Mikhail Leontyev: Good afternoon, Mr Putin.
Vladimir Putin: Good afternoon.
Mikhail Leontyev: Naturally, let us start with Chechnya because it is the most important topic today. They say there are signs of a turnaround.
Vladimir Putin: What do you mean by turnaround? We never had any doubts that it would end with the restoration of law and order and the defeat of the terrorists. Some people may have had doubts, but I had no doubts for a second. Otherwise we wouldn’t have started what we are doing there now. As for the actual military operations – today – the terrorists have been taught a very telling lesson. And I think they have suffered damage that will be hard for them to repair. In that sense it can be called a turning point. But the question always arises, where do we go from here? Next we must destroy all the major groups, disperse them and destroy them. And then, as the military have already said, we will launch a planned withdrawal of military units from Chechnya while simultaneously stationing one division of the Armed Forces there on a permanent basis.
Mikhail Leontyev: What exactly do you mean by a “major group”?
Vladimir Putin: I define that as a band of ten, 15, or 100 men. Surely, some people will surface who have hidden an automatic rifle or some grenade launchers somewhere.
We may face instances of violence and armed clashes for a long time yet. But it will be a far cry from what we faced when large units numbering several thousand people invaded Dagestan.
You know, what we have managed to do together is we have managed to bring home to every citizen the tragic character of the events that are happening and their importance for the fate of the country. And you would agree that only recently, last summer, it was hard for us to predict how the public would react to the resumption of fighting in the North Caucasus, even if it was not us who started it. It was not us who attacked Chechnya, an aggression was launched from Chechnya against other regions of the Russian Federation. And even then we were not sure how the public would react to all these developments. It took some courage to make certain decisions and embark on a series of military actions.
So, there is public acceptance. I would agree with you that it is not enough to say only that. We should be proud of these people. As for the allegations that we are holding some information back, that is not true. Let me just repeat that we shouldn’t exaggerate our casualties in order to undermine public morale. This is something that some quarters are trying to introduce into the public consciousness. And that is really dangerous. The same argument has been used at all times in all armed conflicts. Remember the “defeatism” of the Bolsheviks. They wanted Russia to be defeated in the First World War hoping that the regime would fall and they would come to power. That is a fact. And the same was true during the first Chechen War. I am not going to delve into history any further.
Mikhail Leontyev: I think Russia paid a horrible price before it realized that it had to do what it is doing there now. That is obvious.
As for our Western partners, they don’t understand, or they pretend they don’t understand. You know that some channels have had little chance to talk with you. So, they invite, for instance, Mr Vedrine and ask him, what sort of man is Mr Putin? What is the real Putin like? And what is Ms Albright like? What are they really like? Is it really the case that they don’t understand or perhaps it is in their interests not to understand? In general, what do they want us to do?
Vladimir Putin: I can’t get into the soul and head of every individual politician and say with complete accuracy what he thinks and what he understands or does not understand. I can only speak about my impressions. I think sometimes there is true misunderstanding. Very often government leaders are guided by the internal political processes in their countries. They think about upcoming elections at home. None of them knows better than us that if chunks of territory are torn off of Russia by force, it would make the country ungovernable. This is something that only we ourselves can know and feel.
Besides, when I was saying more or less clear things to some foreign leaders I saw that they were basically aware of what was happening there, but they were not aware of the full extent of the danger.
Let me explain. I for one am deeply convinced that it is not only or largely about Chechnya itself. What we face in much of the former Soviet Union today is the problem of geopolitical change in the balance of forces, or, if you like, attempts at geopolitical change.
Think about events in Tajikistan. We have the 201st Division there. If we pull out, we will face tragic developments there within a month. We are well aware of that. But are our Western partners aware of it? Well, Tajikistan is only one such area. And there is also Uzbekistan and Kyrgyzstan, much of whose mountainous area was seized by large bands of invaders last year. There are other areas that are very dangerous in terms of the aggressive designs of such extremist forces. These extremist forces are clearly out to win that turf. In this context, Chechnya is only a small part of the overall fight to re-divide the world.
