An Astonishingly Frank Self-Portrait by Russia's President Vladimir Putin
with Nataliya Gevorkyan, Natalya Timakova, and Andrei Kolesnikov Translated by Catherine A. Fitzpatrick
Copyright © 2000 by Nataliya Gevorkyan, Natalya Timakova, and Andrei Kolesnikov Published in the United States
by PublicAffairsTM, a Member of the Perseus Books Group. All rights reserved.
Printed in the United States of America. No part of this book may be reproduced in any manner whatsoever without
written permission except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical articles and reviews. For information,
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W. 57th Street, Suite 1321, New York, NY 10107. Book Design by Jenny Dossin All photographs courtesy of
Vladimir Putin. Library of Congress Card Number: 00 132549 ISBN: 1-58648-018-9
Vladimir Putin. Library of Congress Card Number: 00 132549 ISBN: 1-58648-018-9
Principal Figures in First Person ix
Part One: The Son 1
Part Two: The Schoolboy 13
Part Three: The University Student 27
Part Four: The Young Specialist 45
Part Five: The Spy 65
Part Six: The Democrat 83
Part Seven: The Bureaucrat 103
Part Eight: The Family Man 147
Part Nine: The Politician 163
Appendix: Russia at the Turn of the Millennium 209
We talked with Vladimir Putin on six separate occasions, for about four hours at a time. Both he and we were patient and tolerant; he, when we asked uncomfortable questions or were too invasive; we, when he was late or asked us to turn the tape recorder off. "That's very personal," he would say.
These were meetings "with our jackets off," although we all still wore ties. Usually they happened late at night. And we only went to his office in the Kremlin once.
Why did we do this? Essentially, we wanted to answer the same question that Trudy Rubin of the Philadelphia Inquirer asked in Davos in January: "Who is Putin?" Rubin's question had been addressed to a gathering of prominent Russian politicians and businessmen. And instead of an answer, there was a pause.
We felt that the pause dragged on too long. And it was a legitimate question. Who was this Mr. Putin?
We talked to Putin about his life. We talked as people often do in Russia around the dinner table. Sometimes he arrived exhausted, with drooping eyelids, but he never broke off the conversation. Only once, when it was well past midnight, did he ask politely, "Well then, have you run out of questions, or shall we chat some more?" Sometimes Putin would pause a while to think about a question, but he would always answer it eventually. For example, when we asked whether he had ever been betrayed, he was silent a long time. Finally, he decided to say "no," but then added by way of clarification, "My friends didn't betray me."
We sought out Putin's friends, people who know him well or who have played an important role in his destiny. We went out to his dacha, where we found a bevy of women: his wife, Lyudmila, two daughters-Masha and Katya-and a poodle with a hint of the toy dog in her, named Toska.
We have not added a single editorial line in the book. It holds only our questions. And if those questions led Putin or his relatives to reminisce or ponder, we tried not to interrupt. That's why the book's format is a bit unusual-it consists entirely of interviews and monologues.
All of our conversations are recorded in these pages. They might not answer the complex question of "Who is this Mr. Putin?," but at least they will bring us a little bit closer to understanding Russia's newest president.
NATALIYA GEVORKYAN NATALYA TIMAKOVA ANDREI KOLESNIKOV
PRINCIPAL FIGURES IN FIRST PERSON
Vadim Viktorovich Bakatin: USSR interior minister (1988-90); chairman of KGB (1991); presidential candidate.
Boris Abramovich Berezovsky: Prominent businessman influential in political affairs; part-owner of ORT, pro-government public television station; former deputy secretary of Security Council, October 1996-November 1997; involved in the Chechen conflict; appointed executive secretary of the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS); dismissed by Yeltsin in March 1999, elected member of parliament from Karachaevo-Cherkessia in December 1999.
Pavel Pavlovich Borodin: Chief of staff in the presidential administration from 1993 to 2000; In January 2000, appointed state secretary of the Union of Belarus and Russia.
Leonid Ilyich Brezhnev: General secretary of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union from 1964-1982.
Anatoly Borisovich Chubais: Vice premier in the Chernomyrdin government (1992) and government (1994); appointed member of the government commission handling privatization and structural adjustment in 1993; appointed first deputy chair of the government in 1994 and dismissed by Yeltsin in January 1996; appointed by Yeltsin to post of chief of presidential administration in July 1996; Minister of Finance, March-November 1997.
Vladimir Churov: Deputy chair of the Committee for Foreign Liason of the St. Petersburg Mayor's Office in Sobchak administration.
Michael Frolov: Retired colonel, Putin's instructor at the Andropov Red Banner Institute.
Vera Dmitrievna Gurevich: Putin's schoolteacher from grades 4 to 8 in School No. 193 in St. Petersburg.
Sergei Borisovich Ivanov: Foreign intelligence career officer with rank of lieutenant general; appointed deputy director of FSB in August 1998; appointed secretary of the Security Council in November 1999.
Katya: Putin's younger daughter.
Vladimir Aleksandrovich Kryuchkov: Chairman of the Soviet KGB (1988-91) until arrested for the August 1991 coup; amnestied in February 1994.
Yuri Luzhkov: Mayor of Moscow.
Masha: Putin's older daughter.
Yevgeny Maksimovich Primakov: Pravda columnist and former director of the USSR Institute of Oriental Studies and the Institute of World Economy and International Relations, first deputy chairman of the KGB (1991), director of the Soviet Central Intelligence Service (1991), and then director of the Russian Foreign Intelligence Service (1991-1996); appointed Foreign Minister January 1996 and again in 1998; appointed by Yeltsin's decree to the position of chair of the government (prime minister) in September 1998 and dismissed by Yeltsin from this position in May 1999; elected to the State Duma (parliament) from the party list of Fatherland-All Russia in December 1999.
Lyudmila Putina: Vladimir Putin's wife (nicknames found in text: Luda, Ludik).
Sergei Roldugin: Lead cellist in the Mariinsky Theater Symphony Orchestra, a friend of the Putins, and godfather of Putin's older daughter, Masha.
Eduard Amvrosievich Shevardnadze: Soviet foreign minister (1985-91) who resigned in protest of the impending coup; co-chairman of Democratic Reform Movement (1991-92); head of state and chairman of parliament of Georgia.
Anatoly Aleksandrovich Sobchak: Mayor and chair of the government of St. Petersburg (Leningrad) from 1991 to 1996; co-chairman of Democratic Reform Movement (1991-92); member of the Russian Presidential Council since 1992; died in February 2000. His wife is Lyudmila Borisnova.
