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Vladimir Putin claims collapse of Soviet Union forced him to work as a taxi driver

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Moscow — Russian President Vladimir Putin has claimed the collapse of the Soviet Union in the early 1990s left him struggling so badly financially that he was forced to work as a taxi driver to earn extra cash.

"Sometimes I had to make extra money as a driver. It's not pleasant to talk about it, but unfortunately, that was the case," Putin said in a short video clip aired by state broadcaster Russia 24 as a teaser for an upcoming movie titled: "Russia. Recent History."

"After all, what is the collapse of the Soviet Union? This is the collapse of historical Russia under the name of the Soviet Union," Putin said.

Putin has repeatedly lamented the collapse of the USSR, once describing it as "the greatest geopolitical catastrophe of the 20th century."

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Russian President Vladimir Putin speaks during the Valdai Discussion Club's plenary meeting, October 21, 2021, in Sochi, Russia. Mikhail Svetlov/Getty

The economic situation that unfolded when 15 republics broke up into independent states forced many Russians to seek additional income. People from all walks of life — even those previously employed in prestigious roles in science or medicine — were often forced to make a living as street vendors or drivers.

The economic shock became an integral part of recent Russian history. At the time, official, licensed taxis were a rarity in Russia and many people who were able to get their hands on a vehicle would give rides to strangers to supplement their income. These unofficial taxi drivers were nicknamed "bombila."

Putin had previously said that he considered working as a driver to make ends meet at the time, but he never said that he had actually resorted to taking fares.

Putin was stationed in East Germany, as a KGB agent, when the Soviet Union fell. According to his biography, shortly after he returned to Russia, in 1990, he began working for the ex-mayor of St. Petersburg, Anatoly Sobchak, climbing the ladder quickly within his team.

When Sobchak lost a gubernatorial race in 1996, the future president of Russia worried that he may have to find another job if his post of chief of staff for Sobchak ceased to exist.

"I even thought, 'what I'm going to do, maybe work in a taxi?' I'm not kidding, there was not much else to do. I had two small children," the president said in a 2018 documentary. "Therefore, when I was offered to move to Moscow and take up legal affairs in the presidential administration, I took the offer and moved." 

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