In a recent interview with BuzzFeed, President Obama mistakenly gave Vladimir Putin a promotion in the Russian president's previous career in the KGB, saying that Putin "ran the KGB."
BuzzFeed News: Moving on to Russia. You started this presidency with a very productive relationship with President Medvedev and the relations are now probably at their worst since the Cold War. How much of that do you ascribe to Vladimir Putin’s character?
Obama: You know, I don’t want to psychoanalyze Mr. Putin. I will say that he has a foot very much in the Soviet past. That’s how he came of age. He ran the KGB. Those were his formative experiences. So I think he looks at problems through this Cold War lens, and, as a consequence, I think he’s missed some opportunities for Russia to diversify its economy, to strengthen its relationship with its neighbors, to represent something different than the old Soviet-style aggression.
But Putin did not run the KGB. An article in the Washington Post in January 2000 described Putin as a "mid-level agent" in the intelligence service:
Until he was handpicked in August by then-President Boris Yeltsin to become prime minister, Putin had never been a public figure. He spent 17 years as a mid-level agent in the Soviet KGB's foreign intelligence wing, rising only to the rank of lieutenant colonel.
The entire BuzzFeed interview is here.