Vladimir Putin: How did a taxi driver become president of Russia

In 1991, 39 year old Vladimir Putin was struggling. The Soviet Union was crumbling. He had quit his job with the KGB at Dresden, East Germany where he was stationed. And to make ends meet, he would sometimes moonlight as a taxi driver!

But within a decade, he climbed the ranks and became the President of Russia. What led to his meteoric rise?

Putin finds a mentor

Putin was smart and diligent. And luck played a huge role in his rise too. But he showed something that others rarely show. An ingredient that made others rely on him. Unending loyalty.

In 1991, when Putin came back to Saint Petersburg from Dresden, he found a mentor. Anatoly Sobchak. The co-creator of the Russian constitution. And the first elected mayor of Saint Petersburg. Sobchak was a consummate politician. But to get his work done, he was looking for an operator. And so, he looked at ex-KGB officers. And found Putin.

Sobchak made Putin one of his two deputy mayors – the other being Vladimir Yakovlev. And his two deputies looked after the everyday running of the city.

In 1996, Sobchak’s deputy Vladimir Yakovlev ran against him. He campaigned on the grounds that Sobchak misused government funds on art, and that he spent more time behind federal politics than caring about the city. And surprisingly, Yakovlev won!

But by that time, Sobchak had taught Putin enough – and Putin went on to Moscow. 

Putin saves his mentor

Soon after, corruption charges were filed against Sobchak. And while everyone had given up on Sobchak because he held no value anymore, one person stood by his side. Vladimir Putin. Putin used his connections in the Kremlin and got Sobchak flown out of Russia to Paris – on a private jet without a passport! The official ruse given was Sobchak needed medical treatment for his heart condition. But Sobchak was never admitted to any hospital!

This act of loyalty surprised everyone. And it caught the eye of one right person: Boris Yeltsin – the then president of Russia. Because Yeltsin was paranoid and lived in constant fear of being deposed. Or worse: face a coup and be assassinated! And so, Yeltsin wanted to surround himself with people who could be extremely loyal.

In the next 3 years, Yeltsin made Putin the first deputy chief of the presidential staff, then promoted him to head the Federal Security Services, then made him one of three deputy prime ministers, and finally appointed him as the prime minister of Russia!

To be fair, Russia was in such upheaval at that time, that Putin was the fifth prime minister Yeltsin had selected in the last 18 months! And no one thought Putin would last in the post either.

But on 31 December 1999, Yeltsin suddenly resigned as the President of Russia. And Putin became the acting President! The first thing that Putin did? Gave immunity to Yeltsin and his relatives so that corruption charges against them could not be filed!

When elections were held after 3 months, Putin won the presidency with 53% of the vote. And he has been the de facto ruler of Russia ever since!

Loyalty – the double edged sword

Loyalty can be bad for you if you are loyal to the wrong people. Your ship can sink along with theirs. 

But it’s loyalty that breeds more loyalty. If you want people to stick to you when you are wrong, then you have to stick with them when they are in the wrong too! 

And with a group of extremely loyal comrades – you can travel very far!

Action Summary:

  • It takes a special blend of stupidity and courage to be loyal to people who are in the wrong. But loyalty breeds loyalty!