A question was raised just recently, “Is Putin a Psychopath”? Tough call.
Western media vilifies him relentlessly for being an autocrat, but what really irks them is that Russia simply doesn’t cow-tow to the West anymore. Those few Westerners who look past the media’s deceit tend to think him positively benign next to Bush and Co. However, they may not be fully aware of centralization of power and the increase of corruption, the rise of nationalism, the destruction of social net and the erosion of freedoms in Russia.
As to the Russians themselves, some hate Putin for the above reason but concede that life has definitely gotten better since the 90-s. Many others adore Putin simply because he projects a positive image for himself and Russia, and in general looks strong and basically functional as person, unlike the drunkard Yeltsin or a bed-ridden Chernenko or Brezhnev, among the recent leaders. Check out this popular song, “One like Putin” (\\\http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Z9gqQnAvYn4) – it’s not a joke, this song was a mega-hit a few years ago.
Putin is very good at keeping a “poker face”, and carefully guards both his public image and private life. But, a 2002 book provides a rare glimpse at Putin’s personality from the point of view of the person closest to him – his wife.
The book, “Vladimir Putin: the Road to Power”, is an officially sanctioned biography of Putin, written by Oleg Blotsky. Blotsky is a journalist who specialized in war-zone coverage, and a good writer, with at least one biography of a high-profile military official under his belt (from what I know). I imagine he was carefully evaluated for the job. He got to spend a lot of time with Putin and his family and interview them.
The biography was supposed to be a trilogy, and a eulogy, reminiscent of the style reserved for Lenin and other high Soviet officials [puke]. The first part, about Vladimir Putin’s early years, came out in 2001, was an instant best-seller and is still in print. The second part, released in 2002, dealt with Putin’s adulthood, marriage and rise to presidency. It included a lot of direct quotes from his wife, and the picture of Putin that emerged wasn’t exactly stellar. Here is a review in Western media (\\\http://articles.latimes.com/2002/sep/16/world/fg-lyudmila16) that also shows reactions of some Russians; Russian reviews were similar. In any case, this book disappeared (or made to disappear) from bookstores very quickly, and is presently out-of-print and considered rare. The third installment of the biography, to my knowledge, has never come out. The project was buried.
Although the article quoted above gives a good summary of what Ludmila Putina had said, I have translated direct quotes from her below. I found them here. (\\\http://www.nazlobu.ru/publications/article2665.htm) I think that form them you can really see the kind of person she is, or was, and get a 3D view of their relationship dynamics.
A couple of things to remember. In the book, these quotes are interspersed with a lot of positive or neutral context. Both of the Blotsky’s book on Putin are tendentious and written from a supporter’s point of view. He likes a sensation, but had no desire to bring Putin down. Neither did Liudmila. She simply, perhaps for the first time in a long time, had trusted someone enough to speak sincerely, and a few things slipped out. The only request she had of Blotsky is to keep their daughters, Masha and Katya, out of the limelight, and he honored this request.
Lastly, while Russian society is more traditional in its view of gender roles in family and society ( as the LA time article has pointed out), and while casual misogyny unfortunately is still common, there are a lot of things in Liudmila's account that are disturbing even for Russia and wouldn't be considered normal or optimal there, when all is put together.
With that in mind, here are those direct quotes from Ludmila Putina:
"He already had a girlfriend named Liuda"
I remember very well my very first meeting with Vladimir Vladimirovitch’s [VV further on - H] parents … He had just bought a new stereo (the brand was “Russia”, the most desirable at the time), and invited me and two more friends to his home to celebrate … Afterwards, I remember I went into the kitchen and his mother, Maria Ivanovna, was there. We started talking, and then Alexei [VV’s friend, who introduced them to each other] enters the kitchen and asks Maria Ivanovna: “So, how do you like Liuda [Ludmila]?” And she answers: “She is OK, I guess. But he already had a girlfriend named Liuda, and such a nice girl she was!”, etc, etc.
I had almost cried … I will not deny, I was very hurt and upset by this.
My relationship with Vladimir developed evenly. It wasn’t always wonderful, but, it was always stable. There was however a strange pattern to it: everything would be good for a couple of months, and then something negative, bad would happen, and then – everything will be good again.
As to the feelings, this wasn’t love at first sight. [..] For the first time in my life I grew to love a person. Gradually got used to him and grew to love him.
"He was starving me out"
Our dates – oh, it’s a story in and of itself. I have never been late for them, but VV was always late. An hour and a half late – that was a usual thing. Knowing that, however, I could never be late myself. What if, I always thought, he would arrive on time today. (Btw, to this day, I never got used to VV being late for appointments).
I remember standing inside a subway station. First 15 minutes that he is late, I am fine; half hour passes, I still feel OK. But when an hour passes and he still isn’t there, I feel so upset and I just cry in despair and humiliation. And after an hour and a half I have no emotions left whatsoever. …
After VV had finally appeared, I would never make a scene. In those 1.5 hours you would go through so much, you simply have no energy for emotions. So VV was besieging me, starving me out.
His delays have always been explained away by the demands of his work; incidentally, there, he was always punctual. While in personal life he would relax. Of course, where else? …
You have to give VV his due: he was always like this and never pretended to be someone else. He would never show off his behavior, his principles etc, he just was – himself. He never talked about it, but I understood that this is him, and that he would never be different. His behavior was honest.
"Yes, my little friend, it's me"
I think that living in Leningrad [St. Petersburg] has influenced VV in some way. He is somewhat guarded, secretive; that was characteristic of his parents as well.
Once we went to a party, where I, my guess is, behaved too freely: I danced, smiled, had fun. VV didn’t like that, and I was told in no uncertain terms that our relationship is over. I understood at that moment, that I had to leave.
I didn’t even argue, because he expressed it very firmly. Especially since I am one of those people who understands the word, knows the weight it carries. But, I wasn’t upset or mad at him for what he said. Because he was honest with me and told me everything directly.
I left … I won’t hide it, I had a very, very hard time. But, after two weeks, I return to my apartment in the evening, and at the door find a tiny note, “yes, my little friend, it’s me”. And a phone number below.
Afterwards, VV was saying that this trip of his just “came up”. Well, and if it did come up, why not make a detour and visit me too.
I remember, when we met, I was crying, telling him that I love him, that I need him. I went to see him off when he was leaving. But it was still unclear how our relationship would develop.