Oleg Nikolayevich Soskovets: Appointed first deputy chair of the government in 1993 (deputy prime minister) responsible for 14 ministries, including energy and transportation; assigned to deal with the Chechen conflict in 1994; joined Yeltsin presidential campaign team in 1996 but dismissed in March from the campaign, and, in June, was relieved of his post as first vice premier. Yuri Skuratov: Former Prosecutor General, suspended after a newspaper published a photograph of him in a steam bath with two prostitutes.
Vladimir Anatolyevich Yakovlev: First deputy mayor of St. Petersburg from 1993-1996; elected governor of St. Petersburg in 1996.
Marina Yentaltseva: Putin's secretary at the St. Petersburg City Council (1991-96).
Valentin Yumashev: Chief of staff in the Yeltsin administration
FRG Federal Republic of Germany
FSB Federal Security Service
FSK Federal Counterintelligence Service
FSO Federal Guard Service
GDR German Democratic Republic (East Germany)
KGB Committee for State Security (Soviet era)
Komsomol Young Communist League
Kukly Puppets, a satirical TV show
MVD Ministry of Internal Affairs or Interior Ministry
NATO North Atlantic Treaty Organization
NKVD People's Commissariat for Internal Affairs, or the Stalin-era secret police
OSCE Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, 54-member security and human rights body founded in 1975.
Pioneers Soviet-era children's organization
SED East German Communist Party
''In fact, I have had a very simple life. Everything is an open book. I finished school and went to university. I graduated from university and went to the KGB. I finished the KGB and went back to university. After university, I went to work for Sobchak.
From Sobchak, to Moscow and to the General Department. Then to the Presidential Administration. From there, to the FSB. Then I was appointed Prime Minister. Now I'm Acting President. That's it!"
"But surely there are more details?"
"Yes, there are. . . ."
Putin talks about his parents, touching on his father's World War II sabotage missions, the Siege of Leningrad, and life in a communal flat after the war. It isn't easy. no hot water, no bathroom, a stinking toilet, and constant bickering. Putin spends much of his time chasing rats with a stick in the stairwell.
I know more about my father's family than about my mother's. My father's father was born in St. Petersburg and worked as a cook. They were a very ordinary family. A cook, after all, is a cook. But apparently my grandfather cooked rather well, because after World War I he was offered a job in The Hills district on the outskirts of Moscow, where Lenin and the whole Ulyanov family lived. When Lenin died, my grandfather was transferred to one of Stalin's dachas. He worked there a long time.
He wasn't a victim of the purges?
No, for some reason they let him be. Few people who spent much time around Stalin came through unscathed, but my grandfather was one of them. He outlived Stalin, by the way, and in his later, retirement years he was a cook at the Moscow City Party Committee sanitorium in Ilinskoye.
Did your parents talk much about your grandfather?
I have a clear recollection of Ilinskoye myself, because I used to come for visits. My grandfather kept pretty quiet about his past life. My parents didn't talk much about the past, either. People generally didn't, back then. But when relatives would come to visit, there would be long chats around the table, and I would catch some snatches, some fragments of the conversation. But my parents never told me anything about themselves. Especially my father. He was a silent man.
I know my father was born in St. Petersburg in 1911. After World War I broke out, life was hard in the city. People were starving. The whole family moved to my grandmother's home in the village of Pominovo, in the Tver region. Her house is still standing today, by the way; members of the family still spend their vacations there. It was in Pominovo that my father met my mother. They were both 17 years old when they got married.
Why? Did they have a reason to?
No, apparently not. Do you need a reason to get married? The main reason was love. And my father was headed for the army soon. Maybe they each wanted some sort of guarantee. . . . I don't know.
Vera Dmitrievna Gurevich (Vladimir Putin's schoolteacher from grades 4 through 8 in School No. 193):
Volodya's parents had a very difficult life. Can you imagine how courageous his mother must have been to give birth at age 41? *Volodya's father once said to me, "One of our sons would have been your age." I assumed they must have lost another child during the war, but I didn't feel comfortable asking about it.
In 1932, Putin's parents came to Peter [St. Petersburg]. They lived in the suburbs, in Peterhof. His mother went to work in a factory and his father was almost immediately drafted into the army, where he served on a submarine fleet. Within a year after he returned, they had two sons. One died a few months after birth.
* Russians use various diminutives for names, depending on degrees of familiarity and affection. Vladimir Putin is often called Vovka and Volodya by his friends and family.
Apparently, when the war broke out, your father went immediately to the front. He was a submariner who had just completed his term of service . . . Yes, he went to the front as a volunteer.
And your mama?
Mama categorically refused to go anywhere. She stayed at home in Peterhof. When it became extremely hard to go on there, her brother in Peter took her
in. He was a naval officer serving at the fleet's headquarters in Smolny.*
* Smolny was a private girls' school before the Revolution, when Lenin took it over and made it the headquarters of his revolutionary government. Since then it has been the seat of local government in St. Petersburg.
He came for her and the baby and got them out under gunfire and bombs.
And what about your grandfather, the cook? Didn't he do anything to help them?
No. Back then, people generally didn't ask for favors. I think that under the circumstances it would have been impossible, anyway. My grandfather had a lot of children, and all of his sons were at the front.
So your mother and brother were taken from Peterhof, which was under blockade, to Leningrad, which was also blockaded?
Where else could they go? Mama said that some sort of shelters were being set up in Leningrad, in an effort to save the children's lives. It was in one of those children's homes that my second brother came down with diphtheria and died.
How did she survive?
My uncle helped her. He would feed her out of his own rations. There was a time when he was transferred somewhere for a while, and she was on the verge of starvation. This is no exaggeration. Once my mother fainted from hunger. People thought she had died, and they laid her out with the corpses. Luckily Mama woke up in time and started moaning. By some miracle, she lived. She made it through the entire blockade of Leningrad. They didn't get her out until the danger was past.
And where was your father?
My father was in the battlefield the whole time. He had been assigned to a demolitions battalion of the NKVD. These battalions were engaged in sabotage behind German lines. My father took part in one such operation. There were 28 people in his group.
They were dropped into Kingisepp. They took a good look around, set up a position in the forest, and even managed to blow up a munitions depot before they ran out of food. They came across some local residents, Estonians, who brought them food but later gave them up to the Germans.
They had almost no chance of surviving. The Germans had them surrounded on all sides, and only a few people, including my father, managed to break out. Then the chase was on. The remnants of the unit headed off toward the front line. They lost a few more people along the road and decided to split up. My father jumped into a swamp over his head and breathed through a hollow reed until the dogs had passed by. That's how he survived. Only 4 of the 28 men in his unit made it back home.
