Today, Vladimir Putin is known as the iron-fisted president of Russia. But most Americans know little about his past. His corrupt actions have separated the ultra wealthy from the average population and widened the socio-economic divide.

After the fall of the Soviet Union, Russia’s economy was disorganized and in need of funding. Boris Yeltsin, the first president of Russia, leased portions of the nationalized energy, oil, steel and media companies to raise capital.

Onexim, a Russian bank, gained control of the companies in exchange for funding the Russian government. When the government’s loan was paid, the companies would be returned.  If the government failed to repay the money it owed, the bank would remain in control of the companies. When Onexim took over control, they began to auction the companies off illegally, transferring them into the hands of an elite few Russian oligarchs.

Today, 110 of these oligarchs are in control of approximately one third of Russia’s GDP. Although Yeltsin was aware of the Bank’s corrupt actions, he sided with the oligarchs, who agreed to fund his reelection campaign in 1996. In return, he dramatically lowered their taxes.

In 1999, Yeltsin fell ill, and the oligarchs began searching for a replacement, looking for someone whom they could control. They turned to Vladimir Putin.

Putin previously served for fifteen years as a mid-ranked official in the Komitet Gosudarstvennoi Bezopasnosti, known as the KGB, the largest and most secretive spy organization in the world. He was deployed in Dresden, Germany to gain intelligence on Western technology, where he began to rise through the ranks.

After the fall of the USSR in 1991, Putin returned to Leningrad, modern day St. Petersburg, and became deputy mayor. This brought him to the attention of President Yeltsin, who appointed him Deputy Head of the Presidential Administration as well as Head of the GKU, which oversaw the implementation of federal laws and executive orders.

In 1999, Putin was elected Prime Minister of Russia and used his tools and prior political connections to manipulate the Parliament. Eventually, in 2008, Vladimir Putin became president, with the help of his oligarch friends who owned the media. His campaign was effortless, beating the next nominee by 46.4%. His connections also gave him great opportunity to amass a secret fortune, which some believe has made him the wealthiest man in the world, with an estimated net worth between $70-$100 billion dollars. But how did he create this empire?

Russia provides Europe with around a quarter of its natural gas. After the fall of the Soviet Union, those with stakes in formerly state-owned gas corporations were gaining enormous profits. Through oligarchs and business partners, Putin had great influence on three of the largest energy companies in Russia. President Putin controls 37% of Circuit Neftegas, an oil extraction and refining company, 75% of Gunvor, a Swiss oil trading company, and 4.5% of Gazprom, a state owned energy plant. Despite his vast fortune, his bank accounts are in line with the 101,000 dollars that the State of Russia pays him each year, leading many to believe that his funds are kept offshore or held in secret government accounts.

With his money, Putin has bought jets, helicopters, and yachts, among other things. He even built “Putin’s Palace,” an estate near Sochi that is estimated to be worth approximately one billion dollars. Secluded from the widespread poverty of Russia, President Putin lives in utter luxury and extravagance, the result of his corrupt methods. As Mr. Putin himself once said, “Corruption is our mentality,” and as of now, he seems to be sticking to his word.