It's clear that most people hope that he [Putin] will be different, and it's
very natural. First, he is 47, not 70. He's not ill. He's healthy. He's in
office on a daily basis. The other guy was not in the office. This person
worked for many years with foreign investors in St. Petersburg, dealt with
country things, the nitty-gritty of day-to-day work. ... It's clear that
people should hope, but they know perfectly--and they don't like to talk about
it--that Mr. Putin was created by Yeltsin. He's part and parcel of his group,
the product of the family. Most people understand that once Putin is strong,
he probably will try to get rid of most of this family. But it doesn't mean
that anybody today in Russia thinks that Putin is a great reformer, that Putin
is a great democrat, an ideologically motivated idealist, or anything.
Because clearly he's not. But compared to Yeltsin, he's a huge progress.
He is a former Russian Finance Minister (1993-1994).
...It's clear that nobody is fearing Putin to close down the country, to really
dismantle democracy and so on, despite some of the talk which is always in the
I read recently that you had analyzed his ideology based on his KGB
I think we should not be wearing any kind of pinkish glasses looking at Mr.
Putin, because if a person decides voluntarily to serve in KGB, he's of a
certain type of mind. He is part of the Soviet system, but he was not working
in KGB during the Stalin reprisals. He spent a lot of time in the GDR. So I
would say that given his background, he's clearly not an ideological reformer,
democrat or anything like that.
It's clear that he is much more in favor of strong state and law and order,
which is good, because that's what people really want today. It is clear that
he... has seen enough in the past 10 years, not to be willing to go with the
Soviet methods of ruling the country, economy and so on. But we should not
forget that if the person served in a certain type of body to expect too much
of him. It would be just stupid.
... You have to wait and see. He will be going generally in the market
economy direction and basically democracy. But to call him reformer at this
stage, that's too much.
Who is Vladimir Putin? Why was he chosen as Yeltsin's heir?
She is an independent journalist and the author of KGB: State Within a
Mr. Putin is a career KGB officer who spent 16 years of his life in the KGB.
... He graduated from then Leningrad State University from the law department,
that like many things didn't prepare laws--since law didn't exist at the time
of the Soviet Union--but prepared governmental bureaucrats. So he was well
prepared for this job.
...Putin joined the KGB at the end of his study and first he worked in
Leningrad in so-called intelligence from the territory. It's not a pure
intelligence in the Western meaning of this word, it's the sort of the work
where KGB guys were looking after foreign businessmen and tourists.
He probably was pretty good. Since he was able to get a promotion and to get
a year-long study in the famous intelligence academy now named after Andropov.
For someone with his background in the class sensitive Soviet Union, it was
extremely difficult to get this promotion because intelligence as a whole and
this institute in particular was a designated place for the elite of the
Communist society, for those sons of the Central Committee of the Communist
Party employees and generals of the KGB.
Probably one of the reasons he got this promotion ... he was very loyal to his
superiors through his entire life. And second, Putin was very capable to
suppress his individuality, whether he had and has one or not. In the Soviet
Union, the rule of the game was if one wanted to make a career one had to obey
the following saying: "Never stick your head out of the tram window."
...In 1995, he got an assignment in the second biggest KGB intelligence office,
in East Germany, in Dresden. ... He wasn't very successful despite of all the
stories that you often can read in the foreign press.. I mean Putin never been
a sort of James Bond. And got another set back. For the third time in his
life intelligence didn't invite him to join its ranks. And he got a position
as assistant to the Dean of the Leningrad University, the kind of position
that was usually assigned for the resigned KGB colonels. I mean it meant his
career in the KGB was over.
At the same time, Anatoly Sobchak, the very well-known politician of this new
wave of Russian politicians fromsort of democratic circles, he became a mayor
of St. Petersburg, then Leningrad. Legend goes that Sobchak asked Putin to
help him because Sobchak knew Putin since the time he was a professor at
Leningrad University and Putin was his student.
I don't buy this legend. What is known that back in 1989, 1990, KGB internal
regulations required its officers to penetrate new civic situations. And, in
fact, if you talk to those who worked in the mayor's Subchak office of the time
they will tell you that all of them were perfectly aware that Putin was
assigned to this new democratically-elected mayor to watch after him, to advise
However, those who worked with Putin at the time in St. Petersburg say that he
was very effective manager and he was the one who was capable, unlike many
others, to make a decision. ... Putin has a reputation of an honest
guy--something very rare for one who made a career inside the Russian
Obviously, I don't think that's a good idea to judge Putin just by his KGB
past. Because that's the way KGB used to judge us, Soviet citizens, just
because we are not party members or had wrong last name or belonged to wrong
nationality or religious confession. I do believe that people are capable to
change. And that 10 years in the democratic circles did make a certain impact
I have no doubt that his own experience both in East Germany--and he frequently
traveled to West Germany--as well as his experience in Leningrad made him a
believer in the market economy. If you talk to the intelligence officers who
were stationed abroad, the absolute majority of them say that market economy is
much more effective way of running the country than the type of economy and
regime that existed in the Soviet Union.
