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Official website of the President of Russia

Transcripts   /

Excerpts from Interview to Baltika radio station

February 24, 2000, St Petersburg

Acting President and Prime Minister Vladimir Putin talked about Anatoly Sobchak:

As the head of state, I should not use harsh terms. Nevertheless, I will express my opinion here. Anatoly Sobchak did not just die, he perished because he was hounded.

He made a great contribution to the destruction of the totalitarian system. He belonged to the generation of politicians who made the first attempt to restore the past European glory and brilliance in our city, who did so much for the destruction of the old system and persistently looked for ways to revive the city and the country. He ardently loved our city and did much for it.

…Many things have been forgotten in the midst of current problems and events. But we must not forget that in the early 1990s Anatoly did much to save our city from famine in the direct meaning of this word. We must remember that Anatoly did a great deal to avoid bloodshed during the events in 1991 and 1993.

…He was a brilliant man, a true Petersburger in style and mentality rather than by origin. Therefore, I firmly believe that his memory should be immortalised in our city. The residents of the city will decide this question themselves.

…I was in close contact with Anatoly for a long period of time, over many years. I was probably much closer to him than many others. He was a surprising mixture of seemingly incompatible features. He could show incredible resolve. Sometimes I was perplexed how he, an intellectual to the core, a professor who never dealt with any government duties, could display such will. But on the other hand, he was a very good-natured man, very attentive, and, sometimes very naïve – I’m afraid I can’t find a better word. This word describes his character the best.

I will be frank with you – when I compared myself to him – and we always compare ourselves to people we want to emulate in some ways and be similar – he always won. Do you know why? Because I always felt that I was too pragmatic, and I found it surprising that he, a much older man, indulged in such naïve discussions of some subjects, guilelessly believed in some ideals and goals that seemed to me unrealistic at the time. This is exactly why I said in an interview with the newspaper Chas Pik, that Anatoly was one of the last romantics. He knew how to dream.

…He was a very gifted man, a real intellectual, and a brilliant speaker, as we all know well. He was also surprisingly kind – resolute and kind at the same time. This combination made a strong impression. Of course, people had a different attitude to him; we know this as a fact. Indeed, people of such magnitude evoke different attitudes; they never adapt themselves to anyone or anything; they are what they are. If they were more flexible, they would probably accommodate many. Anatoly’s fate would probably have been different if he had gone with the flow. But then he wouldn’t have been what he was. Then Sobchak wouldn’t have been Sobchak.

Our views change with time. You know, I was asked today what I thought about Anatoly Chubais’s statement when he named the people whom he considered guilty of engineering Sobchak’s demise. If you remember, I have expressed my view.

But do you know what I have just remembered? When the Duma was considering my appointment as prime minister, I met with representatives of all political parties, from the right and the left. As we know, the left parties carried a lot of weight in the previous Duma. Their decision would determine whether the Duma voted for me as the prime minister or not. At a general meeting with the representatives of left-wing parties (they were all together) I was asked a question: “What is your attitude to Anatoly Sobchak?” This was a test question before the vote that would decide if I were going to become prime minister or not. I realised what audience I was talking to but I said that I considered Anatoly Sobchak an honest and decent man. You can guess what the reaction of the audience was. It was predictable albeit reserved. I explained my position, and explained it in the same way as I did to your listeners. I recalled this story from 1995–1996 in the context of the attempts to try and revive the ill-starred Leningrad case. I recalled how the results of these efforts were directly used in the power struggle, how openly the law-enforcement agencies were exploited to the extent we could not even imagine in the former Soviet KGB. So, I said to the audience: “We are now on the eve of the Duma elections, and all current deputies want the elections to be honest and open, and demand that the Government should guarantee this”. This was really the case, but what happened with Anatoly Sobchak after 1996 I perceived through the prism of the events that I witnessed since the middle of 1995.

Many things are unknown, many things still need to be explained. Sometimes people are not even to blame for misinterpreting events or passing judgments on others. This is because many things are not reported, and too many things do not reach ordinary people. It is just brewing in the political kitchen. But when we learn more and more, we acquire an opportunity to judge events and people involved in them without bias. This, of course, applies to Anatoly Sobchak.


