Putin's power: From mean streets to Kremlin

FILE - In this file photo taken on Thursday, Feb. 23, 2017, Russian President Vladimir Putin attends a wreath-laying ceremony at the Tomb of the Unkno

FILE - In this file photo taken on Monday, Aug. 3, 2009, Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin swims while traveling in the mountains of the Siberian

FILE - In this Sept. 2010 photo released on Saturday, Oct. 30, 2010, Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin carries a hunting rifle during his trip in

File - In this file photo taken on Sunday, Aug. 31, 2008, Prime Minister Vladimir Putin locks a collar with a satellite tracker on the tranquilized fi

Russian President Vladimir Putin speaks at a meeting with workers of the GAZ factory in Nizny Novgorod, Russia, Wednesday, Dec. 6, 2017. Putin says he

FILE - In this file pool photo taken on Monday, Aug. 3, 2009, the then Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin is seen riding a horse while traveling in

FILE - In this file pool photo taken on Wednesday, Aug. 17, 2005, Russian President Vladimir Putin smiles at an airfield near the northern city of Mur

FILE- In this file photo taken on Tuesday, Feb. 17, 2004, Russian President Vladimir Putin thanks the crew of the Arkhangelsk nuclear submarine in the

FILE- In this file photo taken on Wednesday, Aug. 17, 2005, Russian President Vladimir Putin, wearing sailor's uniform, observes naval manoeuvres of R

FILE - In this file photo taken in April 6, 2000, Russian President Vladimir Putin looks through the periscope of a nuclear submarine during a visit t

FILE - In this file photo taken on Tuesday, Aug. 16, 2005, Russian President Vladimir Putin wearing a jump suit sits in the cockpit of a supersonic st

FILE- In this file photo taken on Saturday, Aug. 1, 2009, Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin, left, climbs aboard a mini-submarine before his desce

FILE- In this file photo taken on Tuesday, Feb. 17, 2004, Russian President Vladimir Putin is seen aboard the Arkhangelsk nuclear submarine in the Bar

FILE- In this file photo taken on Tuesday, Feb. 17, 2004, Russian President Vladimir Putin watches a military exercise aboard the Arkhangelsk nuclear

FILE- In this Tuesday, Aug. 10, 2010 file photo, then Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin sits in the co-pilot's seat in the cockpit of an Emergenci

FILE - In this file photo taken on Monday, March 20, 2000, Russian President Vladimir Putin, wearing a blue helmet and an oxygen mask, sits in Su-27 f

FILE- Vladimir Putin, then Russian President Boris Yeltsin's deputy chief of staff, center, poses with his friends at a party in St.Petersburg, in thi

FILE- In this file photo taken on Friday, May 7, 2004, Russian President Vladimir Putin walks through St.George's Hall to take part in an inauguration

FILE - In this file photo taken on Sunday, May 7, 2000, Russian President Vladimir Putin, left, and former President Boris Yeltsin watch Kremlin guard

FILE -In this file photo taken on Friday, May 19, 2000, Russian President Vladimir Putin smiles during his visit in Ashgabat, Turkmenistan. Putin on W

FILE -In this file photo taken on Sunday, April 12, 2015, Russian Orthodox Patriarch Kirill, left, talks to President Vladimir Putin, right, during th

FILE - In this file photo taken on Friday, May 9, 2014, Russian President Vladimir Putin attends a parade marking the Victory Day in Sevastopol, Crime

FILE - In this file photo taken on Sunday, March 26, 2000, acting Russian President and Presidential candidate Vladimir Putin talks with representativ

FILE- In this file photo taken on Sunday, March 4, 2012, Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin, who claimed victory in Russia's presidential election,

Russian President Vladimir Putin applauds as he attends the annual Volunteer of Russia 2017 award ceremony at the Megasport Sport Palace in Moscow, Ru

MOSCOW (AP) — As a kid in a dismal Soviet communal apartment, Vladimir Putin was a scrapper who dreamed of being an operator — diligently training in martial arts and boldly walking into a KGB office to inquire about how to become a spy.

As Russia's leader in the 21st century, he's been the epitome of both traits — fighting Chechen rebels, directing the annexation of Crimea and, allegedly, approving an extensive and devious campaign to undermine American democracy.

His announcement that he'll run for a fourth term in office came rather late — a little more than three months before the March 18 election — but hardly as a surprise. The man and the office are indistinguishable.

As Russia's leader since New Year's Eve 1999 (he switched to prime minister from 2008-12 but was still seen as being in command) Putin clearly relishes the spotlight. Now 65, his displays of physical prowess such as bare-chested horseback riding have mostly faded away, but the hours-long annual news conferences and call-in shows testify to vigor and discipline. He still enjoys mixing it up in ice hockey games, though he once likened his skating to "a cow on ice."

Few, if any, politicians have stepped more quickly from the shadows into rapt attention at home and abroad. Before being named President Boris Yeltsin's prime minister in August 1999, he had been head of the Federal Security Service, one of the KGB's successor agencies, which inherently is not a high-visibility position.

Many observers pegged him as a gray mediocrity, laughingly suggesting that his service with the KGB on the friendly turf of East Germany suggested he had not been very adroit as an intelligence agent. Yeltsin shuffled prime ministers at an alarming rate, and Putin might have been just the latest through the revolving door.

But the next month, he showed himself when commenting on the early days of the second war against Chechen rebels, saying "if we capture them in the toilet then we will waste them in the outhouse." Adamant, macho, and a touch of crude language — the remark seemed to reveal the essence of Putin that was formed in his youth.

When he became acting president upon Yeltsin's resignation, his language was more refined but his mien just as tough. "I want to warn that any attempts to go beyond Russian law ... will be decisively repressed," he said, one arm resting on a desk, resembling a loan officer dealing with a delinquent client.

Putin was born Oct. 7, 1952, to factory-worker parents in Leningrad, now St. Petersburg, a city pervaded by memories of the horrific suffering of the nearly 900-day Nazi siege in World War II. One of Putin's elder brothers died of diphtheria during the siege and the other died a few months after birth. According to "First Person," interviews published after he became acting president, Putin and his parents lived in a dismal communal apartment with a wretched toilet down the hall.

Putin said he responded to these rough circumstances by becoming a childhood "hooligan," one of the few in his school not allowed into the Communist Young Pioneers. In his early adolescence, Putin channeled his aggressive tendencies into the martial arts, a sport he practiced avidly into late middle-age.

As a teen, Putin aspired to join the KGB — apparently more for adventure than out of ideology — and succeeded after graduating from Leningrad University's law faculty in 1975.

Putin worked in counterintelligence, monitored foreigners in Leningrad and in 1985 started his post in Dresden. He returned to Leningrad in 1990 and started work for the city's reformist mayor. Putin resigned from the KGB a year later, on the second day of the abortive coup attempt against Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev, which was backed by the KGB.

Putin married Lyudmila Skrebneva, an Aeroflot flight attendant who later became a university lecturer in German, in 1983. Thirty years later, the couple appeared on state TV in a faux-causal interview to announce their marriage was ending; Putin was reportedly too devoted to his job to be an attentive husband.

Despite rumors of a dalliance with a comely female gymnastics star, Putin publicly presents himself as upright and abstemious. He is only rarely seen with a glass of vodka and almost never actually drinking.

Although reports have suggested that Putin has accumulated vast wealth, he shows little taste for real ostentation outside the gilded halls of the Kremlin. His public face is an older, better-fed version of the tough teen from a bad part of town, determined to dominate.