It is not by chance that the people who took control of Chechen territory are not content with the independence of Chechnya and have gone further. They crossed the borders of Chechnya seeking to annex new territories from Russia to create a state from the Black to the Caspian seas. There was a sense that that part of the former Soviet Union had grown so weak that it was easy prey. But judging from what happened in Kyrgyzstan, for example, they have grounds for thinking so: they penetrated Kyrgyzstan unchallenged, they seized large areas and took hostages, including foreigners, the Japanese, as you remember.
And there is another danger. We all speak about the possible disintegration of Russia. If these extremist forces manage to gain a foothold in the Caucasus, and not only gain a foothold in Chechnya but several other territories, then this “contagion” could move up the Volga River and spill into other republics. And then we will either face the “balkanisation” of Russia or agree to let its territory be divided into several independent states. Has anyone given any thought to the political and geopolitical consequences of such a development in the world? When I talked with my partners, I told many of them directly that we were not only disappointed with the Western stance, but we thought that providing Russia with direct political and economic support in its fight against international extremism was in the national interests of the overwhelming majority of Western countries. Direct support.
Mikhail Leontyev: Lukashenko, the President of Belarus, said that you had agreed that Russia would defend Belarus if it were attacked. Is that true?
Vladimir Putin: Belarus is our ally and we will defend it. Caring about your allies is not only in their interests. It is in the interests of our own national security and means that all our allies share the responsibility for security. Otherwise these states would not be our allies.
Mikhail Leontyev: A naive question: who are our allies?
Vladimir Putin: Well, first of all, all the members of the Commonwealth of Independent States. That’s for starters. We have allies in Europe, a good many of them. All those who share our ideas about a multi-polar world are our potential allies.
Mikhail Leontyev: Other than Belarus, are there any countries, perhaps not great powers, but our neighbours, that think about what we are doing and understand us?
Vladimir Putin: I think that especially after the events of last summer, many Central Asian republics of the former Soviet Union and South Caucasian Republics have been thinking about it. Why is it that we hardly even mention… It just appeared fleetingly in the press and was then forgotten… But the Western countries are actively supporting Georgia and that is good, we welcome it. Georgia is a friendly state. But the terrorists who made an attempt on the life of Shevardnadze were trained in Chechnya. And Georgia knows it. The FSB has caught these people and handed over some of them to the Georgian Security Service. That is a proven fact. The terrorists were trained in Chechnya. Likewise, the terrorists who later tried to stage an attempt on the life of Uzbek President Karimov were also trained in Chechnya.
In other words, Chechnya became a haven for terrorists who were trained to assassinate the leaders of other states. Clearly, this is no longer confined to the Chechen Republic. But they studiously avoid mentioning the fact. Why?
Mikhail Leontyev: One has the impression that Russia is constantly submitting documents and reports to the International Monetary Fund pointing out that we have fulfilled and over-fulfilled the agreed programme, but that the IMF is still not giving us loans, that we are being ill-treated.
Vladimir Putin: He who ill-treats us won’t last three days. Forget about “ill-treated”.
Mikhail Leontyev: But are we or are we not seeking loans from them? What is the basis of our relations with that organisation?
Vladimir Putin: I will explain. Perhaps on the surface it does look as if we are continuing to haggle over credits. But actually, that is by no means the most important thing. I think it would be very wrong to break off relations with international financial institutions. But it would also be wrong to go begging. We are a large and basically self-sufficient country. We shouldn’t turn down loans. You know the famous Russian proverb: “If they give you something, take it, if they beat you, run.” It is crude but correct. If they offer loans on good terms, it would be folly to turn them down. It would be stupid. And international financial institutions offer loans on good terms.
But getting credits is not an end in itself. I think the goal today is to maintain a good working relationship with international financial institutions, including the IMF as a specialist organisation, an organisation whose aim is to integrate emerging market economies into the world economy. And on the strength of all this I personally believe that far from breaking them off, we should promote our relations with all international financial institutions: the World Bank and the IMF.
