Like many Russians, Vladimir Vladimirovich Putin is a late riser. Sometimes he doesn't roll out of bed until 11:00 a.m. Russia's president lives with his wife, Lyudmila, and two teenage daughters, Maria and Katerina, about twenty-five miles west of the center of Moscow, at Novo Ogarevo, a country estate dotted with white birch and pine trees that was built in the late nineteenth century for a son of Czar Alexander II. The neighborhood is now a haven for wealthy Russians, who have constructed opulent and often tasteless dachas. Trim and fit for his fifty-two years, Putin usually starts his mornings with a vigorous workout in the compound's small indoor pool. (The butterfly stroke is a favorite.) The grounds contain stables, a recently restored Orthodox church, a vegetable plot, and a helipad, and Putin sometimes spends the day working at Novo Ogarevo, receiving visitors there rather than at the Kremlin. In any case, he seldom leaves for the office much before noon.
"Parsing Putin" (February 24, 2005)
Paul Starobin, the author of "The Accidental Autocrat," on the complex and inscrutable character of Russia's president.
On days that he does go to the office, Putin speeds across the Moscow River in the back seat of his armored Mercedes Pullman and then cruises down the Novy Arbat, a garish boulevard bordered by neon-lit casinos, sushi bars, and ugly Soviet-era high-rise office buildings. Putin's motorcade deposits him inside the Kremlin walls, near his office in the Old Senate, a mustard-colored neoclassical building commissioned by Catherine the Great in the 1770s. Lenin made his headquarters here after the 1917 Revolution, when the Bolsheviks moved the capital to Moscow from imperial St. Petersburg.
Putin's office, in the northwest corner of the second floor, affords a view of Red Square. The office is spare and impersonal, with a somewhat antiquated feel. It has a clunky television and a bank of several dozen phones with heavy handsets—direct lines to the offices of Putin's Kremlin aides and other senior officials. Down the corridor, in a remodeled set of rooms that once contained Stalin's living quarters, is a small candlelit Orthodox chapel with icon paintings on the walls. Putin's immediate predecessor, Boris Yeltsin, had the chapel built but rarely entered it (according to what Putin told one visitor); Putin, in contrast, goes there very often. His private dining room, also on the second floor, contains a collection of bottles of Spanish red wine, one of his favorites. He likes to wash down his appetizers—what the Russians call zakuski, which are often the tastiest part of a meal—with a couple of shots of vodka, and to end his repast with a cognac from Dagestan, a province in Russia's troubled northern Caucasus. (Yeltsin's popularity, and Russia's image, suffered from his occasional displays of public drunkenness; Putin benefits from a reputation for sobriety and takes care to imbibe modestly in public.) He sometimes has dinner at the Kremlin, but more often heads back to Novo Ogarevo, where his work continues. Sipping cups of tea, Putin frequently works past midnight. An aide told me that "VVP," as his staff members sometimes refer to him, never hits the sack before 2:00 a.m.