Sergei Pugachev on how Putin became president.
— 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. Categorically not. 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 now had to play the President’s part, for some four years 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.