But it doesn’t mean we should beg for handouts. For example, I think our relations with the World Bank are very positive. As you know, we have obtained a loan without regard to the political processes in our country.
Mikhail Leontyev: For the first time in 15 years we have achieved significant industrial growth. Obviously, we know that oil prices are high. But oil prices were high four years ago, for example, but there was no economic growth.
Vladimir Putin: You are right. The price of oil and other commodities that are our traditional exports have gone up before, but it did not produce any appreciable impact on the country’s economy and we did not all see the benefits.
Why is it different this time around? There are a number of reasons. One has to admit that it is not only the high prices for our traditional exports on the world market that have had a positive impact on us, but the crash in August 1998 and the devaluation of the rouble that improved the situation for the companies working on the domestic market because of import replacement. To put it in simple terms, people stopped buying imported goods because they had become too expensive for them. That is an objective factor.
But it would be wrong to say that it was the only factor. I think the Government’s economic unit has managed to take advantage of the situation in order to increase production by pursuing a tough and consistent policy. In other words, we did not fritter away the excess revenues. We tried not to unduly increase social spending. We very much wanted to do so something in the social sphere, but that would have siphoned off resources from industry.
So, it is a consequence of many factors. On the one hand, the ultimate goal is the well-being of the people. But that cannot be achieved by just throwing in all our resources. The well-being of the people can only be based on real growth in the economy. In addition, we managed to stick to the so-called basic macroeconomic parameters of the budget.
Mikhail Leontyev: But oil prices may be high today, they may remain high for a year or a year and a half, but then they may plunge. What should the economy do? What problems should it tackle in order to stabilise the situation and sustain growth?
Vladimir Putin: First of all, you should never be in too much of a hurry. Yes, prices are favourable. Yes, we should take advantage of that, but we shouldn’t assume that once prices change everything will collapse. There will be no tragedy. It will be more difficult for us to tackle the problems of economic recovery and development of the market economy and integrate it into the world economic system. Yes, it will be difficult, but not impossible. That is why I say that we should maintain good relations with international financial institutions. That’s one of the reasons.
Mikhail Leontyev: Do you feel that investors and the world market, from which we have practically withdrawn, may soon come back to Russia?
Vladimir Putin: Yes, I think so. You know what we lacked most of all? First of all, we lacked strong government. We were short of instruments to guarantee some kind of acceptable conditions for investments.
Mikhail Leontyev: By the way…
Vladimir Putin: That was the first thing we lacked. Second. For many years we lurched from one coup attempt to another. We were short of political stability. Who would invest in any project? You know, when I was in St Petersburg I worked on many different projects. I have inside knowledge of how these negotiations proceed. For example, a potential investor comes with a hundred million. First, he has to “plough that money into the ground in our country.” Then he has to wait to recoup the investments he made in our economy, and then a certain period is needed before he starts getting profits. Otherwise, there is no point in starting all this business. But if our development leads us from one government coup to another and nobody knows when the next coup will occur and what the outcome and the political consequences will be, who will invest money here? Will he recoup the money he invested or not? To say nothing of profits. There will be no massive investments until we have a stable political system, a stable and strong state which protects the market institutions and creates an investment-friendly climate.
Mikhail Leontyev: Are you a factor for stability?
Vladimir Putin: I think the President who will be elected, whoever he is, should be such a factor. I am sure he will operate comparatively undisturbed, especially after we complete the operation in the North Caucasus.
Mikhail Leontyev: If we complete it. And are you prepared to present the gift of a largely completed operation in the North Caucasus to that person?
Vladimir Putin: Present it to Russia… and not just present it but follow through on it so I know that I have fulfilled my duty to my country regarding that situation. But that is only the start of the restoration and strengthening of the state. That is why I think there is such massive support among the population, because I think that even ordinary people are aware of the move to strengthen this state. We will continue to move in that direction.
Mikhail Leontyev: What is your concept of the state in politics and economics? There is talk of a “police state”… By the way, one of your predecessors, Yevgeny Primakov, when announcing he would not run for office, said that it had been a difficult decision for him because, as it turned out, we were not a democratic or civilised country and that he wouldn’t want to demean himself by joining the fray.
