THE FAMILY MAN: INTERVIEW WITH LYUDMILA PUTINA
THE FAMILY MAN: INTERVIEW WITH LYUDMILA PUTINA
Interviews with Putin, Lyudmila, and their two daughters, Masha and Katya, take us inside the Putin home. Of course, things have changed since Papa's rise to power, but the family tries to remain clearheaded about their newly found fame. They share their shopping habits, TV preferences, and talk frankly about their father's temper and the pressures of being the First Family.
You've lived with your husband for 20 years. You must know everything about him.
No, you can never know everything about a person. Something remains secret in every person.
He's not very talk active?
I wouldn't call Volodya the silent type. He's very eager to talk about topics that interest him, with people who interest him. But he is not inclined to discuss with people, especially the people he works with. I'm just the opposite. If I know someone or I see someone on television, I tend to express my opinion. And he doesn't like to do that. Well, express yourself about somebody.
What about Chubais, for instance. Do you know him?
A little bit. Women usually like him. And it seems to me that he doesn't take women seriously. He treats them with a certain contempt. I'm not a feminist, but I want women to occupy the place they deserve in this world.
Do you influence your husband?
He's always saying that Russian women are underestimated. That's hardly my influence. Our views just coincide.
Does he ever look at women?
I think that beautiful women attract his attention.
Do you take that calmly?
Well, what sort of man would he be, if he weren't attracted by beautiful women? A lot of husbands bring their work frustrations home with them at the end of the day.
Volodya has never taken his problems out on me. Never! He has always solved them himself. Also, he won't discuss a problem until he has found a solution himself. Later he might say something. But I always sense when he has some problems or when he's simply in a bad mood. That's something he's not able to hide. In general he's a composed person, but at certain moments it's better not to bother him.
Or else there will be a fight?
It depends on what you mean. If you mean breaking dishes and flinging saucepans, no. He doesn't even raise his voice. But he can answer rather sharply.
Can he get drunk?
There hasn't been any of that. He is indifferent to alcohol, really. In Germany, he loved to drink beer. But usually he'll drink a little vodka or some cognac.
You've never been well-off, have you? Was there ever a period in your life when you didn't have to count your money before payday?
No, there's never been a time when we didn't have to count our money. I don't know. Probably you'd have to own a large business in order to not count your money.
Are you the one who runs the family finances?
Lyuda is still basically running the finances. I didn't use to pay attention to our family finances, and I won't start now. I'm not very good at saving money. And what should I save it for? I believe that you need to have a comfortable living space, eat normally, dress decently, provide your children with a good education, and go away somewhere on vacation every once in a while. That's all you need money for. What else would you need it for?
If I had a pile of money, I would travel. I would take a journey. I haven't been to many exotic countries. I've only been to America twice to New York, in the sweltering heat, and also to Los Angeles. You don't see much when you're traveling on business the airport, the hotel, the conference room, the airport. That's it.
I'd like to go on safari in Africa. To Kenya. I wanted to take my children there, but they were afraid of all the necessary shots. I'd like to travel to India. I've never been to any Arab countries. I'd like to see Egypt and Saudi Arabia. I've never been to Latin America at all. That would be interesting, too. They say that it looks like the Soviet Union in the 1950s.
Do you do the cooking at home?
I used to cook breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Now we have a cook.
Have you ever noticed that when somebody takes up a serious post in our country, they begin to gain weight?
Volodya works out every morning for 20 to 30 minutes. And he swims in the morning and the evening.
I usually don't have lunch. I don't have time. In the morning, I try to eat fruits and drink some kefir when I can. And when I don't manage to, I'd prefer not to eat anything at all. I eat in the evening. I'm not on a diet, but I also don't want to gain weight. Lyudmila has lost 15 kilograms, and I didn't even expect it. My girls are very slender as well.
