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On the Air: Russian President Putin

November 16, 2001 at 12:00 AM EDT


TERENCE SMITH: President Putin spoke directly with the American people during a live, call-in session with National Public Radio host Robert Siegel. It was the first time a Russian president has taken questions directly from Americans. He was at times serious and at times light-hearted in his answers. Mr. Putin was asked if he thought President Bush was exaggerating when he described Osama bin Laden as the “evil one.”

PRESIDENT VLADIMIR PUTIN (Translated): Actually, I think President Bush is being very mild in his choice of words. I have other definitions and epithets to offer, but I, of course, am being restrained by the fact that I am talking to the media and this is hardly appropriate. The thing is that the people that you have just referred to, terrorists, especially terrorists who base themselves on man-hating fundamentalist ideas, these people, these terrorists, don’t really treat the rest of humanity as human beings. We are not even enemies as far as they’re concerned. We’re just dust.

TERENCE SMITH: President Putin was also asked about his experience as a KGB agent and its relevance to his position today.

PRESIDENT VLADIMIR PUTIN (Translated): It helps me. And I never, ever regretted working, taking up a job with the external intelligence department of the Soviet Union. I did my duty, I served my country, and I believe that I did a fairly decent job, at that. However, one must not forget, of course, that we lived in an entirely different world then– in a world that is no longer here. As far as I know, though, in the United States, there is a certain amount of experience where ex-intelligence employees became heads of state.

TERENCE SMITH: The president was also asked what influence Andrei Sakharov and other human rights activists have had on Soviet and Russian history.

PRESIDENT VLADIMIR PUTIN (Translated): At different periods, certain periods of time in the life of any nation, there will be people who turn the light, if you will, and they show a road for the nation to follow. And no doubt Andrei Sakharov was one of those people who turned on the light.

SPOKESMAN: A visionary for the Russians.

PRESIDENT VLADIMIR PUTIN (Translated): Yes, exactly, a visionary, and also someone who was able to not only see the future, but to express, to articulate his thoughts, and do that without any fear. And that is also very important.

TERENCE SMITH: In all, the Russian President answered 30 out of some 2,000 questions submitted by phone and e-mail during the hour-long broadcast.