Then he found your mother? They were reunited?
No, he didn't get a chance to look for her. They sent him right back into combat. He wound up in another tight spot, he so-called Neva Nickel. This was a small, circular area. If you stand with your back to Lake Ladoga, it's on the left bank of the Neva River. The German troops had seized everything except for this small plot of land. And our guys held that spot through the entire blockade, calculating that it would play a role in the final breakthrough. The Germans kept trying to capture it. A fantastic number of bombs were dropped on every square meter of that bit of turf even by the standards of that war. It was a monstrous massacre. But to be sure, the Neva Nickel played an important role in the end.
Don't you think that we paid too high a price for that little piece of land?
I think that there are always a lot of mistakes made in war. That's inevitable. But when you are fighting, if you keep thinking that everybody around you is always making mistakes, you'll never win. You have to take a pragmatic attitude. And you have to keep thinking of victory. And they were thinking of victory then.
My father was severely wounded in the "Nickel." Once he and another soldier were ordered to capture a prisoner who might talk during interrogation. They crawled up to a foxhole and were just settling in to wait, when suddenly a German came out. The German was surprised, and so were they. The German recovered first, took a grenade out of his pocket, threw it at my father and the other soldier, and calmly went on his way. Life is such a simple little thing, really.
How do you know all this? You said your parents didn't like to talk about themselves.
This is a story that my father told me. The German was probably convinced that he
had killed the Russians. But my father survived, although his legs were shot through with shrapnel. Our soldiers dragged him out of there several hours later.
Across the front line?
You guessed it. The nearest hospital was in the city, and in order to get there, they had to drag him all the way across the Neva. Everyone knew that this would be suicide, because every centimeter of that territory was being shot up. No commander would have issued such an order, of course. And nobody was volunteering. My father had already lost so much blood that it was clear he was going to die soon if they left him there.
Coincidentally, a soldier who happened to be an old neighbor from back home came across him. Without a word, he sized up the situation, hauled my father up onto his back, and carried him across the frozen Neva to the other side. They made an ideal target, and yet they survived. This neighbor dragged my father to the hospital, said goodbye, and went back to the front line. The fellow told my father that they wouldn't see each other again. Evidently he didn't believe he would survive in the "Nickel" and thought that my father didn't have much of a chance either.
Was he wrong?
Thank God, he was. My father managed to survive. He spent several months in the hospital. My mother found him there. She came to see him every day. Mama herself was half dead. My father saw the shape she was in and began to give her his own food, hiding it from the nurses. To be sure, they caught on pretty quickly and put top to it. The doctors noticed that he was fainting from hunger. When they figured out why, they gave him a stern lecture and wouldn't let Mama in to see him for a while. The upshot was
that they both survived. Only my father's injuries left him with a lifelong limp.
And the neighbor?
The neighbor survived, too! After the blockade, he moved to another city. He and my father once met by chance in Leningrad twenty years later. Can you imagine?
Vera Dmitrievna Gurevich:
Volodya's mother was a very nice person kind, selfless, the soul of goodness. She was not a very educated woman. I don't know if she finished even five grades of school.
She worked hard her whole life. She was a janitor, took deliveries in a bakery at night, and washed test tubes in a laboratory. I think she even worked as a guard at a store at one time.
Volodya's papa worked as a toolmaker in a factory. He was much liked and appreciated as a ready and willing worker. For a long time, incidentally, he didn't collect disability, although one of his legs was really crippled. He was the one who usually cooked at home. He used to make a wonderful aspic. We remember that Putin aspic to this day. Nobody could make aspic like he did.
After the war my father was demobilized and went to work as a skilled laborer at the Yegorov Train Car Factory. There is a little plaque in each metro car that says, "This is car number such-and-such, manufactured at the Yegorov Train Car Factory."
The factory gave Papa a room in a communal apartment in a typical St. Petersburg building on Baskov Lane, in the center of town. It had an inner airshaft for a courtyard, and my parents lived on the fifth floor. There was no elevator.
Before the war, my parents had half of a house in Peterhof. They were very proud of their standard of living then. So this was a step down.
Vera Dmitrievna Gurevich:
They had a horrid apartment. It was communal, without any conveniences. There was no hot water, no bathtub. The toilet was horrendous. It ran smack up against a stair landing. And it was so cold just awful and the stairway had a freezing metal handrail. The stairs weren't safe either there were gaps everywhere.
There, on that stair landing, I got a quick and lasting lesson in the meaning of the word cornered. There were hordes of rats in the front entryway. My friends and I used to chase them around with sticks. Once I spotted a huge rat and pursued it down the hall until I drove it into a corner. It had nowhere to run. Suddenly it lashed around and threw itself at me. I was surprised and frightened. Now the rat was chasing me. It jumped across the landing and down the stairs. Luck-ily, I was a little faster and I managed to slam the door shut in its nose.
Vera Dmitrievna Gurevich:
There was practically no kitchen. It was just a square, dark hallway without windows. A gas burner stood on one side and a sink on the other. There was no room to move around.
Behind this so-called kitchen lived the neighbors, a family of three. And other neighbors, a middle-aged couple, were next door. The apartment was communal. And the Putins were squeezed into one room. By the standards of those days it was decent, though, because it measured about 20 meters square.
A Jewish family, an elderly couple and their daughter, Hava lived in our communal apartment. Hava was a grown woman, but as the adults used to say, her life hadn't turned out well. She had never married, and she still lived with her parents.
Her father was a tailor, and although he seemed quite elderly, he would stitch on his sewing machine for whole days at a time. They were religious Jews. They did not work on the Sabbath, and the old man would recite the Talmud, droning away. Once, I couldn't hold back any longer and asked what he was chanting. He explained about the Talmud, and I immediately lost interest.
As is usually the case in a communal apartment, people clashed now and then. I always wanted to defend my parents, and speak up on their behalf. I should explain here that I got along very well with the elderly couple, and often played on their side of the apartment. Well, one day, when they were having words with my parents, I jumped in. My parents were furious. Their reaction came as a complete shock to me; it was incomprehensible. I was sticking up for them, and they shot back with, ''Mind your own business!" Why? I just couldn't understand it. Later, I realized that my parents considered my good rapport with the old couple, and the couple's affection for me, much more important than those petty kitchen spats.
After that incident, I never got involved in the kitchen quarrels again. As soon as they started fighting, I simply went back into our room, or over to the old folks' room. It didn't matter to me which.
