Some weeks ago (AI Search brings up several) we discussed President Putin and some of the problems with forgetting he was big news in the KGB. Apparently we were not the only ones wondering…… Wouldn’t it be just fine if President Bush was accurate when he “looked into his eyes and got a sense of his soul…” and “liked what he saw”.
One thing is for sure; everyone is a product of their environment and training, including myself, you, President Putin and Arnold the new Governor of Kalifornia.
I hope we all have changed for the better along the way. Especially President Putin. His answers to hard questions below seem to ring with a certain amount of candor and logic that President Bush may have noticed.
Subject: NYTimes.com Article: Putin’s Democratic Present Putin Fights His K.G.B. Past
Date: Wednesday, October 08, 2003 21:38
Putin’s Democratic Present Fights His K.G.B. Past
October 9, 2003
By STEVEN LEE MYERS
MOSCOW, Oct. 8 – There is a question that irritates
President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia, and it is the one about his past as a foreign intelligence operative of the K.G.B.
“They cannot forget about that agency,” he replied,
seemingly to his aides, when asked a version of it in an expansive interview at his wooded presidential estate outside of Moscow. He chuckled, but not warmly.
Does the president of a newly democratic Russia – or, as some say, an increasingly autocratic one – regret any part of the K.G.B.’s history?
“No, of course not,” he said brusquely and, surprisingly, personally. “There was absolutely nothing that I could be ashamed of.”
The question, and his answer, lie at the heart of today’s Russia, because fairly or not, much of what is happening here is viewed through the prism of Mr. Putin’s first career: the war in Chechnya, government control of news organizations and elections, the growing role of former security officers like himself in all ranks of government.
But there is another side to Mr. Putin, too, the one
molded by his second, post-Soviet career as an apparatchik in a democratic, reformist government of St. Petersburg, the city built as Russia’s “window to Europe” and the birthplace of the revolution that slammed the window shut after 1917.
“We remember, and we are obliged to remember, everything negative, everything horrible that we encountered in the 20th century,” Mr. Putin said. “We should draw conclusions from this. We have paid a very great price for this. Millions of people died in the camps. The totalitarian regime brought the country to a national catastrophe and to
the collapse of the Soviet Union. And we are fully aware of this, and the people of Russia have drawn conclusions for themselves.”
And so, he ended, “We firmly stand on the path of
development of democracy and of a market economy.”
After meeting him for the first time in 2001, President Bush famously said he had looked into Mr. Putin’s eyes, got “a sense of his soul” and liked what he saw. To most Russians, Mr. Putin’s “soul” remains a far more complicated, conflicted question.
A wealthy businessman who is close to him – and spoke anonymously to remain that way – said there were in fact two Putins, a security agent and a democrat, struggling for equipoise. Or as Viktor Erofeyev, a writer who was and still is something of a dissident, put it: Mr. Putin has “a dark angel” on one shoulder and “a light angel” on the other.
In the four years since Russia’s first president, Boris N. Yeltsin, plucked him from political obscurity and anointed him the second, Mr. Putin has steered Russia onto a stable, democratic and Western-looking path that he said was irreversible, if still incomplete.
At the same time, he has overseen what his critics call a steady erosion of democratic rights.
His press ministry closed the last independent national television network in June and gave its frequency to a government-owned sports channel. His government pushed through new election rules this summer that, taken literally, prohibit media coverage of candidates and anything they say or do.
Russia, 12 years after the collapse of the Soviet state, still has an opaque judicial system. It still has closed cities, where foreigners and even most Russians cannot go. Its security services again wield significant power.
The businessman said Mr. Putin’s conflicting instincts – between freedom and state – mirror the struggle within his government and country. This struggle will dominate his second term, his re-election next March being considered a given. While the outcome could determine the country’s
course, he said Mr. Putin himself might never resolve it.
“I believe that the struggle within Putin will go on until the end of his life,” he said.
In person, Mr. Putin comes across as exceedingly
disciplined and concentrated. His office at the compound in Novo-Ogaryovo, a stylish suburb of Moscow, reflects a focus on power, not its trappings. It is ornate, but sparsely decorated.
