When offered support from then-President Yeltsin for a bid to lead Russia, Vladimir Putin said ‘No,’ much to the surprise of his boss. The anecdote was told by the Russian president to school students choosing their path in life.
Putin recalled how he was offered a big career boost that eventually made him president of Russia during a forum on career opportunities for teenagers about to graduate from school. When asked how he chose the profession of the president, he assured them he did not.
The story came with a moral. Putin said that, although he had plenty of experience as an official and “a big boy” by that stage, he didn’t feel ready to fill Yeltsin’s shoes. He said he hopes young people in the audience will be better prepared for making key decisions in their lives than he had been.
Putin was handpicked as a potential successor by an ailing Yeltsin in the late 1990s. He had a string of appointments in the presidential administration before becoming head of the FSB in 1998.
A year later Yeltsin used his political influence to push Putin’s candidacy through the parliament and confirm him as the new prime minister. On New Year’s Eve the president famously resigned in an annual speech to the nation, making Putin his temporary replacement with six months to run an election campaign.
Putin earlier recalled his initial rejection of Yeltsin’s offer in an interview with Oliver Stone for a documentary. Speaking to the US filmmaker, the Russian president said his reluctance was to a large degree motivated by fear for his family’s safety. With no personal network of support in Moscow, he said a failure in succeeding Yeltsin would have put his wife and two daughters at serious personal risk.
Tuesday’s event in Yaroslavl however was devoid of that grim undertone. Putin said a person who wishes to become head of state does not need a specific background, though having knowledge of law, economy or other areas which deal with interconnection of people and institutions, would help.
But those who aspire to reach such lofty heights would have to commit a large portion of his or her life to a very demanding job and would need empathy to judge every decision taken in terms of who it may hurt, Putin said. Being a decent person would be nice as well, he added, although this can be said about any profession.