There were other pensioners living in our apartment as well, although they weren't there long. They played a role in my baptism. Baba Anya was a religious person, and she used to go to church. When I was born, she and my mother had me baptized. They kept it a secret from my father, who was a party member and secretary of the party organization in his factory shop.
Many years later, in 1993, when I worked on the Leningrad City Council, I went to Israel as part of an official delegation. Mama gave me my baptismal cross to get it blessed at the Lord's Tomb. I did as she said and then put the cross around my neck. I have never taken it off since.
Interviews with Putin's schoolteacher reveal a bad student with a bright mind. Putin is always late for school and doesn't make it into the Pioneers. But then, at age 10, he discovers the martial arts and, after reading novels and watching spy movies, develops a single- minded ambition to join the KGB. At 16 he troops over to the KGB headquarters where he's told that he has to go to law school and keep his mouth shut if he really wants to be a spy. Despite the pleas and threats of his parents and judo coaches, he decides to do just that.
Do you remember first grade?
I was born in October, so I did not start school until I was almost eight years old. We still have the photo in our family archive: I am in an old-fashioned, gray school uniform. It looks like a military uniform, and for some reason I'm standing with a flowerpot in my hand. Not a bouquet, but a pot.
Did you want to go to school?
No, not especially. I liked playing outside, in our courtyard. There were two courtyards joined together, like an air-shaft, and my whole life took place there. Mama sometimes stuck her head out the window and shouted "Are you in the courtyard?" I always was. As long as I didn't run away, I was allowed to go play in the courtyard without asking for permission.
And you never once disobeyed?
When I was five or six, I walked out to the corner of the big street without permission. It was on the First of May. I looked around me. People were rushing around and making a lot of noise. The street was very busy. I was even a little afraid.
Then one winter, when I was a little bit older, my friends and I decided to leave the city without telling our parents. We wanted to go on a trip.
We got off the train somewhere and were completely lost. It was cold. We had brought some matches and somehow managed to start a fire. We had nothing to eat. We froze completely. Then we got back on the train and headed home. We got the belt for that stunt. And we never wanted to go on another trip again.
So you stopped looking for adventures?
For a time. Especially when I went to school. From first through eighth grade, I went to School No. 193, which was in the same lane as my house, about a seven-minute walk. I was always late for my first class, so even in the winter, I didn't dress very warmly. It took up a lot of time to get dressed, run to school, and then take off my coat. So in order to save time, I never put on a coat, and just shot out to school like a bullet and got right behind my desk.
Did you like school?
For a time. As long as I managed to be what would you call it? the unspoken leader. The school was right next door to my house. Our courtyard was a reliable refuge, and that helped.
Did people listen to you?
I didn't try to command people. It was more important to preserve my independence. If I had to compare it with my adult life, I would say that the role I played as a kid was like the role of the judicial branch, and not the executive. And as long as I managed to do that, I liked school. But it didn't last. It soon became clear that my courtyard skills were not enough, and I began to play sports. And in order to maintain my social status I had to start doing well in school. Up until the sixth grade, to be honest, I had been a pretty haphazard student.
Vera Dmitrievna Gurevich:
I met Volodya when he was still in the fourth grade. His teacher, Tamara Pavlovna Chizhova, once said to me, "Vera Dmitrievna, take my class. The kids aren't bad."
I went to visit the class and organized a German language club. It was interesting to see who showed up. About 10-12 students came. Tamara Pavlovna asked me who was there. I told her: Natasha Soldatova, Volodya Putin . . . She was surprised. "Volodya, too? That doesn't seem like him." But he showed great interest in the lessons.
She said, "Well, just you wait. He'll show you." "What do you mean?" I asked. She replied that he was too sneaky and disorganized. He wasn't even in the Pioneers.
Usually you are accepted into the Pioneers in the third grade. But Volodya wasn't because he was such a cutup. Some classes studied English, and others German. English was more in fashion than German, and there were more English classes. Volodya ended up in my class. In fifth grade, he hadn't really proven himself, but I sensed that he had potential, energy, and character. I saw his great interest in the language. He picked it up easily. He had a very good memory, a quick mind.
I thought: This kid will make something of himself. I decided to devote more attention to him and discourage him from hanging out with the boys on the street. He had friends from the neighborhood, two brothers by the name of Kovshov, and he used to prowl around with them, jumping from the roofs of the garages and sheds. Volodya's father didn't like that very much. His papa had very strict morals. But we couldn't get Volodya away from those Kovshov brothers.
His father was very serious and imposing. He often had an angry look. The first time I came to see him, I was even frightened. I thought, "What a strict man." And then it turned out that he was very kindhearted. But there were no kisses. There was none of that lovey-dovey stuff in their house.
Once when I came to visit, I said to Volodya's father,"Your son is not working to his full potential." And he said, "Well, what can I do? Kill him, or what?" And I said, "You have to have a talk with him. Let's work on him together, you at home, and I at school. He could be getting better than C's. He catches everything on the fly." At any rate, we agreed to work on him; but in the end, we had no particular influence.
Volodya himself changed very abruptly in the sixth grade. It was obvious; he had set himself a goal. Most likely he had understood that he had to achieve something in life. He began to get better grades, and did it easily. Finally, he was accepted into the Pioneers. There was a ceremony and we went on a trip to Lenin's home, where he was inducted into the Pioneers. Right after that he became chair of his unit's council.
Why weren't you taken into the Pioneers until the sixth grade? Was everything really so bad up until then?
Of course. I was a hooligan, not a Pioneer.
Are you being coy?
You insult me. I really was a bad boy.
Vera Dmitrievna Gurevich:
Most of the kids liked to go to dances. We had evening events at the school. We called it the Crystal Club. And we put on plays. But Volodya didn't take part in any of this.
His father really wanted him to play the accordion and forced him to take lessons in the early grades. Volodya resisted it. Although he did love to pluck away on the guitar. He sang mainly Vysotsky,* all of the songs from the album Vertical, about the stars, and about Seryozha from Malaya Bronnaya Street.
*Vladimir Vysotsky was a popular Russian folksinger.
But he didn't like socializing much. He preferred sports. He started doing martial arts in order to learn how to defend himself. Four times a week he took classes somewhere near the Finland Station, and he got pretty good. He loved his sambo. And then he started taking part in competitions, which often required him to travel to other cities.
I got into sports when I was about 10 or 11. As soon as it became clear that my pugnacious nature was not going to keep me king of the courtyard or school grounds, I decided to go into boxing. But I didn't last long there. I quickly got my nose broken. The pain was terrible. I couldn't even touch the tip of my nose. But even though everyone was telling me I needed an operation, I didn't go to the doctor.