So, I'm not concerned about whether he's going to conduct the market reforms or
not. I'm more concerned about his approach towards democracy, human rights and
personal freedoms and liberties.
The mentality of the KGB officer is such that they were taught to be an extreme
statist. In Russian language it [is] derzhavnik--by saying derzhavnik, we mean
those who believe in the Russian greatness, in the Russian imperialistic
notion of being a great empire. That's the kind of mentality that was taught
and developed inside the KGB. And we clearly can see that Putin is that sort
of extreme statist. For him, as for many of those who worked in the KGB, the
state always goes first.
Everything else--democratic institutions, personal liberties, personal
freedoms, individuality, human rights--everything else is after this.
Therefore, I'm afraid that if, if this notion of creating strong Russian state
demands from Putin to crush democratic institutions he won't think twice before
To make the long story short, for Putin democracy in Russia is not an end. He
doesn't have personal stakes in that like, for instance, Yeltsin had. For him,
democratic institutions are the means. [If] sometimes effective means, then
he will use them. Sometimes not effective, then he will screw them up.
..I think that Putin is a pretty much pragmatic guy. He does understand that
Russian economy cannot survive without the help from the West. On the other
hand, he does know that Russia is lacking the capabilities to blackmail the
Western countries with its nukes. Therefore, Putin will try to do his best in
order to save this democratic face, in order to receive Western help.
He also understands that for ...those foreign businessmen who are afraid to
come to Russia now but who are looking to the Russian market, they do want to
have a stronger state in Russia. And it's true that the kind of state that
exists now in Russia is pure chaos. And therefore, we do need to strengthen
the State and those institutions who are responsible for law and order in the
My concern is that Putin may choose order without law. However, I do think
that he's smart enough and he does understand the Treasury will be unable to
sustain market reforms without help from the Western countries. Therefore, I
think that he will preserve some sort of a democratic face, at least for the
Russia is a very infantile society. We got accustomed to having a state that
was responsible for everything in our lives--medical care, schools, you know,
even the way we made kids. The State was responsible for everything; the State
got involved in everything.
Compared to the sick and incapable Yeltsin, Putin has this image of the guy who
is ready to give you his hand and lead you in the bright nice future. And all
you have to do is just to grab this hand and say, "guy, take me in this bright
future. I want to go there with you, whatever it takes. And if on your way to
this bright future, you need to create another Gulag, that's fine with me, as
long as, you lead me."
He has this image of this big father, who is ready to take care and that's
definitely had and still has a great impact on Russians.
Before Yeltsin resigned, you had written that no one wanted to go through
Yeltsin's next 'resurrection.' You were writing about all of Yeltsin's ups and
downs ... Is Putin that next resurrection?
The author of Yeltsin's Russia: Myths and Reality, she is senior
associate in the Carnegie Endowment's Russian and Eurasian Program, and a
former deputy director of the Moscow Institute of International Economic and
Political Studies of the Russian Academy of Sciences.
Putin can very well be the next reincarnation of Yeltsin. He can be the man
who saves the elected monarchy, having replaced Yeltsin, and the man who
prolongs its life. He can clear the stage of extra furniture, of favorites,
oligarchs, give a new hope to the masses -- a new faith in a new, strict, fair
czar -- and thus he can save the monarchy. Thus he can be a new czar, he may
be a stricter czar, but he can also be just like Yeltsin, a weak monarch who
pays for his power by giving it away and simply sitting, satisfied, in the
Kremlin. This may happen.
But Putin has one chance, a very small chance. He has a chance to personally
carry out a constitutional political reform. And to get rid of this elected
monarchy, to get rid of this type of power that generates all our problems:
favorites, corruption, oligarchs, and a czar ruling over us. Whether he will
do this or not, it is hard to tell. So far he is not interested in doing this.
So far he is saying that there is a presidential republic and that he wants to
strengthen it. Maybe soon he'll realize that it is impossible to strengthen
this republic, without reverting back to Yelstinism. Because there cannot be
effective leadership without responsibility. Our president is floating over,
dominating our society, without any responsibility for anything. And he can
survive only with the help of recurrent revolutions. Overthrowing cabinets,
changing favorites, and delegating power to the regions, to the oligarchs and
barons. This is how this government can function. And if Putin does not
understand this, everything will roll back.