Vladimir Putin: Well, that’s not exactly what he said and I think it would be unfair to interpret what he said in that way. In general, Yevgeny Maksimovich is one of those people who have no other interests but the interests of the state. One can interpret these interests in different ways, and one might argue with him. He has often been described as a supporter of a strong state, that is, as someone who puts the interests of society above his personal interests, as we used to say. This is certainly true of Primakov. He is a very experienced man. And whatever his official position, I know he will always be prepared to meet me and discuss concrete problems and concrete issues. Even if he does not hold any official government post, informally I will always respect and value that man’s opinion.
As for your question about what the state is for me, it is above all an apparatus for guaranteeing the rights and freedoms of the individual and the citizens. What does that mean in economics? More or less the same thing. The state must lay down the general principles for managing the economy and guarantee that these rules are applied uniformly. There should be no preferences or privileges for any individual groups or citizens or firms and so on. This is the main function of the state. It is a highly moral function. But it is justified from the economic point of view. Indeed, there is a need for it in Russia today.
In my opinion, when we speak about the strengthening of the state, and I think it is worth repeating: the strengthening of some institutions of the state directly linked with the market will guarantee a level playing field for all participants in economic activities. That is very important. No investment can be expected without it.
Mikhail Leontyev: The relations between government and business are a distinct aspect. We have a certain history. We have the so-called oligarchs. Well, the oligarchs are not quite what they used to be, they have been somewhat “deflated” and their role has changed.
Vladimir Putin: I don’t think they have been “deflated”. I think they are pretending to be half-dead. Actually they are sitting pretty, as they themselves admit.
But seriously, the unfortunate events of August 1998 caused great damage to our finances, and to many industrial companies.
What should the Government’s relationship with them be? We should treat them as agents in the market. They have a bigger stake than anyone in working out coherent and acceptable rules in this country, and these rules being honoured by everyone. And the Government would guarantee that these rules are honoured. Without granting any privileges or preferences to anyone, regardless of political leanings or the scale of their activities.
Mikhail Leontyev: How big an impact can they have on decision-making? This is not an abstract question, this is a real problem for Russia.
Vladimir Putin: And not only for Russia. In some countries, such activities, lobbying activities, are legal. Take the United States, where there are lobbying groups. These activities are not expressly legal in some other countries, but all the same major corporations and major players on the market have a big say in taking decisions and passing laws. There is no getting away from that. One should clearly understand that whatever influences may be at work on the decision-making process, there should be established institutions in the country. And the institution of the President, who is immune to such influences and who looks after the interests of the whole society rather than the interests of major companies and monopolies, has to be one such institution. We should prevent such things from happening.
Mikhail Leontyev: The opposition is unhappy about you. They say that you are unopposed and this is the problem. They have even suggested that people won’t go to the polls because the outcome is a foregone conclusion. Why is that and why don’t you help the opposition to come up with an alternative candidate?
Vladimir Putin: It is not my fault that people say I am unopposed. It is not my fault. As for my attitude to the opposition as a whole, there must always be an opposition, otherwise the powers that be become complacent and quickly lose touch with reality. It is like a physical pain. If you feel pain it means something is wrong with this or that organ.
Mikhail Leontyev: Until recently everybody, including the opposition, thought that the Government was in an extremely vulnerable position. When the President named you as his heir apparent people dismissed you as hopeless. They said: “That’s it, that’s a black mark, he ruined your chances.”
Vladimir Putin: I absolutely agree with your assessment. And indeed initially no one would touch me because everybody thought it would be a waste of time to promote an unfit candidate. They thought I could be dismissed. But subsequent actions have shown that the Government I headed did what society wanted to be done. And it dawned on the opposition that it was up against a serious opponent. From that moment on they started playing up the casualties in Chechnya and alleging that positive economic results have everything to do with high oil prices and warning about the threat of an emerging dictatorship. From that moment on an all-out attack was launched. But I don’t see that as a tragedy. That is what the opposition is for, it must attack.