I knew it would heal by itself. And it did. But I lost my boxing bug after that. Then I decided to go in for sambo, a Soviet combination of judo and wrestling. Martial arts were popular at the time. I went to a class near my house and began to work out. It was a very plain gym that belonged to the Trud athletic club. I had a very good trainer there, Anatoly Semyonovich Rakhlin. He devoted his whole life to his art, and is still training girls and boys to this day.
Anatoly Semyonovich played a decisive role in my life. If I hadn't gotten involved in sports, I'm not sure how my life would have turned out. It was sports that dragged me off the streets. To be honest, the courtyard wasn't a very good environment for a kid.
At first I studied sambo. Then judo. The coach decided that we would all switch to judo, and we did.
Judo is not just a sport, you know. It's a philosophy. It's respect for your elders and for your opponent. It's not for weaklings. Everything in judo has an instructive aspect. You come out onto the mat, you bow to one another, you follow ritual. It could be done differently, you know. Instead of bowing to your opponent, you could jab him in the forehead.
Did you ever smoke?
No. I tried it a couple of times, but I never smoked regularly. And when I began to do sports, I simply ruled it out. I used to work out every other day, and then every day.Soon I had no time left for anything else. I had other priorities; I had to prove myself in sports, achieve something. I set goals. Sports really had a strong influence on me.
And you didn't try karate?
That was popular in those days, even thought it was banned. We thought karate and all other noncontact sports were like ballet. Sports was only sports if you had to shed sweat and blood and work hard.
Even when karate became popular and karate schools of all sorts began springing up, we viewed them purely as moneymaking enterprises. We, on the other hand, never paid any money for our lessons. We all came from poor families. And since karate lessons cost money from the start, the kids taking karate thought they were first class.
Once we went to the gym with Leonid Ionovich, the senior coach from Trud. The karate students were working out on the mat, although it was our turn. Leonid went up to their trainer and told him it was time for our class. The karate trainer didn't even look his wayas if to say, get lost. Then Leonid, without saying a word, flipped him, squeezed him lightly, and dragged him off the mat. He had lost consciousness. Then Leonid turned to us and said, "Go on in and take your places." That was our attitude toward karate.
Did your parents encourage you to take these lessons?
No, just the opposite. At first, they were very suspicious. They thought I was acquiring some sort of ugly skill to use on the street. Later, when they met the trainer and he began to visit our home, their attitude changed. And when I achieved my first successes, my parents understood that judo was a serious and useful art.
You started winning?
Yes, within about a year or two.
Vera Dmitrievna Gurevich:
I taught Volodya from fifth through eighth grade. And then we had to decide what school to send him to. Most of the class went to School No. 197 on Petra Lavrova had starting coming over to the Putin house as early as sixth grade. Volodya was not especially interested in girls; but they were certainly interested in him. So all of a sudden, he announced to everyone: ''I'm going to university." And I said "How?" And he said "I"ll solve that problem myself."
Even before I graduated from school, I wanted to work in intelligence. It was a dream of mine, although it seemed about as likely as a flight to Mars. And sure, my ambitions sometimes changed. I also wanted to be a sailor. And at one point I really wanted to be a pilot. The Academy of Civil Aviation is in Leningrad, and I was hell-bent on getting in. I read the literature and even subscribed to an aviation journal. But then books and spy movies like The Sword and the Shield took hold of my imagination. What amazed me most of all was how one man's effort could achieve what whole armies could not. One spy could decide the fate of thousands of people. At least, that's the way I understood it.
The Academy of Civil Aviation quickly lost its thrill. I had made my choice. I wanted to be a spy. My parents didn't understand this right away. My coach had gone to see them and told them that as an athlete, I could get into an institute practically without passing exams. So they tried to talk me into going to an institute. My coach took their side. He couldn't understand why I was resisting. "He has a 100 percent chance of getting into that Academy of Civil Aviation," he told my parents. "And if he doesn't get into university, then he'll have to go into the army."
It was a difficult situation. My father had a very commanding personality. But I dug my heels in and said I had made up my mind.
Then another coach of mine from the Trud Club, Leonid Ionovich, came to visit. He was a clever guy. "Well," he said to me. "Where are you going?" Of course he already knew. He was just acting sly. I said, ''To university." "Oh, that's great, good for you," he said, "in what department?" "The law school," I answered. Then he roared: "What?! To catch people? What are you doing? You'll be a cop. Do you understand?!" I was insulted. "I'm not going to be a cop!" I yelled back.
For a year, they put pressure on me every day. That only increased my desire to go to law school. But why law school? Let me explain.
In order to find out how to become a spy, sometime back around the beginning of the ninth grade, I had gone to the office of the KGB Directorate. A guy came out and listened to me. "I want to get a job with you," I said. "That's terrific, but there are several issues," he said. "First, we don't take people who come to us on their own initiative. Second, you can come to us only after the army or after some type of civilian higher education."
I was intrigued. "What kind of higher education?" I asked. "Any!" he said. He probably just wanted to get rid of me. "But what kind is preferred?" I asked. "Law school." And that was that. From that moment on, I began to prepare for the law faculty of Leningrad University. And nobody could stop me.
But my parents and my coaches tried. They threatened me with the prospect of the army for a long time. What they didn't understand was that the army suited me just fine. Of course it would have slowed my progress a little, but it wouldn't deter me from my decision.
The coaches, however, had more tricks up their sleeves. When I went to enroll in preparatory classes at the university, I learned that they had made up lists of athletes who were to be given priority in university admissions. I knew for a fact that I wasn't on any list. But when I was enrolling in classes, my gym teacher tried to force me to join the Burevestnik Club. I asked him, "How come I have to switch over to this?" And he said, "We helped get you into the university, so please be so kind . . ." I knew something was up.
I went to the dean. I walked in and and told him outright, "I'm being forced to transfer into Burevestnik. I don't think I should do that." And the dean, Prof. Alekseyev, a kind-hearted, good man, said, "Why are they forcing you?" And I said, "Because they supposedly helped me, as an athlete, to get into the university, and now I must pay them back by joining Burevestnik."
He said, "Really? That can't be! Everyone gets into this university on equal terms, judged according to their knowledge, not by some list of athletes. Wait a minute, and I'll find out." Then he reached into his desk, got a list out, glanced at it, and asked me my last name. "You're not on the list," he said, "So you can safely tell everybody to get lost." Which I did.
Nevertheless, in intervarsity championships I played on behalf of the university team, as I could do this without transferring from one sports club to the other. Still, the coaches didn't let up their efforts to recruit me. I told them a hundred times that I would not leave Trudall my friends were there, and my first coach. I said I would never join another club. I would play for the one I wanted.