Are there any signs that you have seen that he is a democrat?
I have no information that would confirm that he is a democrat. Yes, we have
information that proves that he is a market supporter. That he would prefer
that Russia had more fair, equal rules. And that the government did a better
job preserving the order. That the state were stronger. But whether he wants
to achieve all this through democracy, through checks and balances, through
giving the power back to the government, to the parliament -- I am not sure at
And most likely he himself is not sure what he wants. He is only writing his
first sentences on the board. He does not know who he is yet. He hasn't been
born yet. Thus he can go in many different directions and maybe we'll have to
pay for his mistakes. If he gets to believe that this country needs to be
ruled through a conveyor belt by ordering from the Kremlin when to turn the
lights on in the Far East. And maybe he'll soon realize that you can't do
this, that Russia needs a different approach. Russia needs to be steered out
of the dead end.
Even though no one knows much about him, he is extraordinarily popular, at
least at this moment. How do you explain his popularity?
It is very easy to explain this popularity. It is first of all explained by
one paradox. Being an heir and a successor to Yeltsin, Putin is received by
the society as an alternative to Yeltsin. The most interesting thing is that
Putin is viewed as a dynamic, strong, honest, civil, modest and adequate
leader, which is everything that Yeltsin wasn't.
He is a blank page and we are writing whatever we want on it. Those on the
left are writing what those on the left want, those on the right are writing
what they want. And he avoids answering. He is not answering any of the
questions. He wants to be liked by all, he wants to be a President of all
These are the two factors. He is an heir and he is an alternative to Yeltsin.
And he is a nobody right now. And everyone wants to make him his own.;
And how much does this war in Chechnya have to do with his
The war in Chechnya created Putin. It proved that there is someone on stage
who can be decisive. ... Now his main source is hope. Everybody hopes that
things won't get worse, that he will ensure that there is order, salaries are
paid--even though they are horrendously low salaries, that he will ensure
order. People don't expect anything else from him. They expected a lot from
Yeltsin: miracles, life just like in the United States. From Putin they don't
expect anything. People want order and stability for the future. They want
These hopes create a Catch-22 for Putin, because no one in Russia can meet all
the hopes and aspirations. Very soon he will have to deal with
disappointments. Regardless of how he performs. Maybe he will be the most
effective leader with respect to the economy, but he won't be able to realize
all the hopes. It is impossible to restore order in Russia tomorrow. And this
disappointment is going to be a very serious trial for him.
Why does Putin seem to appeal to so many people at this point in
He is a senior analyst for the Jamestown Foundation and writes from Moscow on
Russian domestic affairs. He was a writer with Voice of America and has worked
as a business columnist with The Moscow Times, and as Moscow
representative and program officer for Freedom House.
I think Putin's appeal is less a function of his personal qualities than the
situation which he inherited. It's partially a function of his personal
qualities, the main quality being that he is a career KGB officer, a member of
the state security apparatus. That's a plus in the current environment, and
the reason is because of the events of the fall of 1999. When the second
conflict in Chechnya started, [it] really changed the direction [of popular
opinion]. It was sort of a watershed in the direction of Russian public
consciousness, if you like. A lot of things which had been brewing around
became crystallized then. A desire for a firm hand, rallying around an
external enemy. And this was skillfully played up by the people who put Putin
in power. Therefore, he's become sort of the rallying point for this new, more
nationalistic, and I would say more authoritarian, direction of society.
But that seems to be, at least at this point, being welcomed by a majority,
or close to a majority.
I think it's welcomed by a majority. Unfortunately, again, much of it is
because what the average Russian person saw in terms of "democracy." What
they were told was Western style or American style democracy and the market
system, didn't do anything for them. Therefore, there's an obvious rejection
of that on the part of a lot of Russians.
Secondly, the events of last fall, which led up to the second Chechen war, I
think galvanized a lot of the public--those were the apartment building
bombings--and that served as a sort of watershed to crystallize this more
nationalistic, somewhat more anti-Western and more authoritarian direction.
Who are the people who put Putin in power?
One has the sense, and one gets the sense of this from Russian reporting and
the media, that he was the choice of at least parts of the political and
business elite, the oligarchs, members of the Kremlin inner circle, the inner
circle of his predecessor, Boris Yeltsin, which became known last year as The
Family. That these guys finally sort of landed on him as the guy who could be
the person to guarantee what one of them . . . refers to as "the
continuity of power." They were looking for a figure who could guarantee
[continuity of power]. I don't think all of them necessarily agreed on [Putin]
as the figure. There was a lot of fighting over that, but he became the
Once again, they are looking to preserve the status quo.
