Russia Vladimir Putin Troops File
Is this the most powerful man in the world?
02:00 - Source: CNN

Programming note: CNN’s Fareed Zakaria examines the rise, reign, and aims of Vladimir Putin: Watch CNN’s “The Most Powerful Man in the World” Monday, March 13, at 9p ET.

CNN  — 

You’ve heard the allegations. And, if the US spy community is right, it wouldn’t be a stretch to say that the world’s most powerful person is Vladimir Putin.

Did he alter the 2016 US presidential election through devious hacking? This month, the House Intelligence Committee will begin investigating if those allegations – which the Kremlin steadfastly denies – are true.

No one is suggesting that hackers manipulated votes or ballots: It’s a lot more complicated than that. The question is whether the Russian government hacked into the Democratic National Committee’s computer system during the 2016 election and accessed sensitive documents, releasing them through WikiLeaks to smear the Democratic Party and its candidate, Hillary Clinton.

In October, the US intelligence community concluded that Putin personally ordered the hacks as part of a campaign to influence the election, most likely “because (Putin) holds a grudge” against Clinton.

Putin has repeatedly denied it.

So what would motivate the leader or Russia to want to help elect Donald Trump to the US presidency? Experts say it was less about his support of Trump, but more about deep-rooted animosity toward Clinton.

Putin’s rise to power

Putin got a taste of power and manipulation on a rainy night in Dresden, East Germany, as the Iron Curtain began to collapse.

Stationed at the local Russian intelligence headquarters in Dresden, the 37-year-old junior KGB agent found himself in charge as an angry crowd closed in on December 5, 1989.

“The Berlin Wall had come down, power was pretty much up for grabs,” explained Edward Lucas, senior editor at The Economist, where he was the Moscow bureau chief from 1998 to 2002.

Putin phoned Moscow for help. The answer: you’re on your own.

“It felt like a deep betrayal,” explained Russian-American journalist and author Masha Gessen.

As the crowd grew and surrounded the building, Putin fired up the furnace and torched thousands of secret KGB files as a precaution.

Then, he went outside and bluffed: he warned the mob of people that armed guards inside the building were prepared to open fire into the crowd.

And it worked. The mob dispersed.

This incident, according to The New Yorker editor David Remnick, created a fear that would stay with Putin for the rest of his life: a fear of a popular uprising.

Since that moment, Putin has been on a path to quell that fear through absolute power, Gessen said.

“To lead is to control … that’s exactly the wording that Putin would use,” she said. “He has control of his country.”

‘He hated Hillary Clinton’

Putin quickly rose through the political ranks after his KGB career, becoming the Russian Federation’s second democratically elected President in 2000 after Boris Yeltsin.

That same year, George W. Bush won the US presidency and attempted to forge a close relationship with the newly elected Russian leader.

“I was able to get a sense of his soul, a man deeply committed to his country,” Bush said about Putin, after their 2001 visit.

A few years into Putin’s presidency, the Bush administration changed its tune, voicing concerns about his commitment to democratic values.

Yet it was Clinton’s harsh words for Putin when she was running for president in 2008 and again in 2011 amid worldwide pro-democracy protests that analysts say set the stage for Putin’s alleged interference in the most recent US election.