East German Files Sketch Putin's KGB Past

BERLIN, Germany - Russian President Vladimir Putin's shadowy former life as a KGB spy in East Germany came into slightly sharper focus Monday with the publication of fragmentary details of his career from the East German archives.

Reuters obtained the previously secret files on Putin's period in Dresden in the 1980s and on general KGB relations with the local Stasi secret police in that period under German freedom of information laws.

Overall the future Kremlin leader, like any good agent, seems to have covered his tracks well. His former German comrades recorded few details of this rather junior Soviet spy.

The files, consisting of hundreds of pages of correspondence between Stasi and KGB officials in Dresden from 1984 to 1990, do, however, document several covert operations Putin may well have been involved in, as well as honours he won from the Stasi.

One 1987 typed letter from the Stasi asks the KGB to recruit a local Dresden man to spy on a Communist Party guest house.

"Comrade V.V. Putin to accomplish this," a KGB official wrote in Russian in the margins. But a later note shows the man was not recruited and calls for the document to be destroyed.

The only document from Putin himself seeks to enlist Stasi support for a KGB informant who needed a telephone. "There are still problems in solving this problem," Putin wrote to the Dresden head of the Stasi, General-Major Horst Boehm.

In that instance, Putin succeeded, a later document shows, helping the man jump a queue to get a telephone that would usually take years in East Germany.

Germany's Gauck Authority -- named after the former dissident who first headed it -- is still slowly sifting through tonnes of scrupulously collated Stasi documentation which fell into Western hands after the fall of the Berlin Wall.

Intelligence experts say recruiting agents and gathering information in the East-West Cold war struggle would have been a central focus of Major Putin's work in the small KGB branch office of 10 to 15 staff in the southern Saxon city.

In one 1989 case, the Stasi complain that two plain-clothes Soviets sought to recruit a German Stasi informant working at Dresden's top hotel for foreign visitors. It is unclear if Putin was one of those agents. But he could well have been.

The files show Putin receiving a bronze National People's Army service medal in 1988, and a 1987 German-Soviet Friendship Society gold medal of honour.

But despite the intriguing insight into some of Putin's activities, for the most part he succeeded well in keeping his name out of the limelight.

As one former Stasi officer who worked with him in Dresden told Reuters: "In espionage, you want to know everything about the outside world without drawing attention to yourself."