He is suing Russia for 12 billion dollars. Russia has issued an international arrest warrant against him. Kremlin’s banker, an orthodox oligarch and a close friend of Vladimir Putin’s, Sergei Pugachev gave an exclusive interview to TV Rain. He speaks about Putin, Igor Sechin, the forceful appropriation of the President’s residence in Novo-Ogariovo, in which the Prosecutor General’s son was involved; he also gives his views on Navalny and on Russia, where he has no intention of returning.
— Our meeting is surrounded by the greatest secrecy. Are you fearing for your life?
— Given that several attempts to kill me have been made, not only in Russia, this is neither extraordinary nor in any way extravagant.
There was an incident in London, which is currently being investigated, that was an obvious attempt to have me killed: explosive devices had been placed under all my cars and found by members of the antiterrorist squad.
— Have you got any idea as to who might have commissioned it?
— The International Court in The Hague is currently examining a claim brought against the Russian Federation for 12 billion dollars. Russia is prepared to use the dirtiest methods in order to prevent it.
— Having a certain knowledge of the milieu, I can venture to say that this is an entirely political case, quite obviously so, and with a very brutal and violent use of the judicial means. Now… we shall have to see what happens to Uliukaev… This is not so easy, in the sense that Uliukaev is quite literally flesh of the system’s flesh, he represents the system; he has allies, although not that many… Sechin is possibly slightly more powerful than he, but everything will depend on how each of them plays his cards.
— How revengeful are those people? Can they betray each other?
— Of course, these people hate each other, each is pursuing his own interests, yet they have to interact with each other, to share the same building, whether it is the Kremlin or the Government House, or whatever else. I remember from the very beginning… I cannot imagine that the deputy head of the President’s administration, or the head himself… no matter who – Voloshin, Medvedev… the deputy Prime Ministers… These are not even groups. It is simply a matter of all-consuming personal enmity.
What did Putin bring with him after the 2000 election? Well, first of all, a certain KGB philosophy, which means, I imagine, that there is nothing such… I mean, friendship and all this… what a ludicrous idea. He trusts no one – not even his close guard, absolutely no one. Nor does he trust those formerly close to him, the members of that very KGB, for he knows that they can betray him at any moment. He trusts no one. This is indeed what he has been taught.
— He is a man that has never stood for election nor was ever elected. He was always appointed – whether at the university, or to Eastern Germany, or somewhere else, or to the City Council, for that matter.
Putin did not want to be president. Until the very last moment he tried to avoid becoming president of the Russian Federation. He was unprepared; until the very end he did not believe it would happen. I think that he only fully realised it during the inauguration – not even after the election results, nor after Yeltsin had left. It was precisely during the inauguration that he realised that he was now vested with presidential authority for some four years to come or maybe less.
I remember him telling me: “We must work with what material is available to us”, this is a direct quote, these were his very words. We discussed the fact that if one wanted the country to start functioning in a new fashion, if one had some bright ideas, if one simply wanted the country to be well, one had to realise that it would take new blood, new people, who would be able to revive the whole thing.
— What about your latest meeting with Putin? It was in the Netherlands, if I am not mistaken?
— Indeed, it was in Amsterdam. Putin told me: “Listen, come back to Moscow, we’ll sort it all out.” I do not want to go into the details of the conversation, it is a long story. But it was clear that Putin, in his usual manner, pretended that he had heard of some naughty people not being nice to me, and pretended that he would deal with them as soon as he was back. He even told me that he would immediately call Chaika, Bastrykin, and make sure that my boys were not troubled – you know his style: “we’ll make sure your boys are not troubled, we’ll set things right”. Having known him for a long time, it was obvious to me that these were just words, of no consequence, worthless. And what followed that meeting was a criminal case against me and an international arrest warrant with an Interpol notice, etc.
— It was a huge piece of land by the Rublevskoe road. Part of that land belonged to Putin’s residence, the residence was actually build on that land. Some people decided to forcefully take control of that land, people we call professional “raiders”. They decided to seize the land, presidential residence notwithstanding. One of those men was the son of Prosecutor General Chaika.
That was the only moment that I remember, when Putin, some fifty people having called him to tell him that there was an issue… Well, he had Murov call him, the head of the Federal Security Service, then Viktor Zolotov, head of the personal security… “Look, this is going too far, we are about to be expelled, something must be done.” I remember calling Chaika on the phone, he came, he said yes-sir, yes of course, but tried to argue, saying that the situation was not quite what it seemed to be, then saying eventually that even if the land is taken, Putin will not be troubled. And that was the one and only time when I remember Putin in a state of sheer fury. All he said was: “I am not asking who will or will not be troubled. I am giving you twenty-four hours to resolve this issue.” This was the only time during the many years I have known him… He was affected personally, and quite seriously affected, indeed… things had gone too far, so to speak.
