Vladimir Putin’s first TV interview in 1991 and a follow up in 2002 (Part 2)


April 30, 2015

24 Doc TV channel

Igor Shadkhan (filmmaker)

Translated from Russian by Kristina Rus

For Part 1 click here

Part 2

Recorded in 2002

(20:08 – 41:07)


Vladimir Putin, Deputy Mayor of St. Petersburg: 

As far as my attitude towards the representatives of the middle class, I would say the following. Just a year ago I used to pay attention to the behavior of the representatives of the middle class. Many of them used to be very unsure of themselves. I would even say, subservient. But today their attitude towards themselves, society, the authorities is changing. Without exaggeration I can say that people are beginning to gain self-esteem, confidence in tomorrow. I think that this middle class as in any civilized country must become, will become the basis for the flourishing of our society overall.

Vladimir Putin, President of Russia: Here I am only worried about one thing. Today I am extremely worried about the material segregation of society. As opposed to other developed countries we have a large number of the poor. And the resources which are accumulated in certain hands belong to a limited number of people. 

And this difference between low-income layers and those people who can boast about their millions and billions is unacceptable. The solution is of course is in the development of this middle class, which we talked about 11 years ago. 

At the same time we must be very careful, and not rush ahead. I know that what I am saying right now might cause a disapproval from my liberal colleagues. They are a type of  “revolutionaries” and “Bolsheviks”, only from the opposite side. 

I think we have made many mistakes, and we must learn the lessons. I will tell you why. What was done in the beginning of he 1990’s in principle was right, they created the base, but some decisions were so harsh and so painfully reflected on ordinary citizens, that the leadership of the country for the most part had lost the trust of ordinary citizens, and was forced for many years to just stumble in one place. Nothing could be approved in the parliament. Overall it was very costly for reform policies, because the resource of trust into authorities has been spent in the first years.

And this was a mistake We must act decisively along the line of market reforms, but very carefully, with minimal, and better – without any loss for ordinary citizens. 

Is this possible?

This is the art of domestic politics which we had talked about. This is why I told you it’s most interesting – to find a golden middle, the balance, between moving ahead, but not forgetting about the home base. Not to forget that all these reforms are done not for some aliens, but for our ordinary citizens. And they must feel that something is changing for the better, otherwise it’s all senseless.

The biggest hardship in these past 10 years was experienced by the older generation 

This time was not only difficult for the older generation, it was cruel towards the older generation. Of course people were not prepared for such moral, physical and material trials.

In the Soviet times people assembled their modest nest egg by kopecks, if you can call it that. And as a result of reforms of the early 1990’s they lost even that much. And to get back on their feet is practically impossible for many people. They gave their whole life, their health to their work and their country.

You were asking about my parents, they were very ordinary, not just from the working class, they were the working class themselves, for their entire life.

What did your mother do for work?

She didn’t have a profession, she did many side jobs. She didn’t even finish high school.

And your dad?

My father had technical education, he was a mechanic at a plant, part of “working intelligentsia”, I would say.

They lived very modestly. Even when I received a top position in Moscow, they lived very very modestly in St. Petersburg. 

How did they feel about your career?

They were proud, of course. 

But why am I talking about it –  it’s not so much a feeling of guilt before the older generation, which I always feel, but I can’t even find the right word, not a feeling of guilt, but a sense of duty before them. Perhaps this is related to the memories about my parents, because although we lived very modestly, I had the most important thing, as I estimate it today. I was surrounded with my parents’ love, they loved me, I knew it, I felt it.

Therefore I think that the state must do everything possible for the older generation. 


– You say, you are a bureaucrat, are you trying to rehabilitate the meaning of this term? 

– No, I use this term in order to emphasize that I am not a politician. I am just an employee of an administrative apparatus. And I would hope that people here would simply do their professional job without thinking about politics. Although this is difficult, but nevertheless… This is first, secondly many things are getting back to their basics today, loosing their crust accumulated over decades.
There is nothing wrong with bureaucrats, I used to be a military bureaucrat, and now became a civil bureaucrat, I don’t think there is anything wrong with that.

Is president a  bureaucrat?

A contractor. Made a contract with society for 4 years. [Laughter]

Does the president have more work or more power?

Would you like some more tea? [Laughter] Before you push me into a corner, I have to sweeten you with something.

I  think that for some people, no matter what they do, there is never enough power, just as money. The issue is how to allocate those resources, which you have available, in order to achieve maximum result.

Of course a standard set of authority levers is necessary in order to solve those problems facing a certain government structure. I think that the head of the Russian state has sufficient authority.

Does your relationship with your dog confirm the saying that a dog is a man’s friend?

I have such a friend. I think not every dog, and not every person, but I have such mutual understanding and love.


