The Mystery Of Vladimir Putin's Mother Explained

Russian President Vladimir Putin will do anything, it seems, to stay in power. First elected president in 1999, Putin served two consecutive terms, leaving office in 2008, only to return in 2012, where he has remained ever since, per Britannica. In 2020, Putin even changed the Russian constitution, possibly allowing him to hang on to the presidency until at least 2036, according to Reuters. Putin claims he will step down at that point, but nobody knows for sure. Could a man so intent on maintaining his rule over the Russian people have lied about his own family history in order to do so? The mystery of Vladimir Putin's real mother leads some to believe that is the case.

Per the German newspaper Zeit, Putin served as prime minister while Boris Yeltsin was President of Russia. When Yeltsin retired, he appointed Putin to be his replacement. Eventually, though, Putin would have to stand for a vote. Putin was already controversial, due in no small part to the Second Chechen War, provoked by his actions as president. In the run-up to the vote, two Russian oil executives — opposed to Putin winning the presidency  flew to Chechnya to see a video that, if released, could change the election results. Those men would never arrive, killed in a plane crash for which the Russian secret service could be responsible; Putin himself had a KGB career. But what was on that tape that made Vladimir Putin so desperate to keep it suppressed?

A child of Leningrad

According to Vladimir Putin's own biography, "First Person: An Astonishingly Frank Self-Portrait by Russia's President Vladimir Putin" — a project with which Putin collaborated — he grew up in Leningrad (via The New York Times). Both of his parents survived World War II: His father fought in the war, and his mother experienced the blockade of Leningrad (now St. Petersburg). This story puts Putin's family on the frontlines of one of Russia's biggest World War II victories, per History. Putin also claims in the book that his real parents died before he took office. In the view of some, this supports Putin's carefully curated image as a true Russian man of the people, intent on returning Mother Russia to its former glory.

Putin's origin story, as he tells it, frequently changes, and the true story might mean Vladimir Putin is not Russian at all, but Georgian (via The Times). The video that two Russian oil executives died on their way to see had nothing more on it than footage of an old woman Russian-Georgian woman named Vera Putina, who lives in the former Soviet republic of Georgia, according to Zeit. Putina, who was 73 at the time of the taping, tells the interviewers that she had a son in 1950 — whom she nicknamed Vova — born out of wedlock. According to Putina, Vova would never know the real name of his father. That boy's real name was Vladimir Putin, according to Putina.

Putin's story unravels

In that same video, Putina goes on to say that she eventually married a Georgian man with whom her son Vova had a tense relationship. This young Vladimir Putin loved judo, she said, which is consistent with what we know for sure about the real Vladimir Putin, who is a black belt. As relations deteriorated between her son and his stepfather, though, Putina was forced to send Vova to live with her parents. They were ill, and eventually, young Vladimir was sent to live with foster parents in what was still called Leningrad at the time, per Zeit. Putina's testimony is not the only evidence supporting this version of history.

The maker of the video also speaks to other villagers who remember young Vova, and journalists from the U.K.'s Daily Telegraph even found proof that a student named Vladimir Putin attended a nearby school around that same time (via Zeit). After the deaths of the two oil executives and an additional murder of a journalist related to the reports of Putin's real mother, the story was nevertheless published in some Georgian newspapers. It eventually gained traction in Turkey, and the Putina footage broadcast on Turkish TV. Amid talks of a natural gas pipeline set to be built by the Russians in Turkey, that broadcast never took place. Still, word about Putin's real childhood was out, and more people would die — including Italian journalist Antonio Russo, among others — in search of the truth.

The timeline adds up

Per Vladimir Putin's biography, he claims to know more about his father's background than that of his mother (via The New York Times). "I come from an ordinary family," Putin writes in the book (via Zeit). Consistent to Putina's version of events, Putin's own recollection becomes much clearer when he starts school in Leningrad around 1960. That's around the same time Putina says her son was sent to live with foster parents, Vladimir Spiridonovich Putin and Maria Ivanovna Putina, who really did die prior to Putin obtaining the presidency. Further inconsistency to Putin's version of events as told in the book: His purported real mother would have been 41 when he was born, which was very unusual in that area at that time. Disputed childhood photographs of Putin also cast the story in doubt.

Nevertheless, uncertainty remains about the true origin of Vladimir Putin, and even though Putina submitted samples for a blood test, the results were never released, and more unexplained deaths have occurred around the story. As the words of Putina from that very first video footage attest, she is convinced that her son is Russian President Vladimir Putin. "Vova still carries my last name, but he doesn't want to recognize me as his mother," she said (via Zeit). "That's the reason people from the KGB came here to my house. They took along all the family photos and admonished me that I was not allowed to tell anyone about him." At the time of this writing, Vera Putina is still alive.