THE UNIVERSITY STUDENT
Putin studies hard at the university, but still finds time to cruise Leningrad in his Zaporozhets car and compete in judo tournaments. Over the summer he works in construction with his buddies. He has romances and breakups, but his primary passion remains intact: finding a way into the KGB.
Was it hard to get into university?
Yes, it was, because there were 100 slots and only 10 of them were reserved for high school graduates. The rest were for army guys. So for us high-schoolers, the competition was fierce; something like 40 kids per slot. I had gotten a B in composition but A's in all my other subjects, and I was accepted. By the way, at that time, they didn't take into account the total grade point average of the applicant. So in tenth grade I could completely devote myself to the subjects that I would have to pass to get into university. If I hadn't dropped the other subjects, I wouldn't have gotten in.
Thank God, we had very smart teachers with sharp tactics in our school. Their main goal was to prepare students to get into college. And as soon as they realized that I wasn't going to become a chemist and wanted to major in the humanities, they didn't interfere. In fact, quite the opposite they approved.
You evidently studied hard in university, with your future in mind?
Yes, I studied hard. I didn't become involved in any extracurricular activities. I wasn't a Komsomol functionary.
Was your stipend enough to cover your living expenses?
No, it wasn't enough. At first, my parents had to support me. I was a student, and didn't have any money. I could have earned extra money working construction like a lot of people. But what would have been the point? I was on a construction crew once.
I went to Komi, where I chopped trees for the lumber industry and repaired houses. I finished the job and they handed me a packet of money, probably about 1,000 rubles. In those days, a car cost 3,500 or 4,000 rubles. But for a month and a half of work, we got 1,000! So it was good money. Actually, fantastic money.
We earned our pay. And then we had to spend it on something. My two friends and I went to Gagry on vacation without even stopping back in Leningrad. We got there, and on the first day we got drunk chasing shish kebabs down with port wine. Then we tried to think of what to do next. Where could we go to spend the night? There were probably some hotels around, but we didn't have much hope of getting into them. Late at night, we finally found an old lady who agreed to take us in and give us a room.
We spent several days swimming, tanning, and getting good rest. But soon we had to get out of there and somehow get back home. We were running out of money. We came up with a plan; we would finagle places on the deck of a steamship on its way to Odessa. Then we would take a train to Peter, buying tickets for the top bunks in the sleepers, which were cheaper.
We pooled our pocket change and realized we had nothing but a few kopecks left for provisions. We decided to buy some tushonka, some canned stew, for the trip. One of the fellows was rather careful he had more money left over than the other, who was a spendthrift. When we told the more economical friend that he should share his dough, he thought for a minute and then said, "That canned meat is pretty hard on the stomach. That's not really the right thing to get." And we said, "Whatever you say. Let's get going."
When we got down to the docks, a huge crowd had gathered. The ship was giant as well a beautiful white ocean-liner. We were told that only passengers with tickets to the cabins were being allowed on, and those with deck seats were not yet being admitted. All the deck passengers had little tickets made out of hard cardboard, but we had larger-sized, mixed-passage tickets that looked like the ones first-class passengers would have had. My friend who had refused to chip in for the canned meat said, "You know, I don't like the look of this. I don't think it's going to work out. Let's try to get on right now." I said, "It's awkward, let's just stand here and wait our turn." He said, "Well, you can stand around if you want. We're going to get on." So they went to board the ship, and of course I ran after them.
The ticket-taker asked us what kind of tickets we had. "We have the big ones," we answered. He waved us on.
So we were let on board the ship with the first-class passengers. And then the foreman or somebody else yelled, "Are there any others for first class?" The crowd on the dock was silent. He asked once again, "Are there only deck passengers left?" The crowd, hoping they would now be allowed on, cried out excitedly, "Yes, just deck passengers!" To which he shouted, "Raise the plank!"
They lifted the walkway, and suddenly panic broke out on the dock. People were furious. They had been deceived. They had paid money, and now they weren't being let on the ship.
Later they were told that there was a freight overage and that the ship was full.
If we hadn't gotten on board when we did, we would have been left standing on the dock. And we didn't have a single kopeck left. I don't know what we would have done.
So we settled into some lifeboats, which hung out over the water. And that was how we got home, as if we were lying in hammocks. For two nights I looked up at the sky, and I couldn't take my eyes away. The ship sailed on, and the stars seemed to just hang there. Do you know what I mean? Sailors may be used to that, but for me it was a wondrous discovery.
That first evening we ogled the cabin passengers. It made us a little wistful to see how wonderful their lives were. All we had were the lifeboats, the stars, and the tins of tushonka.
Our thrifty friend didn't have any canned meat. He couldn't hold out any longer, and went to the restaurant. But the prices there were so high that he quickly came back and said indifferently, "Well, I suppose I wouldn't mind scarfing down a little tushonka." But my other friend, who kept strictly to the rules, said, "You know, you should worry about your stomach. It's not good for you." So the thrifty guy starved for a day after that. It was cruel, of course, but it was also fair.
When I went to university, I started concentrating on my studies. Athletics took second place. But I did work out regularly and took part in all the All-Union competitions, although it was just by habit, really.
In 1976, I became the city-wide champion. The people in our section included not only amateurs, like me, but also professionals and European and Olympic champions in both sambo and judo.
I became a sambo master black belt after entering university, and then a judo master two years later. I don't know how it is nowadays, but back then you had to collect a certain number of victories over opponents of a certain level, and to place in serious competitions. For example, you had to be among the top three in the city or get first place in the All-Union competition for Trud.
I remember a couple matches vividly. After one of them I couldn't even breathe, only croak. My opponent was a strong guy, and I had used up so much energy that I just wheezed instead of inhaling and exhaling. I won, but only by a slim margin.
And then there was the time I lost to the world champion, Volodya Kullenin. Later he began to drink heavily and was murdered on the street. But in university he was a fine athlete, really brilliant and talented. He hadn't started drinking when I fought him. We were competing for the city championship. He was already world champion. Right away, during the first minutes, I threw him across my back and did it gracefully, with ease. In principle, the match should have ended right then, but since Kullenin was world champion, it wouldn't have been right to stop the fight. So they gave me some points and we continued. Of course Kullenin was stronger than me, but I fought hard. Under the rules of this martial art, any sort of crying out is considered a signal of defeat. When Kullenin twisted my elbow backward, the judge seemed to hear me make some grunts. So Kullenin was declared the victor. I remember that match to this day. And I was not ashamed to lose to a world champion.