The president, who turned 51 on Tuesday, listens intently and builds lengthy, meticulously constructed answers. He has a strong command of detail and a sense of humor, albeit a sardonic one.
The interview, which took place Saturday, was conducted in Russian and English, through a translator, with Mr. Putin occasionally interjecting in English.
At several points, he sought to draw moral equivalencies between Russia and the United States in the same way Soviet leaders once did – and as before, some were simply strained.
He avoided a direct question about the growing influence of the security officials – known as siloviki – by saying he had simply restructured law enforcement agencies the way the Bush administration created the Department of Homeland
Security. “To talk about a return to the Soviet times in connection with would be like talking about the times of McCarthy, referring to the ministry of homeland security in the United States,” he said. “This is rubbish that has nothing to do with reality.”
Of his own service in East Germany in the last years of a dying Soviet empire, he expressed pride. He derided “various clichés and labels” – presumably meaning those applied to him – as “very ineffective” and “even primitive.”
“You know, we haven’t fallen from the moon,” he said at another point of those who, like him, served in the security services. “We were born in this country. We live here. We are products of the time in which we lived. That is a fact.”
The Communist Party of the Soviet Union – and the secret services that kept it in power – represented the state itself, intertwining “more than 20 million people,” including himself, into its bureaucracy but not necessarily into its historic culpability, he argued.
“And what now – must all of these 20 million people cover their heads in ash and whip themselves?” he said.
Referring to Mr. Yeltsin, he said: “The former president, the first president of Russia, was a member of the Politburo of the Central Committee. Meanwhile, he probably is the person who has done the most important thing in the contemporary history of the country. He gave it freedom.”
That is the essence of Mr. Putin. He, like Russia, he has sought to reconcile the past and the future. He portrays himself as part of a new generation, one shaped by the past, but looking forward.
Addressing the issue more directly perhaps than he ever has, Mr. Putin described what he called the “very harsh, black periods” of Soviet history – the Stalin-era purges. He acknowledged that the “state security apparatus served as the main tool of these repressions.” At the same time,
however, he insisted the security services that became the K.G.B. he worked for were only a tool wielded by the controlling hands of the real power, the Communist Party.
“This was in the 1930’s – in the last century – but
continued practically until the death of Stalin in 1953,” he said. “I will draw your attention to the fact that I was born in 1952.”
Mr. Putin noted that he had studied law at St. Petersburg University, an institution known, he said, for “its democratic traditions.” He also studied a foreign language, German, and is learning English now. Perhaps because of that, perhaps because his roots lie in “a window to Europe,” he spoke of a vision of Russia closely intertwined
with Europe, economically, socially and politically.
He does not ascribe to theories of Russia’s unique Eurasian character – nor of a Russian claim of exclusivity when it comes to establishing democratic freedoms.
“By their mentality and culture, the people of Russia are Europeans,” he said.
Mr. Putin curtly dismissed the notion that his – and
Russia’s – commitment to democracy was still somehow wavering, even as he frankly acknowledged shortcomings in elections and press freedoms.
“Of course many things are still in a stage of evolution,” he said.
When he first came to power, he said he hoped to create a “dictatorship of law,” a phrase that received more attention for the first word rather than the last. In the interview, he said the most important lesson from his education was “respect for the law.”
Whether Mr. Putin adheres to that lesson, and whether the rest of Russia embraces it, remains to be seen. Russia is a place where corruption is rife and where few share a sense of civic responsibility.
Mr. Putin clearly desires order, and to him that means a strong central government. Asked about reports that ExxonMobil was negotiating to buy a large share of the newly merged YukosSibneft, Russia’s largest oil company, Mr. Putin said Russia welcomed foreign investment. Then he added that the government ought to have a say in so
significant a deal.
“I think it would be the right thing to do to have
preliminary consultations with the Russian government on this matter,” he said.
On Tuesday, an official in Mr. Putin’s government amended his remarks, the Interfax news agency reported, saying there was in fact no legal obligation requiring any foreign investor to consult the government.