability.” Finally, as a personalist autocracy, “Putinism rests on an unrestricted one-man rule and the hollowing out of parties, institutions, and even individuals other than the president as independent political actors.”

8. On foreign policy matters, Putin espouses a nationalist agenda that seeks to re-establish Russia as a great world power and to offset America’s global leadership position. Under Putin’s watch, Russia has moved to expand its geopolitical influence by going to war with Georgia (2008), seizing Crimea (2014), intervening in eastern Ukraine (2014), and deploying military forces in the Syrian civil war (2015). Putin has also strengthened ties with China, India, the Arab world, and Iran in an attempt to reduce American and Western influence in Asia.

9. Under the guise of implementing “anti-terrorism” measures, Putin adopted laws in 2016 that restrict religious freedom and criminalize missionary activities. According to the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF), the Russian president signed into law measures that redefine “missionary activities” as religious practices that take place outside of state-sanctioned sites. The law bans “preaching, praying, proselytizing, and disseminating religious materials” outside of sites officially designated by the state. Citizens can also be fined up to $15,000 for engaging in these activities in private residences or distributing unauthorized religious materials through “mass print, broadcast, or online media.” Foreign missionaries also must prove they were invited by state-registered religious groups and must operate only in regions where their sponsoring organizations are registered. Missionaries who fail to comply face harsh fines and deportation.

Other posts in this series:

Supreme Court Nominee Brett Kavanaugh • MS-13 • Wicca and Modern Witchcraft • Jerusalem • Christianity in Korea • Creation of Modern Israel • David Koresh and the Branch Davidians • Rajneeshees • Football • The Opioid Epidemic (Part II) • The Unification Church • Billy Graham • Frederick Douglass • Memphis Sanitation Strike of 1968 • Winter Olympics • The ‘Mississippi Burning’ Murders •  Events and Discoveries in 2017 • Christmas Traditions • Sexual Misconduct • Lutheranism • Jewish High Holy Days • Nation of Islam • Slave Trade • Solar Eclipses • Alcohol Abuse in America • History of the Homeschooling Movement • Eugenics • North Korea • Ramadan • Black Hebrew Israelites • Neil Gorsuch and Supreme Court Confirmations • International Women’s Day • Health Effects of Marijuana • J. R. R. Tolkien • Aleppo and the Syrian Crisis • Fidel Castro • C.S. Lewis • ESV Bible • Alzheimer’s Disease •  Mother Teresa • The Opioid Epidemic • The Olympic Games • Physician-Assisted Suicide • Nuclear Weapons • China’s Cultural Revolution • Jehovah’s Witnesses • Harriet Tubman • Autism • Seventh-day Adventism • Justice Antonin Scalia (1936–2016) • Female Genital Mutilation • Orphans • Pastors • Global Persecution of Christians (2015 Edition) • Global Hunger • National Hispanic Heritage Month • Pope Francis • Refugees in America • Confederate Flag Controversy • Elisabeth Elliot • Animal Fighting • Mental Health • Prayer in the Bible • Same-sex Marriage • Genocide • Church Architecture • Auschwitz and Nazi Extermination Camps • Boko Haram • Adoption • Military Chaplains • Atheism • Intimate Partner Violence • Rabbinic Judaism • Hamas • Male Body Image Issues • Mormonism • Islam • Independence Day and the Declaration of Independence • Anglicanism • Transgenderism • Southern Baptist Convention • Surrogacy • John Calvin • The Rwandan Genocide • The Chronicles of Narnia • The Story of Noah • Fred Phelps and Westboro Baptist Church • Pimps and Sex Traffickers • Marriage in America • Black History Month • The Holocaust • Roe v. Wade • Poverty in America • Christmas • The Hobbit • Council of Trent • Halloween and Reformation Day • Casinos and Gambling • Prison Rape • 16th Street Baptist Church Bombing • Chemical Weapons • March on Washington • Duck Dynasty • Child Brides • Human Trafficking • Scopes Monkey Trial • Social Media • Supreme Court’s Same-Sex Marriage Cases • The Bible • Human Cloning • Pornography and the Brain • Planned Parenthood • Boston Marathon Bombing • Female Body Image Issues • Islamic State