At the prime minister's dacha, where we are now living, there's a little pool about 12 meters long. I try to swim every day. And experience has shown it is better not to give up my workouts. If I give them up, I immediately have to buy clothes several sizes larger. I had a period, as I was saying, when I went from a size 44-46 to a 52. Then I took myself in hand. So at home I try to work out at least half an hour a day.
I have to tell you, it has reached the point of insanity. I told everyone that I used to do martial arts, and now people call me and say, "We have a tournament scheduled. When should it be held?" "What?" I ask. And they repeat, "We have a tournament scheduled, but when do you think we should have it?" And I say, "Have it whenever you like." And they ask, "When is it convenient for you? You'll be coming, won't you?'' Well, I can't contain myself and I tell them to go to hell: "If I can come, I will, and if I can't, I won't. Don't be ridiculous!"
You went skiing together near Sochi, in Krasnaya Polyana. Did you get addicted to skiing in Germany?
No, before. The children ski better than we do. But they had guests that day and didn't go with us.
I've been skiing for a long time. I used to go to Cheget, and to Slavsk, in Ukraine. I've been abroad a few times. Lyudmila skis as well. Last time we went she was pretty good. People were amazed to see us in Sochi in February. But their reaction was very kind and human. Maybe because we didn't have 150 bureaucrats with us who didn't know how to ski but were waiting to hold the ski poles.
We went down the first time, and then I went over to the lift and took my goggles off. A line had formed, and suddenly I heard shouts of "It can't be!" People began letting us through to the head of the line. Nobody bothered us, really. Some wanted to take photographs. A group of people gathered around us, and we were photographed all together. I did refuse to give autographs, because I was there to ski and I would have gotten stuck signing autographs the whole time. It was funny. Somebody said, "How an it be that you're here among us, skiing?!" I laughed. "But who should I ski among? The Africans? They don't know how to ski, they don't have any snow."
Do you wait for your husband to get home in the evening?
Yes. And I get up with him in the morning. You know, before he became prime minister, it was easy to get up in the morning, even though we went to bed at midnight or 1 a.m. We were less tired. Now, it's a huge load. It seems just inhuman to me. I was horrified when I saw his meeting with Madeleine Albright on TV. He had slept about four hours the night before, and he had a three-hour meeting with Albright and it wasn't just a social visit.
Aren't you amazed at the way he manages all of this?
I am amazed. Of course, Volodya always had a good memory. I remember when he was still working in Peter. We were invited to a reception at the French consulate. This was at the very start of his career. Volodya was late, and all of us about seven people were waiting for him. When he arrived, people threw questions at him, and for two hours he practically gave a press conference, even though we had just been invited for a visit.
What did he talk about?
Oh, everything. It was the first time I saw him in action. I sat there openmouthed. He talked about politics, the economy, history, and the law. I listened, and I kept thinking, "How does he know all this?" But you know, I always somehow believed in him. He had to start from zero so many times, and it always worked out. And in Moscow it all came together. You know, he had a hard time after he left the post of vice mayor. He couldn't find work. That period was really difficult for him. He was silent. He didn't say anything, but I understood. I still believe in him, although I'm a little afraid for him.
Your husband's status has changed dramatically, and that must affect your life. Strange as it seems, you must suffer from more limitations. Your friends can't just up and visit you. Your girls are growing up, isolated from friends . . .
And they are kept home from school, too, because the security measures have increased. Masha is in ninth grade, and Katya is in eighth grade. The teachers come to our home. But girlfriends come over as well. They still go to the movies, to the theater.... Of course, they're less free than they were before. But our girls have turned out to beknock wood somehow very smart about life. I hope all these changes don't affect them.
Masha: To be honest, I'd like to go to school. Of course, they ask all sorts of questions about Papa there. Polite people don't ask, but rude ones do. The ones who are really curious. When Papa became prime minister, people began to treat us with a lot more respect, it was really noticeable. But you know, some of them would flatter us or try to get in good with us. And that really bothers me. Some of them would be telling others on the street, "I know that Putin girl." But on the whole, the friends I had last year are still my friends.
