"Evil" Putin's "rat-infested" childhood taught him to "fight dirty" and turned him into the "bully" he is today.
As is almost always the case with bullies, Putin started out as a victim in a life story that is a serious case of rags to riches.
Despite being worth as much as $200billion (£180billion) now, the Russian leader's back story is that of a child born into a poor, working-class family in the rubble of post-war Leningrad – now St Petersburg.
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He was born in 1952, eight years after the brutal siege of the city, which killed more than a million of its people, to parents who had just about survived the war through injury and starvation.
“Vladimir was born into this atmosphere of hunger, disability and profound grief,” psychotherapist and author Joseph Burgo wrote in The Atlantic in 2014.
By his own admission his family lived in a ramshackle Soviet apartment with two other families, in a block of flats which was apparently infested with rats.
“There were hordes of rats in the front entryway. My friends and I used to chase them around with sticks,” Putin wrote in his 2000 autobiography.
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“Once I spotted a huge rat and pursued it down the hall until I drove it into a corner," he continued.
"It had nowhere to run. Suddenly it lashed around and threw itself at me. I was surprised and frightened. Now the rat was chasing me. Luckily, I was a little faster and I managed to slam the door shut in its nose. There, on that stair landing, I got a quick and lasting lesson in the meaning of the word cornered.”
Putin’s former school teacher Vera Dmitrievna Gurevich called the family’s living conditions “cold” and “awful”.
“There was no hot water, no bathtub. The toilet was horrendous,” she once said.
While his mother did a series of backbreaking jobs and his father worked in a factory, Putin was left to fend for himself.
He spent “an increasingly large part of his time in the communal courtyard below, a space dominated by drunken thugs, cursing, and fistfights,” biographer Masha Gessen explained.
Gessen and other biographers describe Putin’s childhood as “mean”, “hungry” and “impoverished”, and say he was bullied and humiliated as a child.
He was small for his age and learned martial arts and then judo to defend himself.
Later, he joined a street gang and learned what he described in 2015 as an important rule: “If a fight is inevitable you have to throw the first punch.”
“He’s always been a scrapper,” says British cartoonist Darryl Cunningham, author of Putin’s Russia: The Rise of a Dictator, a new biography on the life of the Russian leader.
Cunningham interviewed a childhood friend of Putin’s for the book who described how a young Putin “would use any dirty method to win. He would bite, he would scratch, he would beat the boys who were bigger than him… which says a lot about his character.
"He still very much ignores any rules other people play by, he’s still that little kid who fights dirty.”
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