There was another match I'll remember for the rest of my life, although it wasn't one I took part in. I had a friend in university whom I had talked into joining the gym. First he took judo, and he did quite well. Once there was a competition and he was fighting. He took a jump forward and landed headfirst on the mat. His vertebrae were dislocated and he was paralyzed. He died 10 days later in the hospital. He was a good guy. And to this day I regret talking him into taking judo. . . .
Traumas like this were quite frequent during the competitions and matches. People would break their arms or legs. Matches were a form of torture. And training was hard, too. We used to go to an athletic center outside of Leningrad on Khippiyarvi Lake. It's a fairly large lake, about 17 kilometers wide. Every morning when we got up, we ran around the lake first thing. After our run, there would be exercise, then training, breakfast, more workouts, lunch, rest after lunch, and then workouts again.
We used to travel around the country a lot. Once we went to a match in Moldavia, in preparation for the Spartakiad competition of the peoples of the USSR. It was horribly hot. I was coming out of our workout with my friend Vasya, and wine was for sale everywhere. He said to me, "Let's toss back a bottle of wine each." "It's too hot out," I replied. "Then let's just relax," he said. "Alright, alright. Let's get some wine," I said
We each took a bottle, went back to our room, and flopped down on our beds. He opened his bottle. "It's too hot," I said. "I'm not going to." "Really?" he said. "Okay, have it your way." He gulped the bottle straight down. Then he looked at me. ''Are you sure you aren't going to have any?" "I'm sure," I said. So he took the second bottle and knocked it back. He put the empty bottles on the table, and instantly he was out like a light. There he was, suddenly snoring. I really regretted not drinking along with him! I squirmed and squirmed. I couldn't hold out any longer, and poked him. "Hey, you. You're snoring, stop it! You're snoring like an elephant."
That was pretty much the exception. We didn't party much, because drinking made the workouts that much harder. There was this one huge guy that worked out with us. His name was Kolya. Not only was he gigantic, but he had this incredible face. He had a massive jaw that jutted forward and a huge overhanging brow. One night some hooligans started picking on him in a dark alley, and he said, "Guys, calm down. Pipe down for just a second." Then he took out a match, struck it, and held it up to his face. "Just look at me," he said. And that was the end of that incident.
Sergei Roldugin (soloist in the Mariinsky Theater Symphony Orchestra, a family friend of the Putins, and godfather of Putin's older daughter, Masha):
Volodya went to school with my brother. When I moved to Leningrad, my brother told me about Vovka. He brought him over to our house, and we hit it off. I think it was in 1977. After that, he became like a brother to me. When I had nowhere to go, I would go over to his house. I would eat and sleep there.
I was drafted into the army and served in Leningrad. Once, Vovka came over to see me in his Zaporozhets. I jumped over the fence and went AWOL. We went cruising around Leningrad all night. The muffler was broken, and we raced around, singing songs. I can even remember the song we sang:
"We had just one night,
Someone's train left this morning,
And then someone's plane a little later . . . "
We sang and sang, very loudly, without any inhibitions. After all, the muffler was broken. Once my mother was given a state lottery ticket instead of change at a cafeteria, and she won a Zaporozhets car. I was in the third year of university and we couldn't decide what to do with that car for a long time, since we were living very modestly. I had just bought my first coat when I came back from working construction, a year after the vacation with my friends in Gagry. This was my first decent coat. Money was tight in our family, and to give the car to me was absolute madness. We could have sold it, after all, and gotten at least 3,500 rubles for it. That would have settled our family budget well in advance. But my parents decided to spoil me. They gave me the Zaporozhets. I lived the good life in that car. I used to drive it everywhere, even to my matches.
I was a pretty wild driver, but I was terrified of crashing the car. How would I ever repair it?
Once you did get into an accident, though. You ran over a man.
It wasn't my fault. He jumped in front of me or something. . . . Decided to put an end to his life. . . . I don't know what on earth he was doing. He was an idiot. He ran off after I hit him.
They say you chased him.
What? You think I hit a guy with my car and then tried to chase him down? I'm not a beast. I just got out of the car.
Are you able to remain calm in critical situations?
Yes, I remain calm. Even too calm. Later, when I went to intelligence school, I once got an evaluation, where they wrote the following as a negative character assessment: "A lowered sense of danger." That was considered a very serious flaw. You have to be pumped up in critical situations in order to react well. Fear is like pain. It's an indicator. If something hurts, that means something's wrong with your body. It's a sign. I had to work on my sense of danger for a long time.
Evidently you aren't a gambler?
No, I'm not a gambler.
Toward the end of university we went to military training camp. Two of my friends were there, one of whom had gone to Gagry with me. We spent two months there. It was much easier than the athletic camps, and we got really bored. The main source of entertainment was cards. Whoever won went to the village and bought milk from an old lady. I refused to play, but my friends didn't. And they lost everything quickly.
When they had nothing left, they would come and plead for money. They were real gamblers. And I would ask myself, "Should I give them anything? They'll just lose it."
And they would say, "Listen, your few kopecks won't save you anyway. Why not just give them to us." And I would say to them "Alright. After all, I have a lowered sense of danger," and hand over the cash.
Boy, did they make out like bandits! They couldn't lose for winning. And we went to buy milk from the lady every night.
University is a time for romances. Did you have any?
Who didn't? But nothing serious . . . if you don't count that one time.
Yes. She and I even planned to tie the knot.
When did that happen?
About four years before I actually got married.
So it didn't work out?
What got in the way? Something. Some intrigue or other.
She married someone else?
Someone else? Yes, later.
Who decided that you wouldn't get married? I did. I made the decision. We had already applied for a marriage license. Everything was ready.
Our parents on both sides had bought everything the ring, the suit, the wedding dress. . . . The cancellation was one of the most difficult decisions of my life. It was really hard. I felt like a real creep. But I decided that it was better to suffer then than to have both of us suffer later.
That is, you literally ran away and left her at the altar?
Almost. Except that I didn't run away. I told her the truth as much of it as I considered necessary.
Do you not want to talk about it?
No, I don't. It's a complicated story. It's the way it was. It was really
Do you have any regrets?
I liked his girlfriend, she was a pretty girl; a medical student with a strong character. She was a friend to him, a woman who would take care of him. But did she love him? I don't know. Lyuda, his wife or Lyudik, as we call her now, she really loves him.
I got along very well with that girl. I think her name was also Lyuda. She used to worry about his health. It wasn't just, "Oh, honey, how do you feel?" She would say, "Now, I can tell your stomach is hurting." I don't know what happened between them. He didn't tell me anything. He just said that it was all over. I think the falling-out was just between them, because their parents had agreed to the match.