I think that's absolutely the case. There's a lot of arguments that Putin
[will not preserve the status quo] because of a lot of things he's declared in
the run-up to the election on March 26th--that he may change the rules of the
game, he's going to make it one set of rules for everybody, the oligarchs are
not going to have any special favors anymore--but I've heard this tune a
million times, and it doesn't strike me as particularly realistic.
Individual oligarchs may get thrown by the wayside for sort of a popular
gesture, for reasons of internal political maneuvering, but my sense is that
the system will not fundamentally change, and that Putin represents an attempt
to preserve the status quo....
I have no information about this whatsoever, per se, but it strikes me as
almost an obviously logical necessity, that when they were looking for someone
to serve as Boris Yeltsin's successor, they had to find someone who somehow had
a weakness, or was somehow dependent upon them. So my question is what do they
have on him? Because I simply cannot believe that the very, very, very smart
power brokers who have been climbing to power over the last 10 years, would
have [put] Russia's very powerful chief executive position in the hands of
someone that they didn't have something on. Because for them, power's too
important to hand it over to just anybody .
Why is Putin so appealing to the Russian public? Because he acts and makes
statements that reflect the feelings of the people who are weary of reform.
It's not because the people are so bad. The nation has lost its political
idealism over these years. Hardships have been many, while successes have been
so few... If we had had more victories, if people felt that their lives had
become better, they would think differently. Their ideas would be different.
He was Boris Yeltsin's press secretary from 1991-1993 and was a journalist
with Komsomolskaya Pravda.
Look at how Putin is building his strategy. He is two-faced: on the one hand,
he supports reform and innovations; on the other hand, he pleases those who
want to see in him something from the past - he shows them something from the
old life. He appeals to nostalgia for the past. He is from the KGB, which means
he supports a strong state. He is against corruption. ...
Many people are arguing that President Putin's extraordinary rise is due almost
entirely to his prosecution of this latest war in Chechnya.
He is U.S. Deputy Secretary of State and has specialized in Russia affairs in
both his government and journalism careers.
I don't think there is any question whatsoever that President Putin rode the
issue of the war in Chechnya from a position of relative obscurity to a
position of ultimate executive power in Russia. I can remember very vividly
when President Yeltsin made Mr. Putin, who was then head of the National
Security Council, the Prime Minister. There was a lot of skepticism, among
experts on Russia, among Russians, in the United States government, very much
in my own head, about whether Prime Minister Putin would indeed be able to make
it through the electoral process, to succeed President Yeltsin.
But he did. And the issue, over all others, that allowed him to demonstrate
that he was tough, and was going to crack down on terrorists and criminal
elements, was the Chechnyan war. And he has therefore a particular
responsibility to face up to the ugly and brutal facts about the way in which
that war has been conducted, and to lift this cloud over Russia's standing in
the eyes of the world that Chechnya has created.
I agree with you that Putin's ascendancy and now election to the President, was
"constitutional." But there are lots of Russian commentators who have written
that it was not exactly democratic. Snap elections were called, the Kremlin
and/or oligarchy-controlled media ran an all-out campaign, the war in
Chechyna,which we've already talked about. Yes, Russians went to the poll and
put their ballots in boxes, but during Soviet times Russians went to polls and
put ballots in boxes for whom they were supposed to vote for.
... As for the process that resulted in President Putin's now being
inaugurated there were rules, there was a constitution, there was a nationwide
election with 75% turnout, that international observers judged to be basically
free and fair. Was it perfect? No. Was it flawless? No. But was it
democratic? Yes. And I think that's the standard that we should use.
But we can't keep that standard in a vacuum. We've got to look at it in the
context of what's gone before, what will come next, and what's happening in
society as a whole, including the issue of whether civil society is
strengthening, whether the free press is getting freer and stronger, or not.
And President Putin needs to understand that the international community's
ability to help him succeed in making Russia a strong country, is going to
depend in large measure on how he defines strength. Will he define strength in
the terms of the 20th century and the 19th century and the 18th century, which
is strength equals force? Or will he define strength in 21st century terms, in
which strength means your ability to plug into the global economy, and be a
full and vigorous participant in the international community.
And you've talked about the phrase that he's used--"the dictatorship of the
law"--and that one should pause, I think you said, in parsing that phrase.
Yes, I'd like to be a little surer than I am where the accent is--on the word
'dictatorship' or on the word 'law.' I think the term of art that's more
common in the West, in the United States, is rule of law ... But maybe ...his
vocabulary is evolving along with other things in Russia.
who is putin? ·
yeltsin legacy ·
whither russia? ·
u.s. policy ·
facts & stats ·
video excerpt ·
readings & links ·
tapes & transcripts
web site copyright 1995-2013 WGBH educational foundation
top photo copyright © roger ressmeyer/corbis