Mikhail Leontyev: A lot of people, no matter what their relationship with the Government and you personally is, are falling over themselves to pledge their support for you. Aren’t you afraid that, first, this stampede will simply trample you underfoot? And secondly, what will be your relationships with former enemies who are now your ardent supporters?
Vladimir Putin: I strongly object to the word “stampede.” The people who back me – I treat them with immense respect and gratitude. And please, do not speak ill of these people in my presence.
Mikhail Leontyev: My apologies.
Vladimir Putin: I have already said that the people are fed up with a loose and flabby government. So when they saw early steps being taken towards the strengthening of the state, it met a need and it met with a very positive reaction among the people. I set great store by that reaction, because it provides feedback.
As for working with former opponents, everyone has his weaknesses. I have a good many weaknesses myself. I am not a vengeful man and I do not think that the people who were my opponents yesterday will be my enemies for life. It is important to understand what motivated them when they opposed you. It often happens that people, especially if they are guided by certain moral rules and pursue certain goals, become reliable allies at a certain stage. Because in their work and in their activities they are guided not by expediency but by certain ideals and attitudes which they may sometimes be better at upholding than you. Such people should be sought out and brought into the Government. But of course some of them act out of expediency. If they think it would benefit them to attack the authorities today, they will do so. If it will benefit them tomorrow to align themselves with the authorities, they will do so.
Mikhail Leontyev: Do you remember for a long time the blows you have been dealt?
Vladimir Putin: I try to remember the blows. But, as I said, it doesn’t always happen. I am not vindictive enough, although sometimes you have to be vindictive, perhaps.
Mikhail Leontyev: From whom do you draw your support in general? Your economic team or your team in general? Where does it come from, who are these people?
Vladimir Putin: I have always picked my team – and I have been holding executive positions for 10 years – I have picked them not based on the colour of their skin or blood group or nationality, I have picked them and still pick them based on personal merit. On the basis of whether the person is fit for the job.
Let us look at the Government. Today the de facto Government Chairman is Mikhail Kasyanov. If you ask me where he was born, I don’t know. I think he is a Muscovite. Why did I appoint him? Because during the three months that we have worked together I have seen that he is a very market-minded man, a competent and circumspect man. A man who has some authority in international financial circles. Moreover, he is the Finance Minister and is linked with all the other ministries and agencies. It was a natural decision.
Likewise, some ministers and deputy prime ministers come from St Petersburg, from Leningrad. The reason? First, I think the Moscow lot could do with a bit of a shake-up. Over the years channels of mutual incentives between business and the Government apparatus here have been established. And sometimes these links should be broken. The important thing is that it shouldn’t disrupt the Government’s work. It is the right thing to do. But it calls for competent people. What other Government members come from Petersburg? The Health Minister was until recently the head of the Military-Medical Academy located in Petersburg. He was introduced by Sergei Vadimovich Stepashin. Ilya Iosifovich Klebanov, who is in charge of the defence industry, was, I think, invited to work in the Government by Stepashin. Valentina Ivanovna Matvienko. I think she has been one of the best deputy prime ministers in charge of social affairs recently. She has been promoted to the Government by Yevgeny Maksimovich Primakov. Am I supposed to sack them all only because… Yes, and Kudrin and Yuzhanov, who is in charge of the Land Committee, were invited by Chubais, I think. They are all competent professionals. Should they be sacked only because they come from Leningrad? This is not cronyism. These people came here at different times and have had different careers, they are in the right place and they are doing a good job. But, just so you know, the Government has hundreds of people. The percentage of people from Leningrad is, perhaps, 0.5, but I doubt that it is even that high.
As for my personal staff, the Executive Office, my aides and so on. Yes, I have hired several people recently. They also come from St Petersburg, Leningrad. The Security Council Secretary is Sergei Borisovich Ivanov. But he has been working with foreign intelligence in Moscow for 20 years. There is another Ivanov, Victor Petrovich, who is in charge of personnel in the Presidential Executive Office. I have worked with him for 20 years and I know that he is a competent man and I trust him.
