LARRY KING, HOST: Good evening, and welcome to this special edition of
LARRY KING LIVE. It's our honor to have as our special guest for the full
hour here in New York at the Millennium Summit at the United Nations --
we're at our studios -- Vladimir Putin.
Vladimir Putin is, of course, president of Russia. There's lots of
things to talk about tonight. We thank him for coming, and welcome to the
What about this job so far, if anything, has surprised you?
PRES. VLADIMIR PUTIN, RUSSIA (through translator): I'd say I was much
surprised since prior to my presidency for a while, I fulfilled the duties
of the head of the Russian government. And in that capacity, I had to deal
very frequently with the functions of the president himself. So nothing
was exceptionally new. But the volume of my job has certainly
KING: Are you enjoying it?
PUTIN (through translator): Partially, yes.
KING: Let's get to the part that may not have been enjoyable. What can
-- what happened? You tell me. What happened with the submarine?
PUTIN (through translator): It sunk.
KING: But why? What caused it? What happened? What do we know?
PUTIN (through translator): Unfortunately, today we cannot tell you
much about the reasons of this tragedy. However, it's clear that the
result of this tragedy, we can talk about of certain explosions. But we
don't know what triggered those explosions.
All the rest, you know. There was a large hole in the pressure hull
around one and a half meters to two meters, and now we know for sure that
in result of that powerful blast for 75 or 80 percent of the crew died
within 90 seconds since the submarine was at so-called periscope depth at
the moment, which implies that all the crew were at battalion stations in
the first two or three water-tight compartments. And they were destroyed
within 90 seconds after the blast. What happened next, you all know.
Unfortunately, the rescue operation, which was deployed immediately -- I'd
like to emphasize the point immediately. They did (inaudible) with success
since the rescue submarines, which were specifically designated for the
purpose failed to dock with so-called docking pad, where this submersible
is supposed to sit on top of the submarine. They were broken.
The other means of salvation operation had to do with the lifting
(inaudible), which was also destroyed, having been found in the area of
the blast. Therefore, these are the conditions we are aware of at this
point in time and which did not help.
KING: Mr. President, it has been said all over the world, why didn't
you ask for the help of other countries right away?
PUTIN (through translator): This is not a difficult question. I can
recall the chronology of events those tragic days. On the 12th of July 23,
p.m., the communication was broken, and immediately the search
And the usual procedure is seven days for a risky operation, but it was
detected within four and a half hours. It was not clear what was going on
at the time. But the navy had the necessary rescue operation means, which
were provided for by the engineers and the designers of such type of
submarine. Together with the submarine, they designed these rescue
operations tools, and they were at the possession of the navy.
And the sailors were thinking about using those means and did so at the
time when it became apparent that something was going wrong, something
failed. Later on, it turned out that the area of that docking pad was
broken, making it difficult for the rescue submarines to dock.
On the 15th of July, for the first time, an official proposal was
tabled concerning foreign assistance. It was proposed by the military
attache of the United Kingdom. It was immediately accepted. But that's not
really the matter here.
What matters here, immediately after accepting the proposals requiring
risky operation, people needed six days to open the hatch. And if we now
count those days and nights, even had our sailors on their own incentive
addressed them earlier, 13th, 14th, 15th, 17th would have already passed
-- at least five days.
There would have been no chance anyway.
KING: In retrospect, Mr. President, is there anything you would have
done differently knowing what you know now?
PUTIN (through translator): No. The only thing which could have been
changed in my conduct as head of state, it could be possible to halt my
working meetings, to suspend them at the place of my vacation in
(inaudible). I could go back to Moscow, to the capital. But again, it
would have been a PR activity, since in any city of the country or all
over the world, I'm always linked to the military.
I have communications means that I can discuss any problems on the
table. Therefore, from the point of view of PR that could look better.
Maybe yes, it would look better. But what matters here subsequently became
clear that this situation was used for certain attacks to Russia, the pose
of the presidency, which is in itself bad and dangerous for this
Therefore, perhaps it was necessary to do it differently here, though
there were some suggestions and recommendations made to do something
different. To go to the ground, to go down on this rescue submarine to the
submarine itself, and perhaps you are smiling yourself, and that's
KING: I don't think security would have let you do that.
