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Fugitive Ex-Kremlin ‘Cashier': Putin ‘Did Not Want To Be President’

Fugitive Ex-Kremlin 'Cashier': Putin 'Did Not Want To Be President' by EurasiaNet

A EurasiaNet Partner Post from: RFE/RL

When a group of Kremlin insiders searched for a successor to the erratic Russian President Boris Yeltsin in 1999, they settled on a little-known bureaucrat named Vladimir Putin, who took power the following year and rules the country with an autocratic fist to this day.

But as the backstage grooming got under way, says a former confidant, a key player in the intrigue opposed the anointment: Vladimir Putin himself.

"He did not want to be president and wanted to leave government authority," Sergei Pugachyov, a Russian tycoon and former campaign adviser to both Yeltsin and Putin, told RFE/RL.

Pugachyov, 52, spoke to RFE/RL from France, where he lives in self-imposed exile due to what he portrays as a Russian government campaign -- including death threats -- to plunder his business empire.

He has discussed the behind-the-scenes circumstances of Putin's rise to power in interviews with several Western media outlets in recent months amid a civil and criminal legal onslaught from Russia, which accuses him of looting a bank he controlled. Pugachyov denies the allegations.

Pugachyov's account of how Putin came to rule from the Kremlin, which could not be immediately corroborated, portrays the Russian president as initially unsure of his leadership abilities and more interested in pursuing business opportunities -- and possibly moving abroad.

'Just A Joke'

Pugachyov, who was once one of Russia's richest men and dubbed the Kremlin's "cashier," claims to have been the first to propose that Putin succeed Yeltsin in office. He said the move was aimed at heading off Yeltsin's possible ouster by hard-liners from Russia's security agencies.

At the time, Putin, a former KGB officer, had risen from a mid-level position under his political mentor, St. Petersburg Mayor Anatoly Sobchak, to lead the KGB's main successor agency, the Federal Security Service (FSB).

"Yeltsin had practically lost power, because the people from the security agencies were challenging the liberals that the president had surrounded himself with," Pugachyov said. "… Considering that Putin was director of the FSB at the time, his appointment was seen as a kind of shield against a...