Mikhail Leontyev: St Petersburg has been a huge source of personnel, but it is also a former imperial capital, a grand city, though a bit run down. Perhaps some functions could be moved there from the capital?
Vladimir Putin: St Petersburg has long been called the second capital. Many countries do the same. Take, for example, the Federal Republic of Germany. There ministries are scattered among several big cities. The German Central Bank, for example, is in Frankfurt-am-Maine. So Frankfurt has become a banking and financial capital not only of Germany, but of united Europe.
But to shift the capital there would be absurd, it would be too expensive and unjustified. However, some government institutions could be located in St Petersburg. The conditions there are adequate. But I don’t think I can take such decisions single-handedly.
Mikhail Leontyev: The people want to know something about the personal life of their Acting President and presidential candidate. An impertinent question, perhaps. If you have any free time, how do you spend it?
Vladimir Putin: My day begins at different times. Sometimes at eight and sometimes at seven. And sometimes it starts very early, especially when I have to go on a trip and it takes 3–4 hours to fly to the venue. It means I have to get up at 5 a.m. in order to start work at 10 a.m.
Mikhail Leontyev: Do you see much of your family in general?
Vladimir Putin: I see them.
Mikhail Leontyev: How much of your working day is occupied by representative functions and political work connected with the election campaign?
Vladimir Putin: As for political work and electioneering, at present I practically don’t do any of it.
Mikhail Leontyev: And who does it, then?
Vladimir Putin: A campaign headquarters is being set up which is to be headed by Dmitry Anatolyevich Medvedev, until recently of the Leningrad or St Petersburg University Legal Department. I have known him for many years. I don’t think anyone has anything against his becoming the head of my campaign. That is all I have done in the way of political or election work. The rest of the time I direct the Government or deal with issues that are not within the Government’s purview, but are within the President’s area of responsibility.
Mikhail Leontyev: You have a reputation as a reticent and withdrawn man, perhaps because of your professional background. Do you have friends? And do you have many friends? Are they becoming fewer, or is the distance between you increasing, be it on your part or on theirs?
Vladimir Putin: I have friends of course. Unfortunately, or perhaps fortunately, they are not so many. Because then, you value the friends you have more. These are the people with whom I have been friends for many years, with some of them from my schooldays, with some from university days. The character of our relations is not changing. I haven’t been able to meet them often recently, but the meetings still take place regularly. They come here. When I visit St Pete, we meet there.
You know, this is related to the question you asked me earlier, as to whether people’s attitude to me has changed in connection with my change of office. As you know, I worked with foreign intelligence for a long time. Back in the days when I worked in St Petersburg, then called Leningrad, I practically shared an office with people who had carried out very challenging assignments abroad in very difficult conditions for 15–17 years. And then it just so happened that we practically shared the same office with them and our rank was almost the same. And it seemed strange and surprising to me and my peers at the time because we knew that these people could well be heroes out of books. And yet they were sitting in the same office with us like ordinary Soviet citizens and seemed to be quite happy. And you know what struck me and others most of all? These people, there were several of them, they said that the very fact that the country had entrusted them with that job had already rewarded them, and they considered themselves lucky and were happy. They said they were grateful to their country. We don’t expect any material rewards, after all, you can’t take them with you to the grave. And you know, it has been like a vaccine against the “stardom disease” for life. Your position is one today and it may change tomorrow. But your friends always remain with you, provided they are genuine friends, of course.
Mikhail Leontyev: Are you aware of what your Western interlocutors think about your former profession? Do they have some special attitude to you? And how much help or hindrance is this profession to a public politician in a democratic society, where the media have great clout?
Vladimir Putin: My current Western partners have not shown particular interest in my former profession. First, they have long known about it. When I started working in Petersburg in 1990, 1991, I publicly declared it, it is well known. I made frequent trips abroad. So, it was no secret to experts, politicians and the special services. I think that in the last ten years they have checked out everything that could be checked out. I assure you, this is the case. It is interesting only for the press, and I understand that it is an interesting topic for the general public. Is it a help or a hindrance? I think in most cases it helps me because I owe a certain perspective to it. Because the intelligence service is essentially an information service, it is first and foremost information work.