PUTIN (through translator): In such situation, I would not ask
questions from security. Security serve me, not me serving them.
But not because of security, I wouldn't do that. But at the ground, you
know, each second counts. Minutes, days, it's all important. Professionals
should do their job, and politicos should not be engaged in scoring points
here because of the tragedy.
As regard to the security, I participated in the trainings. I was at
the submarines. I spent a night with sailors at the bottom of the ocean.
Therefore, it has nothing to do with security. I am commander-in-chief,
and it's my duty to be together with the military.
KING: We will take a break and come right back with the president of
Russia, Vladimir Putin, right after this.
KING: We're back with President Putin of Russia. We thank him very much
for this hour that he's given us tonight here on LARRY KING LIVE.
In concluding on the submarine, will we some day know fully what
happened, do you think?
PUTIN (through translator): We'll do our best. We'll seek to do it.
It's important not only because of the need to understand what really
happened to our sailors, but also to avert such tragedies in the
This has not been the first incident of this kind in Russia. This was
the fourth nuclear engine submarine which perished. We are aware of
similar tragedies are known to the United States. They lost their two
We are aware for sure, for fact, about two incidents of the kind. In
one of those cases, it was possible -- in no case, it was possible to come
to the root of the tragedy, and we hope this time it will be different.
We'll do whatever it takes to recover the bodies and to raise the
submarine and to figure it out. KING: Does it give you concern, this
incident, about the entire military machine of your country?
PUTIN (through translator): It sure does.
It raises questions as to we need to look into the status of our armed
forces. Like I said, it was not the first incident of a kind. Such
incidents happened both in the Soviet Union and the United States.
Now as regards the reasons as to why it happened, coming back to that
issue, I might say that since 1967, we have a whole set, a whole number of
19 collisions of our submarines with other underwater objects. Therefore,
nothing extraordinary has happened in that regard.
The question is, however, like I said, to analyze it thoroughly is an
imperative. And maybe jointly, with our partners, to work out a more
efficient rule of conduct at the high seas like we have been able to do
with our joint scientific and research policies in the outer space. That's
also a hostile environment we've been able to deal with jointly.
KING: Did you discuss that with President Clinton, the possibility of
jointly looking at submarines and underwater activities?
PUTIN (through translator): We sure did. Usually, me and President
Clinton discuss a broad range of issues, and I'm very thankful to him that
he responded quickly to this tragedy, expressed his condolences, proposed
his assistance in our very first conversation on the phone, which
testifies to the fact that this issue will be on our constant agenda in
KING: Concerning that, you know Vice President Gore, do you not?
PUTIN (through translator): I have met him only once, and it was in
passing when he visited in St. Petersburg a few years ago. So it was a
very quick contact.
KING: Do you have a great interest in the American presidential
PUTIN (through translator): Naturally. First and foremost, I take
interest of what's going on in my own country, but the United States is
one of the major partners we have, one of the most important partners. And
therefore, we are very much interested in what's going to happen with
respect to the next presidency in this country.
KING: Do you favor any of the candidates?
PUTIN (through translator): I think the American people should express
their preferences, and we'll accept their choice.
KING: Would you like to meet with both candidates? PUTIN (through
translator): I'm ready to do so but wouldn't like to interfere in this
very acute pre-election campaign. One needs to exercise caution. We don't
want to cause any detriment or tension in our interstate relations.
We are ready to work with all candidates, especially so that in both
candidates' programs a position vis-a-vis Russia has been laid out which
is quite satisfactory to us.
KING: All right. If you like the positions of both Governor Bush and
Vice President Gore as it relates to Russia?
PUTIN (through translator): Basically, what we've seen in their
pre-election documents gives us a sense of optimism. We would like to see
to it that positive which has been accumulated over the years of President
Clinton's presidency, he would be able to give the torch to his continuer
(ph) in the same direction, whoever it might be.
KING: We'll be right back with the president of Russia -- President
Vladimir Putin. Don't go away.
KING: We're with President Putin. A lot talk today in the United
States, I believe you talked to President Clinton about it. About this
businessman, Edmund Pope. He is in a Russian President on espionage
charges, there's a lot of movement here to try to get him to come back.
There are stories that you want to make a trade. What's the story on Mr.