Vovka suffered, of course. The thing is, we are both Libras and we take things like that very much to heart. And at that time I saw that he . . . that his . . . that he was a very emotional person but he simply could not express his emotions. I often used to tell him that he was terrible at making conversation. Why did he have such trouble talking?
Of course, he is Cicero now, compared to the way he talked back then. I used to explain to him, "You talk very quickly, and you should never talk so quickly." As a stage performer, I thought I could help him out. He had very strong emotions, but he could not put them into any form. I think his profession left its imprint on his speech. Now he speaks beautifully. Expansively, intelligibly, and with feeling. Where did he learn to do that?
So you didn't collaborate with the KGB while you were an undergraduate?
They didn't even try to recruit me as an agent, although it was a widespread practice at the time. There were many people who collaborated with the security agencies. The cooperation of normal citizens was an important tool for the state's viable activity. But the main point was the kind of basis this cooperation was established upon. Do you know what a "seksot" is?
It means secret colleague or collaborator.
Right. But do you know why it has acquired such a negative connotation?
Yes, ideological. They did political sleuthing. Everyone thinks that intelligence is interesting. Do you know that ninety percent of all the intelligence information is obtained from an agent's network made up of ordinary Soviet citizens? These agents decide to work for the interests of the state. It doesn't matter what this work is called. The important thing is upon which basis this cooperation takes place. If it is based on betrayal and material gain, that's one thing. But if it is based on some idealistic principles, then it's something else. What about the struggle against banditry? You can't do anything without secret agents.
So when did you join the KGB?
All those years in university I waited for the man at the KGB office to remember me. It seemed that he had forgotten about me. After all, I had gone to see him as a school kid. Who would've thought that I could have such spunk? But I recalled that they didn't like people to show their own initiative, so I didn't make myself known. I kept quiet.
Four years passed. Nothing happened. I decided that the case was closed, and I began to work out different options for finding employment either in the special prosecutor's office or as an attorney. Both are prestigious fields.
* This segment of questions and answers was published in newspapers, but was not included in the Russian edition of Vladimir Putin's book, First Person. Several other passages from the interviews that were published only in newspapers are included in this English edition.
But then, when I was in my fourth year of university, a man came and asked me to meet with him. He didn't say who he was, but I immediately figured it out, because he said, "I need to talk to you about your career assignment. I wouldn't like to specify exactly what it is yet." I picked up on it immediately. If they didn't want to say where, that meant it was there.
We agreed to meet right in the faculty vestibule. He was late. I waited for about 20 minutes. Well, I thought, what a swine! Or was someone playing a prank on me? And I decided to leave. Then suddenly he ran up, all out of breath.
"I'm sorry," he said.
I liked that.
"It's all arranged," he said. "Volodya, there's still a lot of time, but how would you feel if you were invited to work in the agencies?" I didn't tell him that I had dreamed of this moment since I was a schoolboy. I didn't tell him, because I remembered my conversation in the KGB office long ago: "We don't take people who come to us on their own initiative."
And when you agreed to work in the agencies, did you think about 1937?
To be honest, I didn't think about it at all. Not one bit. I recently met up with some old colleagues from the KGB Directorate guys who I worked with at the very beginning and we talked about the same thing. And I can tell you what I said to them: When I accepted the proposition from the Directorate's personnel department (actually, my recruiter turned out to be an official in the subdivision that served the universities), I didn't think about the [Stalin-era] purges. My notion of the KGB came from romantic spy stories. I was a pure and utterly successful product of Soviet patriotic education.
You knew nothing about the purges?
I didn't know much. Yes, of course, I knew about Stalin's cult of personality. I knew that people had suffered and that the cult of personality had been dismantled. . . . I wasn't completely naïve. Keep in mind that I was 18 when I went to university and that I graduated at age 23.
But those who cared to know, knew all about it.
We lived under the conditions of a totalitarian state. Everything was concealed.
How deep was that cult of personality? How serious was it?
My friends and I didn't think about that. So I went to work for the agencies with a romantic image of what they did. But after that conversation in the vestibule, I heard nothing more. The man disappeared. And then there was a phone call; an invitation to the university's personnel department. Dmitry GantserovI can still remember his name was the one to speak to me.
But there was almost a slipup at the employment commission. When they got to my name, a representative from the department of law said, "Yes, we're taking him into the bar." Then the agent who was monitoring the students' assignments suddenly woke up, he had been asleep somewhere in the corner. "Oh, no," he said. "That question has already been decided. We're hiring Putin to work in the agencies of the KGB." He said it right out loud like that, in front of the job-assignment commission.
And then several days later I was filling out all sorts of application forms and papers.
They told you they were hiring you to work in intelligence?
Of course not. It was all very systematic. They put it sort of like this: "We are proposing that you work in the field where we'll send you. Are you ready?" If the applicant was wishy-washy and said that he had to think about it, they would simply say, "Okay. Next!" And that person wouldn't have another chance. You can't pick your nose and say, "I want this and I don't want that." They can't use people like that.
You evidently said you were ready to work where they sent you?
Yes. Of course. And they themselves didn't even know where I would be working. They were just hiring new people. It's actually a routine matter, recruiting personnel and determining who should be sent where. I was made a routine offer.
Vovka told me right away that he was working in the KGB. Practically right away. Maybe he was not supposed to do that. He told some people that he was working in the police. On the one hand, I treated these guys with caution, because I had had some run-ins with them. I had traveled abroad and knew that there were always people posing as inspectors or officials from the Ministry of Culture. You had to keep your mouth shut when you were around them.
I once told a colleague of mine, "Come on, they're normal, they're nice guys." And he said, "The more you talk to them, the more dirt they will have in your file at 4 Liteiny Street."
* 4 Liteiny Street was the address of the KGB headquarters in Leningrad and currently houses the KGB's successor, the FSB (Federal Security Service).
I never asked Volodya about his work. Of course I was curious. But I remember once I decided to corner him and find out something about some special operation. I got nowhere.
Later I said to him, ''I am a cellist. I play the cello. I could never be a surgeon. Still, I'm a good cellist. But what is your profession? I know, you're a spy. I don't know what that means. Who are you? What do you do?"
And he said to me, "I'm a specialist in human relations." And that was the end of our conversation. And he really did think that he was able to judge personalities. When I divorced my first wife, Irina, he said, "I predicted that that's exactly how it would turn out." I disagreed you couldn't know what would happen between me and Irina from the start. But his comment made a big impression on me. I believed what he said: that he was a specialist in human relations.