As for other components of political activities, it is the public character of my new job. I have never been inclined to publicity, not that I find it a burden, but I don’t get much pleasure out of it.
Mikhail Leontyev: But you see many people who change dramatically when they come to power. Some obvious changes of personality take place. Has your behaviour and the way you feel changed in any way?
Vladimir Putin: Unfortunately, yes. Because I have more responsibility. You realise that if you behave in a disorganised and lax fashion, this spreads down the chain of command. It sends the wrong signal to the whole Government. So you have to be tough and demanding.
Mikhail Leontyev: About the media. There is a sense that a crackdown could be launched at any moment. Some signs and symptoms of it have been pointed out. How will you build your relationships with the media?
Vladimir Putin: I am deeply convinced that we will not be able to develop and the country will have no future if we suppress democratic freedoms and the media. This is my profound conviction. Because it is indeed a key institution that prevents the government from sliding into the quagmire of totalitarianism. We have already lived under a totalitarian regime. And however hard it tried to adapt itself to the external world, it was a failure in the economic field. But the free press is the key instrument that guarantees the health of society.
Mikhail Leontyev: We have seen that different politicians react to attacks on them in the press differently. The press does not seem to be too harsh on you, but still, how do you feel about some of the negative articles about you in the press and how do you respond to such cases?
Vladimir Putin: I consider myself to be a mature man and I can look at these processes from the inside, as it were. You will have noticed that I said that a free press is a key element of civil society and a guarantee of the democratic development of the state. I said, a free press. In reality it is very hard for the press to be free. Very often the press caters to certain interests, for example, the interests of the oligarchs you have mentioned and the interests of certain groups and so on. Actually, if the state guarantees a level playing field, that would mean freedom for society as a whole. And then these groups would be able to work within the uniform rules guaranteed by the state.
When I read or hear things about myself that I consider to be unfair, naturally I feel hurt. But I should remember that in spite of all this I must guarantee a level playing field. Because it may happen that the people whom I support today and those who support me, will one day find ourselves in opposition.
Mikhail Leontyev: A very personal question. Your dog is such a cute and delightful animal. It does not fit in with the popular image of you. Is it your dog, your wife’s or your children’s?
Vladimir Putin: My kids wanted a little dog. I had resisted for a long time. Because we used to have another, more intimidating dog. Unfortunately, it died, it was run over by a car. We were very sad. And for a long time we couldn’t bring ourselves to have another dog. But the kids wanted a little dog and eventually they prevailed upon us. Now it’s hard to say whether it is my dog, or my wife’s or my kids’. It lives on its own, as it were.
Mikhail Leontyev: Like a cat?
Vladimir Putin: No, no. That would be an insult to our dog. A dog is a dog. But we are very fond of it. A very kind dog.
Mikhail Leontyev: The house you live in gives the impression of being a temporary dwelling. The paintings haven’t been unpacked… Who runs the house?
Vladimir Putin: Most of it is not our personal stuff. This dacha has been occupied by Russian prime ministers over the past ten years. We have been living in temporary dwellings since 1985. When we went abroad, we occupied a temporary apartment, then we were back in St Petersburg and for a long time we didn’t have our own apartment. Then we got our own apartment through an exchange procedure, and then we faced the problem of moving to Moscow. And so we constantly move from place to place and we think of our dwellings as if they were barracks. Admittedly, very nice “barracks,” you can live quite comfortably here. But it is temporary. A temporary abode. We live as if we were sitting on our packed suitcases. Over the past ten years the whole country has been living like that. And that brings us back to the problem we started with. The problem of stability.
Mikhail Leontyev: Of being settled.
Vladimir Putin: Yes, settled. In that sense, we are little different from the majority of our people. They have their permanent dwellings, but they don’t have an inner sense of stability. Let us hope that we will be able to bring that feeling back to them.