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Sunday, 5 March, 2000, 14:54 GMT
Analysis: Putin wants respect
Putin: hawk or liberal democrat?
Putin: hawk or liberal democrat?
By BBC News Online's Stephen Mulvey

Vladimir Putin's first television interview with a foreign journalist since becoming Russia's acting president helped to dispel part of the aura of mystery that surrounds him.

Mr Putin's actions since he became prime minister in August have earned him a justified reputation as a hawk.

Russia's ruthless military operation in Chechnya, its new defence doctrine, and Mr Putin's many speeches about revitalising the army and strengthening the state - these and many other developments have suggested that Mr Putin is far from a "liberal democrat".

Conflicting positions

Yet these are two of the words the US Secretary of State, Madeleine Albright, used to describe him after nearly three hours of talks in Moscow.

Frost probed Putin on Nato
Frost questioned Putin about Nato
And Mr Putin too, especially when addressing a Western audience, has often been eager to state his respect for human rights, civil society, the free market and many of the characteristics of Western liberal democracy.

His long BBC interview with Sir David Frost filled in some of the gaps between these two apparently-conflicting positions.

The acting president's most striking comments touched on relations between Russia and the West.

Just how great the distance is between Mr Putin and other Russian hawks was revealed when he said there was no reason why Russia should not join Nato - as long as it would be treated as an equal.

Europe

He said he could not view Russia in isolation from Europe, or the "civilised world" as he put it, and therefore it was hard for him to imagine Nato as an enemy.

For many Russians who, like Mr Putin, spent a large part of their careers in the KGB the opposite is true: It is hard for them not to imagine Nato as an enemy.

The acting president said his determination to make Russia strong had nothing to do with aggression, but with providing security, and comfort - both economic and psychological - for Russian citizens.

What he made clear, however, was that Russia wanted to be treated with respect, and that he personally was determined that its view should carry weight in international relations.

"If an attempt is made to exclude us from decision making, that concerns and irritates us," he said.

Even so, he said, Russia would not "slam the door" and become isolationist.

Intelligent

Throughout the interview he came across as modest, intelligent and essentially well-disposed towards the West.

Putin: Cold War is over
Putin: Cold War is over
He gave an argued defence of Russia's actions in Chechnya, which, while it will have left many Western viewers unconvinced, was marked by straight talking, and articulacy - qualities that deserted Russia's first president, Boris Yeltsin, many years ago.

This may be why President Bill Clinton recently said that he could "do business" with Mr Putin.

Asked when he first realised that the Soviet system would have to change, Mr Putin said it was at the end of the 1980s, or the beginning of the 1990s, when it became clear that the USSR could not reach the standard of living that it aspired to.

There has been speculation that his work as a KGB spy in Germany in the 1980s was part of an attempt to learn from the West how the ailing Soviet economy could be revitalised, but he gave little away about this period of his life, other than it had been "fruitful" for him.

There is still a lot to learn about Mr Putin, but this interview provided some useful insights.

However un-European Russia's actions in Chechnya may seem, he believes in Russia as a part of Europe, and thinks only the free market can provide the economic comforts his people want.

He also seeks deeper co-operation with the West in the sphere of international relations and security - as long as the West accords Russia the weight he thinks it deserves.

This may be a sticking point.

Some in the West are frustrated that Russia fails to recognise its diminished position in the world.

Mr Putin sees things very differently: He says that the Cold War is over, so there is no reason for the West to attempt to downgrade Russia's status.

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