As Russian President Vladimir Putin proceeds to annihilate Ukraine, sparing no pregnant women or children in his path, there is one person who could potentially dissuade him from his murderous plan. Her name is Vera Dmitriyevna Gurevich, Putin’s primary teacher from fifth to eighth grade.
But Gurevich is much more than that. She was a mother figure to young Putin, whose own mother, Mariya Ivanovna, was withdrawn, having suffered multiple psychological traumas in life. His two sons before Putin died during their attrition-torn childhood in Leningrad (present-day St. Petersburg). Mariya herself nearly starved to death during the blockade of St. Petersburg. Having passed out from starvation, she was taken by the townspeople to the heaps of corpses where she was left until she woke up.
A photo of five-year-old Putin sitting on his mother’s lap with his stiff arm placed around him as she gazes vaguely into the distance says it all about the heavy mental toll that war and poverty have taken to the boy and his mother.
Lacking warmth and love from his parents, young Putin was instead mentored by his teacher. Gurevich is the main reason, along with Putin’s judo instructor and mentor, Anatoliy Rakhlin, that the Russian president found himself on the path to power rather than becoming a doomed or – at least – a lost soul. (Rakhlin, whom young Putin considered a second father, died in 2013.)
Growing up, Putin was a troubled youngster who got into fights easily. Gurevich remembers Putin being “very agile, restless, with boundless energy. He couldn’t sit still, constantly looking through his classmates’ notepads, left, right and behind, and reaching under his desk to pick up a pen or pencil that he dropped all the time,” she shared in her memoir about her famous student, “Vladimir Putin. Parents. Friends. Teachers.”
Young “Volodya” fought and “clinged to the offender, clung to him with all his weight and grabbed him, fighting like a bulldog,” Gurevich wrote.
Gurevich also describes a visit she made to Putin’s parents in September 1964 when he was 11 years old. They lived in a cold communal apartment in a building infested with vermin, and she had learned that Putin was entangled with a group of thugs who had a “bad influence on him”. Gurevich had come to ask his parents to have a talk with their son, but she soon realized that Putin was a key child, living alone until five o’clock in the evening, surviving on a piece of bread and a bottle of milk. or buttermilk, even though his mother had prepared his supper.
“Enough of the hassle, take care of the school,” Gurevich told her student, she says in her book. Putin replied that he “could do all his homework in an hour if he wanted”.
But that day was a turning point. As “Volodya” got serious about his studies, Gurevich showered him with attention. She was also his German teacher and became a friend and mentor outside of school. Meanwhile, Putin occasionally helped his teacher by babysitting his daughters when she had to teach evenings at a technical school for architects and her husband had to go on a business trip. Young Putin would come to the Gourevitch house and watch the girls and even spend the night. Now on the straight and narrow, the future president started getting good grades and went on to study law.
Both Putin’s parents died of cancer, within months of each other in 1999. That same year, former Russian President Boris Yeltsin announced in his New Year’s speech that he was then appointing Prime Minister Vladimir Putin as interim president of the Russian Federation until an out-of-cycle election could be held. Putin was first elected president on March 26, 2000, winning 52.94% of the vote.
During his annual “Direct Line to the President,” Putin shared that he always calls Gurevich, who is now 88, to inquire about his health. His love for her is unmistakable and evident in several photos and videos of Putin with Gurevich over the years. When he is with her, the face of the ruthless Russian dictator lights up and a warmth rarely seen envelops him.
Now Putin is determined to destroy, and even members of his inner political circle seem unable to dissuade him. Another male Kremlin operative is unlikely to have much influence, as the Russian leader may feel threatened or diminished by what could be perceived as an “order”. A woman, on the other hand, would be more successful. While The Post recently reported that friends of Putin’s Swiss-based lover Alina Kabaeva are begging her to go to Moscow to persuade him to end the war, Gurevich is much more likely than not. he idolizes and credits his rise to being able to convince his former student to end the violence.
With no leverage over Russia’s brutal president, Washington’s best chance of stopping Putin is to activate “side channels” – informal, covert, diplomatic communications between countries that, when hidden from the public, allow one or both sides to a confrontation to save face when backing down. But, for a backchannel to work, the mediator must have outsized influence over the person who must be led to believe that their course of action is not in the best interest of their country or the world.
If we have any hope of stopping Putin’s carnage in Ukraine, Vera Gurevich might be our best bet. If the United States, by thinking outside the box, can somehow get to her, maybe she could once again lead her former student off the wrong path.
Rebekah Koffler is a former Defense Intelligence Agency officer and currently a strategic intelligence analyst with the Lindsey Group. She is the author of “Putin’s Booklet: Russia’s Secret Plan to Defeat America”.
New York Post