PUTIN (through translator): Indeed our security services believes that
he was involved in illegal activities, an investigation has been carried
out but -- and according to the criminal code, he has been provided with
all the necessary documentation to get acquainted with. Currently he is
reading those documents.
President Clinton has expressed his concern with respect to the
situation with American citizens. We are not hiding anything. I have
talked about it to my American colleagues in detail. But, in our country,
like elsewhere the legal process should be finalized and then, depending
on the situation and certainly in the spirit of good relationships between
our two countries, we'll see we can do.
And we'll take account of the relevant decision to be taken by the
court. Ultimately, it's only the court who, in a democratic state, could
decide whether the man is to be blamed or not.
KING: There are reports that he is quite ill though. Will that play a
part in any of the decision making you might make?
PUTIN (through translator): If it comes to the situation when it's up
to me to make the decision, then naturally this will be taken into
consideration. Generally, I really don't think, even if the court confirms
that Mr. Pope has causes some substantial harm by his activities, I don't
really think that intelligence can be that harmful, I mean intelligence of
one country can be that harmful to the other country. But these are the
rules of the game and this is the procedure, which has to be complied
KING: Do we gather from that, that should you find Mr. Pope did do some
things you might want to exchange him for Mr. Ames who's in a prison here
for selling spies to you, so we put an end to spying?
PUTIN (through translator): I wouldn't like to trade these things, this
is not my job to bargain. But I think that experts will decide on what
needs to be done. Of course, we can do all options which could alleviate
the tension here.
KING: Is -- you were a spy -- I mean, you wanted to be a spy, you were
up in the KGB, is spying among friendly nations still warranted?
PUTIN (through translator): Intelligence is not running around in the
drainage, underground cellars of Moscow or New York. This is an
information gathering work. Therefore, intelligence people are very close
by their duties to the stuff in mass media.
The same purpose to gather information, to synthesize it and to present
it for the consumption of the decision makers, who could use that
information while deciding on things. If the government is active in
foreign policies, then such a tool can be efficient. If it's well
organized and workable, therefore intelligence could be a good support in
deciding and settling international problems.
KING: Did you enjoy your career at the KGB?
PUTIN (through translator): Well, you know, it was an interesting job.
It allowed largely to increase my vision, to get certain skills, skills of
dealing with people, with information, which was referred to earlier. It
taught me to choose what is the priority and what is less important. That
was useful in this regard.
KING: We'll be right back with President Putin on this edition of LARRY
KING LIVE. Don't go away.
KING: We're back with President Putin.
I know that you are trying to stop the United States from getting in to
more anti-missile defense systems and the like. Why should it matter to
you, if another country builds a system that's just defensive? As long as
one country doesn't attack another country, what's the difference if we
had 80 billion defense systems? Why care?
PUTIN (through translator): Were you prepared to listen to my
KING: As long as it's not 20 minutes, yes. Why should you care about a
PUTIN (through translator): Well, when our countries agreed on
limitations of ABM systems, that was not an accident. When we deploy on
our own territories ABM systems, we put together certain facilities which
are hard to penetrate for the strikes from outside. If we cover the entire
territory by such systems, or try to do so, then according to our experts
today, this is a mission impossible.
But let's imagine it would be possible. That could create on one side
an impression -- an illusion -- they could without being punished in
international affairs whenever they like deal a blow, decide on attack.
That would disrupt the balance of strategical interests and forces which
in my opinion is extremely dangerous.
When discussing with our American colleagues on this matter, I've
always been tempted to remind them of the beginning of the arms race --
nuclear arms race. I always recall the fact that initially nuclear arms
emerged -- were created -- in the United States. And subsequently, some
scientists who invented those arms, in part at least, the secret
concerning the A-bomb, on their own will transferred those secrets to the
Why did they do that? I always ask my American colleagues: "Can you
invent something of the kind?"
No, we cannot come up with anything like this.
Neither can I, but your scientists could do that. They were smarter
than you and I. But voluntarily they transferred those secrets to the
Soviet Union because they wanted to restore the balance. And thanks to
that balance the humankind has survived without major conflicts,
large-scale wars, for about since 1945.
If we disrupt that balance, then we'll put the whole world to this real
great danger, which doesn't serve the interests either of Russia or other
In my impression, that's the most important thing, and why we seek to
retain that balance; why we object to the deployment of the national ABM
system is because of that.