– No matter how sad and how awful it may sound, I think in our country a turn towards totalitarianism is possible for some period of time. But the danger may come not from law enforcement, security agencies or even the army, the danger is in the mentality of ourselves, our people, our population.
We all think, and I must say, even I think sometimes, that if one would bring strict order with a strong hand, life would become more comfortable and safe. But in reality, this comfort will fast pass, because this strong hand will start choking us very soon. And we will feel it immediately on ourselves and members of our families. Only in a democratic system, when law enforcement officers, no matter how we call them, (KGB, MVD, NKVD) know that if tomorrow or next year a change of power may occur in a country, in a region or a city, they will be asked: “How did you follow the laws of your country? What have you done with the citizens over whom you have authority”?

I have nothing to add

So this point of view remains?

Absolutely nothing to add, feels like this was yesterday, not 11 years ago

You were born in 1952, Stalin was still alive

But I don’t remember him. [Laughter]

I understand that you don’t remember him, but I remember him well, I was 13 years old. Here is my question, do we live in a different country today?

Of course

The same Russia, but different?

First of all it shrank, unfortunately, in its economic capabilities, its population and territory. But I think this is not the most important thing.  The most important thing is the intellectual contents and condition of the nation, of society. And today it is such, that despite a desire for order and discipline, the internal denial of tyranny is so strong in the mentality of majority of population, that it allows us to say, that we live in a different country.


– You  know, Vladimir Vladimirovich, just yesterday on that shelf behind me, I saw a Lenin’s statue in your cabinet, and I wanted to ask you a question, I understand that this statue was left from the old owner of this cabinet, since you moved here only recently, and I wanted to ask, why did you keep it. In the morning it was still here. But now it is gone. What happened? 

– I can not tell you what happened , one of my assistants must have done this. Where it went, I couldn’t know. But earlier there were portraits of the founder of USSR, Vladimir Lenin, they were taken down. But I must tell you, that I have a very calm attitude towards these portraits and statues. I believe that one should treat history as something that happened, and it cannot be taken out of our history.  

If you would like know about my attitude towards this person, towards his ideology, I must tell you that there was a time in my life when I was very interested in Marxism and Leninism, read a lot about it, found it interesting and often logical… 

– Like all of us 

– Yes, like all of us 

– But as I matured, the truth became more and more apparent to me, that all of that was no more then a beautiful but dangerous fairy tale, dangerous because an attempt of its implementation in our country caused a lot of harm. And I would like to talk about the tragedy, which we are experiencing today, the tragedy of disintegration of our state, which you cannot call anything else but tragedy. I think that the actors of October 1917 put a time bomb under the foundation of this building, the building of a unitary state called Russia. 

They broke our fatherland into separate princedoms, which never existed of the map of the world. Gave them parliaments and governments, and now we have what we have. On the other hand they destroyed what glues, molds the people of civilized countries – market relationships. They destroyed the market, emerging capitalism.
The only thing that they did to keep the country together within common borders – was a barb wire. As soon as the barb wire was removed, the country fell apart. And I think that this is the fault of these people, whether they wanted to or not, I think they didn’t want to, but objectively, this is the role they played.

What is the question? (smiling)

You know there were many talks that you came from nowhere. I think I was lucky that I filmed this episode with you in 1991. I think that 11 years ago you had principles, which you have retained to this day, am I right?

Just like in the previous episode, I practically have nothing to add, I am ready to repeat every word, you are right.

Ok, you know, Vladimir Vladimirovich, I remember your flight on a fighter jet, Mig or Su. You were flying, and I thought it was like a metaphor, meaning that reforms will go faster, did I make it up?

There was no metaphor. It had nothing to do with reforms. It was not even a pre-election trick, which was talked much about in the media. There was only one reason, and it’s no secret, I flew in an airplane for safety reasons. I was flying to Chechnya, and we landed in Grozny airport.

St. Petersburg University, you and George Bush Jr., the President of the United Stets of America answered a student question: “what qualities one must have to become president”. Bush answered first, and talked for a long time about intellectual superiority, to be ahead in the ratings, and then you answered:

To be successful in any business you must have at least two qualities: a sense of responsibility and a sense of love.

I am deeply convinced that without love for your country and your people one should not even come close to presidency or even a lower level of management, related to working with people.

Without love for your own country one not only should stay away from this activity, but not even come close. But just love is not sufficient. One needs to be prepared for intense work, for making decisions on which much is dependent, professionalism. All of this I call – “responsibility”. I think without these two qualities it is impossible to be not only a head of state, but even a head of a municipality. 

As far as the answer of the president of the United Sates, I also agree with him, he is quite a sincere and appealing person.

Part 3 coming soon …

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