In what could be seen as the start of a presidential campaign, Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin reflected Friday on decisions he made that he said could have cost him his political career – and declared that the risk was always justified.
He specifically referred to his response to the 1999 rebel attacks on Dagestan led by the notorious Chechen warlord Shamil Basayev.
Militants headed by Basayev and Saudi-born Ibn Al-Khattab attacked Dagestan in August-September 1999. Hundreds of people were killed in the subsequent fighting, a precursor to the second Chechen war.
“Unless I took resolute and tough action, the country would have fallen apart,” he said during a working visit to one of Russia’s biggest steel makers, the Magnitogorsk Steel Plant.
“I had to make a decision. I thought: That’s it, my career is over.”
Putin said he acted in accordance with the country’s national interests, with no consideration of political expediency.
Asked what he considered his most significant achievement in the past decade, Putin said a good deal had been done for the country but Russia had still a long way to go, specifically reduce poverty and ensure economic growth.
“New tools, new people and new ideas are needed, deep modernization and innovation are needed to accelerate economic and social growth and strengthen the political foundations of our society,” Putin said.
Asked what quality was most important in a president, Putin said, “integrity – integrity in everything,” adding that a person who “can’t keep his word must not even be allowed to head any team, let alone the country.”
The prime minister also stressed the importance of professionalism and diplomacy.
Putin’s comments come as analysts and ordinary Russians speculate who will run in next year’s presidential poll.
President Dmitry Medvedev and Putin have made clear that one of them – and only one of them – will run in the presidential elections on March 11, 2012, but it is anyone’s guess as to which one.