When [Vladimir] Putin, a former lieutenant-colonel in the KGB, became Russia's president on December 31, 1999 - eight years after the failed coup attempt against (then Soviet leader Mikhail) Gorbachev, and eight years after the people had torn down the statue of Felix Dzerzhinsky, the hated founder of the KGB, in Moscow - it was admittedly a shock. Nevertheless, I decided to give Putin a chance. He seemed dynamic and capable of learning. But I had to bury my hopes after just a few months. He proved to be an autocrat - and, because the West let him do as he pleased, he became a dictator.