Published at 12:00 am.
K. You met Vladimir Putin four times when he was in the KGB. What feeling do you have?
R. Thought of someone who is insignificant, very humble, normal, extraordinary. What’s unusual – that too, I felt it during our first meeting [Jirnov a été « cuisiné » par Poutine en 1980] – He is a professional who can do anything to achieve his goal. He is dishonest.
How can someone so “insignificant” stay in power for more than 20 years? Good tactician?
It is a myth that he is a great tactician. Putin did not seize his power. Those who counted him were thrown there. He knows how to be in the right place at the right time. Putin missed his career in the KGB. He wanted to be a foreign spy and it didn’t work out. He was an effective and efficient functionary, but he lacked status. He was lucky, that’s all. But he is good at power structure. He knows how to surround himself with those who are indebted to him and thumb his nose to gain his favor.
Obviously, you don’t have a very high opinion of him.
Think again. I want to bust the myth. He is ordinary, but at the same time, he is a genius of Machiavellianism, a genius of conspiracy, a genius of privatizing power. But look at his war in Ukraine. He makes more mistakes than mistakes. He spoke badly about himself, about his army, about Ukraine, about Ukrainians, about the West, about Europe.
Do you think he can win the war in Ukraine?
Putin will never defeat Ukraine with conventional weapons. He can destroy a few cities and conquer territories, but after that he cannot control them. Ukrainians will fight to the end to protect their land. The danger is when he realizes that he is losing or not earning enough. Proficient in the use of nuclear weapons.
In your book you ask a question: Is he crazy enough to do that?
Inside Ukraine, yes. He may realize that the use of such a weapon would permanently cut him off from the geopolitical map of the world. The problem is, we’re not sure it’s rational yet. He is sick of believing all these stories. If he doesn’t believe that, he’s a bastard.
What is your analysis of the current situation?
Already, it can be said that Putin lost his battle because he wanted to take over Ukraine in 10 days… and as a result, the Ukrainians had a chance to regain control. The Russians are attacking in a more concentrated, stronger way, but the Ukrainians are getting more and more Western military aid, which is pushing us toward a stalemate.
We still have the impression that the Russian army is advancing inexorably…
It is making progress, yes, but at what cost? If it loses 10,000 men and 50,000 shells every time it wants to take 5 or 10 kilometers, that’s poor progress. They may be relentless, but they progress inch by inch. It took them two months to capture Severodonetsk. Although the Russian military arsenal is very large, they will run out of resources.
How to explain such slow progress?
Bad strategy, military incompetence. Putin prepared his war very poorly. He is playing his rule because even if he loses, officially or not, he risks creating a situation where a section of the population and elites want to replace him. He is protected. But historical statistics show that any dictator overthrown by his own entourage ends badly.
You worked for the KGB for almost eight years. You resigned in 1992. Why were you exiled to France?
Two or three years after the end of the KGB, the Russian secret service began to rebuild itself. They wanted people who left like me to be rescued. We got a little angry because I was teasing them to cut off this good relationship with the past. They wanted revenge. In the winter of 2001, I contracted an illness that resembled poisoning.
Today you openly criticize Putin’s regime. Do you think the Russian secret services are still watching you?
Absolutely. I always feel threatened. But I’m used to it. I take precautions. Generally, I pay attention to what I eat, what I drink, where I go, and how I get there. But it goes without saying that I won’t give you the details!
Editions by Albin Michael