Excerpts of an interview with Mikhail Zygar to Le Figaro.
Putin has never been a politician. He did not intend to become president and never participated in elections. Initially, he was, rather, pro-Western politician; mainly due to the reformist liberal circles of the Yeltsin family who helped him. This is where his reforms and openness towards the West come from. I call this period "Putin-Lionheart". It is interesting to note that many liberals are still among his entourage, particularly they take economic posts. The birth of "Putin The Terrible" has happened not only under the pressure of the Cold War stereotypes, which also exist in the West, but under the pressure of those liberals who believe that the West has betrayed Russia (after it refusing to help after 1991).
Gorbachev took out loans, but in 1992, when the liberals asked for $ 50 billion to resist the collapse of the Soviet system, they were refused. The liberals are convinced that the West betrayed Russia. They are convinced that the West only wanted to destroy the USSR and then just to forget about the Russians. This opinion is shared by liberals and former KGB employees, as well as Putin himself, who synthesizes these groups.
The media often tend to perceive the Kremlin as a single player, but this vision is wrong. Numerous factions exist there. But all of them are opportunistic because no one says that he really thinks, preferring to guess what Putin wants to hear. And the whole structure of power is the same: every subordinate tries to read thoughts of his boss. I call this bureaucracy the "collective Putin". Putin himself cannot resist the influence of this bureaucracy, which becomes grounded. Putin is not de Gaulle; he is not able to put an end to French Algeria. Putin is more influential, but he is part of the retinue.
When we made him our president, we did not talk about his pro-Western views, about war or technology. Everybody wanted him to regain control because chaos reigned in the country. However, democratic norms were not observed during the struggle for the power (in particular, during the absolutely monstrous parliamentary elections of 1999). But Putin was not the organizer; however, the family that was trying protect themselves from communist revenge did. Speaking about the relations with the West, we must remember that Putin supported Russia's accession to NATO. He wanted to have good relations with Blair and Bush, but he felt humiliated. Bush did not consider Russia a superpower. David Frum, Bush's speechwriter, told me that he considered Russia as a great Finland. Of course, Putin has expected to be treated in another way.