Putin Is Proud of His Career with KGB
Dettmer, Jamie, The Washington Times (Washington, DC)
MOSCOW - Russia's acting President Vladimir Putin concedes in a book due for publication here next week he never harbored any doubts about communism or questioned the Soviet system in his 16-year career as a KGB agent.
"For better or worse, I was never a dissident," Mr. Putin recalled.
Speaking with obvious pride in the book about his time in the KGB, Mr. Putin bragged about his spotless performance reports and said the only criticism he received from his spy bosses was for his "lack of fear."
"I was a successful officer," he said.
The Russian leader's reflections on his KGB past - some were published yesterday by the Russian daily Kommersant in an excerpt from the book - are likely to add to alarm among some Russian liberals and human right activists who fear Mr. Putin may try to re-establish quasi-authoritarian rule in Russia.
Considered a shoo-in in Russia's March 26 presidential election, Mr. Putin has drawn criticism from human rights activists for appointing former KGB officers to top Kremlin posts, including one famous for arresting some of the Soviet Union's most prominent dissidents of the 1970s and 1980s.
Yesterday, former Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev weighed in on the issue of Mr. Putin's KGB past.
He acknowledged that Mr. Putin "shows some authoritarian tendencies," but added: "That does not frighten [ordinary] people. They think they now need a firm person because we are in such a big mess."
Mr. Gorbachev, who praised Mr. Putin as an "intelligent, serious" politician, worries less about Mr. Putin's intelligence background than over the new Russian leader's failure so far to break free from the group of corrupt businessmen close to former President Boris Yeltsin.
The new president must show "that he will open Russia for everyone, not just for separate groups which want to privatize supreme power yet again and keep it for themselves," he said, referring to the business "oligarchs" who enriched themselves on insider deals under Mr. Yeltsin.
In the book, "Conversations with Mr. Putin," the Russian leader explained how as a wide-eyed schoolboy he tried to join the KGB. He walked into the KGB's local headquarters and asked for a job.
"Some old guy came out," Mr. Putin recalled. "Strange as it may sound, he listened to me straight-faced and said: `Gratifying, of course, but there are couple of points. Firstly, we don't take volunteers. Secondly, we pick people after they leave the military or graduate from university with a higher education.' "
He subsequently studied law at his hometown university in Leningrad, now St. Petersburg, where in 1975 he was recruited into the KGB. …