KING: Do you think the United States might go ahead with it?
PUTIN (through translator): This is a choice to be made by the United
States itself. We've been pursuing a dialogue on this matter. We have
different approaches. To a certain extent, we agree, coming closer and we
hope we'll be able to find a mutually acceptable solution.
The most acceptable solution, in my opinion, would be to preserve the
balance of interests as we know it today and jointly to try and avert all
these dangers, which can surface later on versus all of our countries.
That would be a step in the right direction.
KING: We'll be right back with President Putin. We're only half-way
through. Don't go away.
KING: We're back with President Putin of Russia. We'll discuss some
other aspects of his life. He is the head of his country. He's been
elected -- I guess just a little over 100 days now, am I right? A little
over 100 days.
Freedom of the press. Lots of the talk in the United States about
worries over this in Russia. We have a jailing of Vladimir Gusinsky, Boris
-- I want to pronounce this right -- Berezovsky, is the media mogul who
has been asked to transfer his own holdings to the state. Are you looking
to stop opposition?
PUTIN (through translator): Opposition? On who's side? On the side of
those who are interested in retaining the situation, which is, I believe
very dangerous and detrimental to Russia today. This is about legalism
(ph) towards the fulfillment of the existing legislation.
Wherever I go, I try to meet with the business community. In the U.K.,
I've just visited Tokyo. Whenever, the first question asked by the
business community, it's one and the only question, they ask and I agree,
said the most important question, whether there will be time in Russia,
they ask, when law will be abided by?
Letting alone the fact that laws should be measurable to the demands of
economy and democratic society, but the government should provide for
Now, the cases you have mentioned, have nothing to do with the freedom
of press. In the first case, we're talking about so-called Most Holdings.
And the owner of 70 percent, to the best of my knowledge is, incidentally,
Mr. Gusinsky. But this holding has been in red, with credits and debts,
and has not returned, according to creditors, those one billion -- 30 --
300 U.S. dollars billion worth of debt, they don't recognize this whole
sum. They say they're in debt to the tune of $800 million, but that's a
lot of money, again.
So they are disputing, primarily, between the creditors and the owners,
concerning the activities of the holding of that transfer company.
And in the second case, again, there are no problems concerning the
freedom of expression, since Mr. Berezovsky and the structures under his
control, and they control around 49 percent of the leading first program
TV company, ORT (ph), 51 percent was owned by the government, today it's
in the hands of the government.
Therefore, it has nothing to do with the freedom of expression, because
of the fact that the owner of 51 percent, the government, by the charter,
has already any right to define the policies of that company, completely.
So, regarding the staffing and the policies there, 49 percent by the
charter could in no way affect the policies of the company.
And the owners of those 49 percent could claim only profits, but there
is none, since, you know, they work with loss. And we do not demand them
transfer those 49 percent in the hands of the government.
KING: A business question: But you're not out to stop a newspaper or a
television station from saying, "We don't like President Putin, we think
this should change." You don't want to see that?
PUTIN (through translator): No problem, whatsoever.
No, no, you have mentioned the Most holdings owned Mr. Gusinsky.
They've been criticizing us all along. And we don't have any objections in
our government. And they've been so critical to such an extent, like now
it happens in the United States, I think.
The other thing, I think the duty of the government in this area is to
guarantee to all the competitors on the market, fair share, fair equal
taxation, technical conditions, and other rules of fairness. We have been
doing so. There is no difference in our approach towards the private mass
media and government press mass media, the same taxation policy is being
used. The approaches taken by administrations are the same.
Therefore, I believe that when they are talking about the need to
protect the freedom of expression, that's only a pretext to be able to
cover their own commercial interests in some quarters.
KING: Now, let us discuss Chechnya. Is this solvable? Will the troops
stay? I know that you had great support when you started. The Russian
people are now having their questions. What's the situation today?
PUTIN (through translator): Today the situation is fundamentally
different. If I may, I will probably give you a history of the situation,
how it started, all those most recent events.
KING: Let me get a break first so we could do this, OK?
We'll take a break and then get the Chechen story. There's lots more to
talk about as well with President Putin on this edition of LARRY KING
LIVE. We'll come right back.
KING: We're back with President Putin.
