MOSCOW: Since coming to power more than 20 years ago, Vladimir Putin has been fixated on one idea: restoring Russia’s status as a global superpower. Whatever the cost.
“Nobody really wanted to talk to us, nobody wanted to listen,” he said in 2018, using his annual state of the nation address to unveil “invincible” new nuclear missiles.
“Listen to us now,” Putin said, a few weeks before he secured his fourth term as president.
Making sure that Russia is not just listened to, but respected and even feared, has been at the heart of Putin’s presidency since he came to power in 1999 as a relatively unknown ex-spy.
A loyal servant of the Soviet Union, Putin was dismayed when it fell apart, once calling the collapse of the USSR “the greatest geopolitical disaster of the 20th century”.
As the 68-year-old delivers his latest state of the nation address on Wednesday, Putin is leading a Russia that is closer to the Soviet Union than at any time since its collapse.
Tensions with the West are at an all-time high, rocked by a series of diplomatic expulsions and espionage scandals.
The domestic opposition has been largely quashed, with Putin’s most outspoken critic Alexei Navalny behind bars.
And Putin’s own future is secure, with a constitutional reform approved last year giving him the possibility to stay in power until 2036.
“He sees himself as a man on a mission,” political analyst Konstantin Kalachev told AFP. “By staying in power he is keeping Russia from falling apart.”
As a teenager in Saint Petersburg, Putin had dreamed of joining the KGB, but when he was posted to East Germany in the late 1980s, he saw first-hand how his country’s power had waned.
In December 1989 — a few weeks after the fall of the Berlin Wall — Putin was confronted by demonstrators at the Dresden headquarters of the KGB.
He called to the local offices of the Red Army for help, but was told that they could not intervene without orders from Moscow, and that Moscow was silent.
Back in Russia after the Soviet collapse,

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