We're not really concerned about politics. We ask Papa to watch cartoons and sometimes he joins us. Our favorite movie right now is The Matrix, but Papa hasn't seen it. We invited him to see it with us. He said he didn't have time now, but he would definitely see it later. First we went to the movie theater on Krasnaya Presny Street and watched the film with Russian subtitles. Then we bought the cassette in English. We have three languages in school German, English, and French.
They give us a lot of homework. Even if we don't go to school, we still have a lot of homework. . . .
We have guards when we go to the movies. There's a guy who sits there watching the movie, but I think he's guarding us at the same time. Usually, we don't even notice the bodyguards. Even when we go somewhere with our friends, they stay nearby, but they try not to get in the way. We've called them over to drink coffee with us a thousand times, but they don't want to.
Sometimes people ask us, "Do you know what your Papa intends to do?" We never ask him. Why would we? He's already getting asked a bunch of questions. We spend more time telling him about ourselves. I think it's more interesting to him.
It seems like the two of them get along. Wasn't it hard to have them one after the other like that?
Volodya wanted it that way. He really loves the girls a lot. Not all men treat their girls as lovingly as he does. And he spoils them. I'm the one who has to discipline them.
He didn't want a boy?
He always said, "Whatever God gives us is good." He never said he wanted a boy.
Now, that white, fluffy thing over by the door is that a girl or a boy?
She's a girl, too. Her name is Toska. She's a toy poodle. She hasn't had her hair cut in a long time. Volodya was sort of amazed by her at first, she's so little but now he loves her.
Do Masha and Katya talk about the future? What would they like to be when they grow up?
Masha pronounces the English word management very seriously; and Katya says that she'd like to be a furniture designer.
The girls probably never see their father.
They see him more often on television than at home. But he always goes in to see them, no matter what time he gets home. We have a rule with Masha and Katya that they must be in bed by 11 p.m. If they go to bed later, then they can't have anyone over on Saturdays. It's probably too strict, but otherwise they'll stay up until 3 a.m. I'm all for self-discipline: You can stay up until 3, but you know what the consequences are.
And they can probably wrap Papa around their little fingers?
Nobody can wrap Papa around their little finger.
What's that book in German? Do you read German?
Yes, our daughters' teacher gave us this. She's German. It's a very interesting present, very touching. I haven't read it yet.
You know what the book is called? My wife translated it as "Talented Women in the Shadow of Their Great Husbands." But that's not completely accurate. The literal translation is "Gifted Women in the Shadow of Their Famous Husbands." I think that sounds much less complimentary to the husbands. The women are gifted, and the men are just famous.
Women who are in the shadow of their politician husbands probably have a complicated life. Women want attention. They like to be coddled . . .
I don't need to be coddled. I'm more like the women in those old Russian tales "She stops a horse in mid-gallop, and runs into a burning hut." These are women who don't need coddling.
But everybody's interested in the wives of famous politicians. Have you never gotten mad at the press?
"Mad?"that isn't quite the right expression. You get mad at people who are close to you, who matter to you. Of course, there have been some unpleasant episodes. It's unpleasant, for example, when a journalist bothers your mama and your sister for interviews without any warning, taking advantage of their naA vetA . It's unpleasant when they dig into your background. It's unpleasant when they lie.
What is your husband's attitude toward the press? Does he watch TV?
The news and sometimes a movie.
Does he react at all?
Either he laughs or he gets upset, or he worries. I would say he reacts quite emotionally. On Saturday or Sunday, if we're home, he watches the analytical programs.
I read all the newspapers. The actual newspapers, not digests. It doesn't matter what order I read them in. I just start with whatever's on top. I read Izvestia,
Komsomolskaya Pravda, Sovetskaya Rossiya, Kommersant. I watch the news if there's time.
I've watched Kukly,*but only a couple of times; it doesn't annoy me, but my friends take offense. Friends no doubt have the right to do that.
*Kukly is a satirical puppet show.
Do you have friends?
I have three girlfriends.