PUTIN (through translator): I will allow myself to remind you of the
very start of those most recent events last year. Since 1996, Russia
completely and fully fled Chechnya. Russia did not recognize the euro (ph)
independence of Chechnya, but de facto they got full state independence.
All the structures of governance of Russia were dismantled -- police,
the military, procurators offices, courts -- all the offices of
administration were destroyed and the president was elected who by law did
not comply with the procedures of the Russian Federation.
What happened afterwards? You all know. They didn't get any
independence and de facto the territory was occupied by foreign
mercenaries and religious fundamentalist, fanaticists from Afghanistan and
other circles in the Arab East. This is a fact of life. They started
firing squads working on the thoroughfares, beheading people, mass
capture, hostage taking in the adjacent territories of the Russian
Federation and inside Chechnya. Over this period they took hostage of over
200,000 people. That was a market of slave driving in the contemporary
world in Chechnya.
And Russia, finding itself in a similar situation like America found
itself in the wake of the Vietnam War, did not respond to it at the time,
and naturally that promoted, in a way, those international terrorists who
swept -- who had their cradle now in this area, their nest was set up
there, and it resulted in the direct attack on Afghanistan, on Dagestan
last year, armed-land direct attack, coupled with destruction of a
shelter, property and death of people. And Russia had to react to protect
its people and its territory.
KING: And is still reacting.
PUTIN (through translator): No, the quality of this reaction has
changed. When our armed forces entered Chechnya, our armed forces were met
with a surprising good reception by the local populace. Over the years of
Chechnya regime, we probably didn't pay attention to certain new
phenomena. Turned out the foreign mercenaries who captured, in fact,
certain spheres of authority in the territory of Chechnya, they didn't
have unified governance, it was broken, with certain chieftains, those
military commanders governing certain segments of society.
So it turned out that they also threw from outside into Chechnya a new
ideological platform, religious platform for conception in Chechnya,
coming from Middle East, and they tried to impose on the local population
the Sunni trend of Islam. And our people in the Caucasus are mainly
Shi'ites, therefore that caused a certain revolt on the part of the
population there with respect to those mercenaries, and that caused
tension between the two.
So whence the federal forces stopped resistance of the organized troops
there, subsequently increasingly actively, the political process was
started with the local population, and today there are no large-scale
military operations in progress, none.
KING: No more suicide bombings? No? Do the Russian people support
PUTIN (through translator): Yes, absolutely so, they do support me. But
this phase is over, like I said, and now we've started to look for a
political solution and, at the time of the Chechnya, now the former
clergy, mufti, the clergy head was put -- it started after 1996 first and
the other thing, just two or three days ago, as the whole territory of
Chechnya we held elections for the deputy of Chechnya to the parliament of
Russia both the results and the figure of the population surprised me,
over 69 percent of local population actively participated in this election
campaign and elected their deputy to the Russian parliament.
KING: We'll be right back with President Putin. Don't go away.
KING: We hear stories, terrible stories about the Russian economy, half
of the people are living below poverty level, lots of corruption,
businesses, Mafia. What's the health of the nation? What's the stability
of the country?
PUTIN (through translator): Oh, Larry, this is small surprise to me,
our country has been coming through a dramatic tectonic change,
unprecedented internationally. Such experience does not exist elsewhere.
Transfer from the totalitarian regime and the arm-chair economy to
democracy, to the marketplace methods of economy control one needs to
define the place of the state, what laws we needed to see to it that these
laws are abided by, which had not been possible to do to the full extent.
Let's also not forget about the so-called "ideological heritage."
People were always taught about the Communist paradise, Communist --
people beliefs were decayed that was their life. And this has also been
our past, resulting in an ideological vacuum, which affected the status of
But, as of late, what you have seen in our country gives us promise
that the future is looking good, and we'll cope with it, a solid
foundation has already been laid in the market relations and the basis of
the democratic society has been set up.
KING: You are optimistic.
PUTIN (through translator): I certainly am.
KING: In other word, big problems resulted from that drastic switch
from one kind of government to another kind of government. This was to be
PUTIN (through translator): Nobody expected there would be this change
and couldn't imagine what will be entailed here. But I would think that,
right now, we can confidently state to the fact that the country is able
to deal with it.