* * *


Acting President and Prime Minister Vladimir Putin on the investigation of murders of St Petersburg Deputy Mayor Mikhail Manevich and State Duma deputy Galina Starovoitova:

You know I don’t like making emotional statements or giving firm promises until I have a sense of the result. This is why I will tell you the following. I will personally do all I can for these crimes to be solved. I will do everything that depends on me and on those people whom I will direct in this field. Everything will be done. This I can promise you for sure.

Question: But do you sense any result at all?

Putin: A great deal is being done. This work does not stop, there are very many versions and many complications, but we won’t give up on this. We will not give up the investigation into the murder of Misha or Galina Starovoitova. We will investigate this as long as it will take us to find the criminals.


* * *


Acting President and Prime Minister Vladimir Putin on the housing and public utilities reform:

Housing and public utilities is one of the urgent problems that the Government needs to pay much more attention to than it did before. But paying attention does not mean throwing more and more money into it, it means adopting a sensible policy that should pursue the following ends. The state simply must consider the interests of people with the lowest incomes, and build social housing for them. At the same time, there should be instruments and institutions that would help people with medium or high incomes to purchase housing. It is also necessary to change the system of housing subsidies, which at present gives the same amount of money to people living in communal flats and owners of mansions.


* * *


Acting President and Prime Minister Vladimir Putin on the situation in the Chechen Republic:

We will do everything we can to bring the military mission to completion, we will rout the terrorists.

There are forces in Chechnya with which we can cooperate. We will resolve all questions, be they social, economic or political, with civilians only by peaceful means and only at the negotiating table. I would like to emphasise that we do not want and have no right to corner a nation, to bring it to its knees.

Incidentally, Anatoly Sobchak and I held similar positions on the Chechen problem. The former mayor of St Petersburg even drafted some ideas for me on this issue.



Acting President and Prime Minister Vladimir Putin on the Armed Forces reform and conscription:

Development of the Russian Armed Forces is not linked with total mobilisation, calling up as many young people as possible, not to mention the middle aged.

A share of military professionals will increase in Russia as a general trend. This does not mean that tomorrow we will switch over to one hundred percent professional army, nor does it mean that the army should only consist of professionals. But I’d like to recall that today a considerable part of officers and warrant officers in aviation and the air force are professionals. About 30% of officers and men taking part in the current operation in Chechnya, in the North Caucasus, are under contract. We will continue working in this direction. Also, we should bear in mind that military hardware is continuously upgraded and becoming more complicated, and only professionally trained personnel can handle it.


* * *


Question: A terrorist organisation has declared open season on you.

Putin: I don’t like talking about this and let me explain why. I believe that everyone should do his or her own work. If someone is not ready to do it, then it is better not to start. But if you have undertaken to do something, you should not think about the consequences, no matter how negative they maybe. I must do my work. And I will do it regardless of any threats.

You have chosen very good words – open season. I’m not sure whether this is right and dog breeders will correct me if I’m wrong but there is a popular opinion that if you are afraid of a dog, it will bite you some day, but if you behave as its owner, it will wag its tail. This is how we should behave in dealing with the criminals, no matter what goals they may be guided by, or what tasks they may be pursuing. We must press them, we must drive them into a corner, into the underground, rather than allow them to frighten us. Otherwise, they will intimidate our entire society. We will achieve what I have said – we’ll drive them into the underground. They must be where they belong – behind bars.


* * *


In conclusion, I’d like to thank Radio Baltika for arranging this programme and our listeners for taking an active part in our conversation today. This alone is a tribute to Anatoly Sobchak. The questions that were asked, the problems that were raised in connection with today’s sad event are very important for us; memory is very important as well as the proposals that were made on immortalising Sobchak, and on some other issues that concern our city.

I am very grateful to all of our listeners for their attention to this subject, and for their high sense of responsibility and love towards the city that I have felt today. Thank you.

February 24, 2000, St Petersburg