Or this other story, when Sechin told me: “Sobchak has lost. We are gathering people at the election headquarters, and Putin is going to the baths.” He said: “He had his briefcase, and in the briefcase a bunch of birch branches for the bath. He told me he was going to the Big House, i.e. the KGB headquarters in Petersburg, to arrange everything with the guys. And those birch leaves sticking out of his briefcase…”
— Putin was considered an interim figure. There were two candidates, including Stepashin, who was already Prime Minister, but who I perceived to stand for the past, as it were. He had already walked the way with Yeltsin, he did not arouse hope. In actual fact, I very sincerely believe that my only fault was to overestimate my political acumen: I thought I knew well what the people wanted. Maybe I was also influenced by the focus groups we had for that 1996 election, clever American technologies that we had imported to Russia, and all that.
Sobchak was not even doubtful… in fact when I asked him what he thought of Putin becoming president, he said: “I don’t understand, this is just absurd. Sure, Volodia is a nice guy, but what of it?”
— They do deals, this is really very simple. Look, for example, how Sechin made a deal with Uliukaev. Well, this is what happens all the time. Sechin has set up a system, as it were: any issue can be resolved successfully… or not. That is, what Putin thinks is irrelevant, what matters is how Sechin presents the matter to him, how he turns the whole thing. And this is true.
Sechin has seized the unique opportunity that the post of deputy head of the administration gave him. He was constantly close to Putin, all day, or even longer. This is why he was always so upset when Putin would not come to the Kremlin and stay in his dacha instead. Sechin could not know who came to see Putin, he could not keep track of the coming and going. He tried to find out, by what means he could, he phoned, but then again he was faced with the usual State machinery, where everyone hates everyone…
— One must understand: it was a different generation. They were, by and large, well educated people, engineers, simple people by Soviet standards. They were making up this class that could not finish the job… As you know, small business is non-existent in Russia. Could you yourself have imagined, only a few years ago, that Russia would be going to the dead-end where it is now, regardless of oil prices? That Russia, North Korea and Iran would be actually, more or less, the same thing?
Having known those times, we can compare. Today society does not want any freedom of expression. Well, alright, maybe some dissidents, some individual people who would give their lives for it… but 99 percent of the people just do not need it. They do not even quite understand what it encompasses. So, to my great regret (since I have given some thirty years of my life to try and prevent from happening that which has eventually happened), I must say that I can see no one… even if tomorrow Obama were elected president of Russia… I can assure you, things are not even close to changing.
Look at what is being debated. We talk about the victories of Peter I. 1945 is, of course, an icon in its own right. While the last iPhone is being launched, here in Russia people are nearly fighting with each other over the issue of “did Nicolas II actually sleep with that ballerina, or didn’t he”… It is a mire. Seeing that I have been in politics and business since the early 90s, I can tell you this: there came a moment when even the wealthy people, the businessmen, grew weary of it all. I mean all this Soviet genetic heritage, the notion that one can be virtually idle and be content with little, it is engrained in the heart and brain of the Russians. This is not understood.
— Do you feel responsible to any extent?
— I certainly do, but, if I may, I would like to explain what I mean by this. First of all, regarding the election of 1996. That election was a fair and honest election. Even more: when Boris Nikolaevich found out that his rating was very low, he did not want to stand for election. This was a very human reaction, he felt resentment towards all. I mean to say that Yeltsin, no matter his bad habits and so forth, genuinely wanted the best for Russia, as he would for a daughter.
We ended up with a sort of parallel election headquarters, with many people who joined, starting, of course, with Tania Diachenko, altogether inexperienced in that field back then, Valia Yumashev, and many other very worthy people. Later on there were Korzhakov, Barsukov, Il’ushin, and others. They occupied whole floors. Later on we had Chubais and his staff, that played a technical role. Having had a part in these events I can say that the election of 1996 was an absolutely honest election, indeed the last honest election in Russia. The only one to tell you it was not, would be Zyuganov. It was an honest election.
— Quite apart from this whole business with Ksenia Sobchak, who, in my view, would do better to go and look after some glamorous magazine, Navalny is a very bold man. And, I think, a very honest man.
I think that if 2 million people go and vote for him, he can just walk into the Kremlin and be inaugurated, trust me. I mean that no national guard, no 40,000 policemen of the Moscow police can do anything about it. No one is ready for it. There is widespread inertia, and if you want to draw an analogy from that movie Mathilda, Putin is our emperor. This is not so, just listen to what members of the law enforcement say about him at home between themselves. If, say, one million, or two million people go to the streets in Moscow, they will elect him, I can tell you. In fact this is the only way he can come to power, there is no other possible way. Those people will elect him and all the others will go along with it. And no Putin could prevent it.