KING: Mr. President, I like to touch some other bases, we have a few
minutes remaining. You are a Judo expert -- know more about you
personally, do you know Judo?
PUTIN (through translator): While I am fond of that sport, I have been
involved in martial arts since my childhood, but I am not an expert, I am
KING: But you were on your team, weren't you? You performed martial
arts, you were on your school squad?
PUTIN (through translator): Oh, yes I did. I mean, in St. Petersburg,
Leningrad, as a kid, I was involved, I was member of the city team, and I
got a black belt in the all-national competition and I was master of
sports... KING: Do you practice?
PUTIN (through translator): ... at the time.
KING: Do you still work out?
PUTIN (through translator): Unfortunately, I don't have enough time to
do it very frequently, but when I have time and space I take pleasure in
doing it, yes.
KING: We'll be back with our remaining moments with President Putin of
Russia right after this.
KING: A couple of other quick things. Are American businesses hesitant
to invest in Russia because of corruption?
PUTIN (through translator): Well, I think they have reason to be
hesitant here. In order to invest money, one needs to be confident that
his investment will be productive, it will pay back, it will give profit
easy enough to firmly confident, then the better refrain from investing
But it seems to me that those people are right who don't waste time
waiting. We have developed a network of contacts with the U.S. community,
and many American businesses are doing business successfully in Russia,
many companies are already there. A lot needs to be done, if we are to
make our cooperation with business partners more effective and our country
become more attractive. We understand that and will work on it.
We have adopted new laws, citation code, which we failed to do earlier.
This is another result of essential consolidation of the society. Our
parliament has become more solid, and it's to possible pass-through those
laws which are necessary for effective work, effective investment.
We have introduced a unified 13-percent tax for all physical entities,
which is not known all over the world as a system. Now we are working on
liberalization, fighting with corruption in the customs services and
serious move ahead, I'm sure it will happen in this area as well.
I believe that the question which you have posed is very urgent. We
understand the problems. We understand what needs to be done to make our
country to become more attractive and we will follow through.
KING: How is the health of President Yeltsin?
PUTIN (through translator): I met him quite recently one week ago
before my visit to Tokyo. I must say that today he looks even better than
when he did being a president. This probably has to do that he does have
that much work to do, he has more time to relax, to do his own thing.
KING: There is much talk about Vladimir Putin and religious faith. I'm
told that you wear a cross. Is that true? Are you religious? What are your
feelings in this area?
PUTIN (through translator): I prefer -- I would prefer not to develop
on that subject in detail. I think such things are sacred for everybody.
Everybody's belief is not to be shown off, it's inside a man's heart. As
regards to wearing cross, earlier I never had it -- once my mother gave it
to me and when I visited Israel. I was there two times. First on an
official invitation of the minister of foreign affairs of that country.
The second time, I liked the country, and I traveled there with my family
as a tourist.
So my mother gave it to me to have a blessing there at the Tomb of
Lord. I did so and now it's with me always.
Incidentally enough, there was a story about this cross and since then
I have always decided to have it on my body, now in the Dacha close to St.
Petersburg, there was fire on the Dacha, it happened because of the fact
that something went wrong with sauna.
Prior entering sauna, I took off the cross before entering the sauna,
and then with my friend we jumped out naked, since it was so unexpected.
And I cherish that cross very much, it was my mother's cross, and the fire
was really in earnest at the time. So I was thinking about whether perhaps
it could get even remnants of it, it was an aluminum-made cross, a very
I was surprised completely when one of the workers, just muddling
through those ashes of the remnants, found that cross intact. And the
house fell, that was a surprise, a revelation, and therefore I always now
keep it with me.
KING: Do you believe there is a higher power?
PUTIN (through translator): I believe in human beings. I believe in his
good intentions. I believe in the fact that all of us have come to this
would to do good. And if we do so, and if we do so together, then success
is awaiting for us. And both with regards to our relations as people to
people, or inter-state relations. And most important, we will achieve the
ultimate goal, comfort in our own heart.
KING: Thank you Mr. President.
PUTIN (through translator): Thank you.
KING: Vladimir Putin, president of Russia, thanks for joining us.
We'll see you on another edition of LARRY KING LIVE tomorrow night. For
all of us here in New York and our CNN crews around the world, including
in Moscow, good night.