And your husband?
It always seemed to me that half of St. Petersburg was friends with Volodya. We always had a full house. Especially on weekends, but even during the week.
Somebody was always coming over usually at Volodya's invitation. He loves socializing with people. I think that if he didn't, he wouldn't have been able to handle the stress. His friends from Peter come to visit us here and stay overnight.
The lack of contact with friends has really weighed on me, because I have some very good friends. In fact, our friends are our lives, they are us, they are a part of ourselves. I felt this keenly when I went to work abroad. The first few years, I missed my friends terribly. Without them, it was all empty and lonely. Although I had a heavy workload at my job, and a family and a home, I realized that our identity is in our friends. After our third year in Germany, we began to adapt and develop new ties. And suddenly I realized that I wasn't looking forward to going home on holiday. Really! It startled me.
I have a lot of friends, but only a few people are really close to me. They have never gone away. They have never betrayed me, and I haven't betrayed them, either. In my view, that is what counts most. I don't even know why you would betray your friends.
For your career?
Career alone doesn't mean much to me. Of course, a career offers you the opportunity to make something of yourself, to do something interesting. But how can you make something of yourself if you are betraying yourself? It's all very simple. If you look at a career as a means to achieve power, control people, or make money, and if you are prepared to lose everything doing that well, that's another matter. But if you have priorities in life bench marks and values then you realize that there's no point in sacrificing yourself and those who are a part of your life. There just isn't any point. You lose more than you gain. That's the way it is.
You probably have to go to receptions, be visible, and observe etiquette. Is your husband's social life a burden?
Not if there's somebody to chat with. And it's fun to dress up. Women like to dress nicely. On the other hand, politics itself has never interested me. It's boring.
Would you rather wear a skirt or pants?
Now I prefer skirts, but before it was pants. For everyday life I love knitsa skirt and sweater. But for official meetings now I have to wear suits. In the old days, the wives of the leaders used to buy clothes in a closed section of GUM.*
*GUM is a Moscow department store.
Now where do you go shopping?
In the same stores as everybody else. I recently went to Escada and bought the pants and the sweater I'm wearing right now. I spent a week driving around town looking for some boots for myself. I never found them. I couldn't find the right size.
Do you buy your husband's clothes?
There was a time when I shopped for him. And I still do, now and then. Clothes have never meant much to him. He's always had two or, at the most, three suits. And then jeans and shirts. At home he usually wears jeans and a sweater. He dresses very casually. But now, because he's always in the public eye, he has begun to dress a little more carefully. Many people noticed that the sleeves of his suits used to be too long. Now they're okay. That was my fault. Sometimes I was just too lazy to shorten his sleeves. Now he goes to a tailor.
If you buy him a tie, does he wear it without complaining?
Only if it goes with his shirt and suit. And no, he doesn't do anything without complaining.
*GUM is a Moscow department store.
You used to have long hair, and now you wear it short. Where do you get your hair done?
At Irina Baranova's. She used to do Nina Iosifovna Yeltsina's hair too. I think Irina is wonderful. She has her own salon.
And who's your husband's barber?
There are various barbers, either at the FSO or the FSB.*
*The FSO is the Federal Guard Service (the personal protection corps of the president and other high officials), while the FSB is the Federal Security Service (the KGB's successor, working on domestic and foreign intelligence).
He's never paid much attention to his haircut. I like it when his hair is cut very short.
Do you go on vacation together?
We used to. Twice we went to Kurskiy Zaliv [Courland Lagoon] in Latvia. We've been abroad. But now . . . you know, I don't make plans anymore. I used to make them, and when they fell apart I would get very upset and offended. But now I understand it's easier not to make plans for shared vacations or holidays or time off, so as not to be disappointed.
You sound so sad when you say that.
No, not at all. I knew it would be like this. After all, if I was only worried about myself, then at some point I would have said to my husband, "Volodya, I beg you, don't do that. Let's stay on the sidelines. Let's do something else." But I didn't say that.