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Putin Talks: His Copter Came Under Fire in 2000, How He Saved Chechnya from US-Backed Jihadis (Video)

"Russia was in its weakest condition ever (in 2000). We had to either deliver a blow now ... or never." - Vladimir Putin

This post first appeared on Russia Insider

This is a segment from the remarkable new 4 hour documentary - biography of Vladimir Putin by the prominent Russian journalist Andrei Kondrashov, famous for his 2016 documentary about the events in Crimea, which was wildly popular in Russia.

Bits and pieces of the film are being subtitled, and we will bring you interesting parts as they come out. People who have seen the whole thing say that it is an excellent, fascinating film, with a lot of new personal material about Putin, going back to his youth.

In this segment, he talks about how Russia was on the verge of collapse in 2000, and why he took a stand in Chechnya. The segment has a lot of material from Chechens talking about how life changed for the better there thanks to Putin.

Full transcript below:

Vladimir Putin: To some extent, Russia lost its sovereignty. We're speaking about the state of the armed forces, internal conflicts that were certain to be fueled from abroad. The FSB director reported on another interception of a conversation between one of the groups' leaders and his foreign masterminds. I still remember it. "Russia is in its weakest condition ever. We either deliver a blow now and do this and that or never." They did their best.

The 1990s.

They had made systematic efforts for a long time, since the early 90s. Here's a fact about the government entities which seems unthinkable now.

Nikolai Tokarev, Transneft Chairman of the Board: Gosimuschestvo staff was about 160 employees, including about 70 advisors from the USA. The entity could issue no paper without a US adviser’s visa, especially in strategic fields like defense, enterprises that were crucial for the economy. That was the case.

Sergey Shoygu, Russia's Minister of Defence: "It was in the early 2000s, a night flight. It was just the two of us when the President said that we have a chance which we have to use. We had to drag the country from the condition that it was in by any means necessary. Those were the words of a man who was convinced that he'd do his best."

The army almost collapsed as well as the country. Besides, the troops were up to 1.3 million soldiers by 1999. To protect North Caucasus, soldiers were taken from all over the country, in separate companies from Ryazan to the Far East.

Sergey Ivanov, Russia's ex-Defence Minister (2001-2007): A battalion isn't combat-effective. But a marine company was taken from the Pacific to be sent to Chechnya. Every little bit helped to shape a grouping. There were about 100,000 soldiers in it.

Vladimir Putin: The situation was awful, beyond the pale. When the country faced a real challenge, the festering issue of North Caucasus, it was clear that we couldn't do without the army.

Interestingly, there was neither a normal army nor a country at that time. But there were heroes. This battle which went down in the history of the Second Chechen War. On the last day of February 2000, militants intending to go beyond Chechnya approached the Ulus-Kert — Selmentausen line in the Argun River gorge. Pskov paratroopers faced them at Height 776. They refused to negotiate and accepted the fight. More than 2,000 terrorists vs less than 100 paratroopers. This footage was made a day after the battle. 90% of it wasn't broadcast. We won't show it either. It was bloodshed.

Igor Sechin, Rosneft CEO: Almost all of the company died except for only 6 wounded soldiers who weren't identified as such. The terrorists were going across the height shooting dead those who survived. The commander, who was among the last to die, drew fire of the artillery.

84 paratroopers died heroically, destroying up to 500 terrorists. By the President's decree, 22 men of the 6th Company became the Heroes of Russia, 21 of them were awarded the title posthumously. Meeting their relatives in Pskov later, Vladimir Putin promised to come to the battlefield on his own, though it remained in the terrorists' rear for a year.

Igor Sechin: He said: "I promise that I will personally lay flowers on your behalf." And he was there several days later. He visited the place where our soldiers died.

2000. The Chechen Republic

Ramzan Kadyrov, the head of the Chechen Republic: The first time I saw Vladimir Vladimirovich was in Mozdok. The next time was when he arrived in Gudermes on New Years to meet the military. That time was horrible for us, for the Republic. The helicopter couldn't land.

Bad weather conditions were reported. But few people know that the President's helicopter was attacked.

Vladimir Putin: I thought it was fireworks as it was New Year's Eve. Then the pilots said that we're being attacked.

Igor Sechin: Vladimir Vladimirovich ordered to prepare a backup option of going by car. Roads were mined. By the way, a landmine exploded on our way back.

Luckily, no one was injured. It wasn't even made public. At that time in Chechnya, everything exploded, people were shooting everywhere.

Alexander Bortnikov, FSB Director: At that time we annually lost about 20 agents of the Special Operations Center and FSB operatives. Chechnya was ruined, we can compare it to Stalingrad. There was nothing. Only ruins.

Vladimir Putin: My helicopter flew both over Gudermes and Grozny when it was all in ruins. I remember disputes on whether we should rebuild Grozny as Chechnya's capital or should it be transferred elsewhere, maybe, to Gudermes.

2000. Grozny. A.Kondrashov reporting

Having seen today's Grozny, you don't wonder why the government refuses to rebuild it. The Chechens themselves call it a phantom. The only reason to call it a city is that people still live here.

This is the very Lorsanov Street, which was previously called The Red Soldiers' Street, almost 18 years later. The old buildings are only on this side of the street, and modern neighborhoods are over there, instead of ruins. Only peaceful citizens remind of that phantom city. But Grozny's population has grown tenfold.

The Saslambekovs is one of thousands of families that returned to Grozny after the war. In October 1999, Tabarik Saslambekova was 7 months pregnant when she fled from bullets. The baby, Ramzan, was born in Ingushetia at the turn of the century like other characters. Ramzan belongs to the generation that doesn't remember the war. He recently passed the Russian State Exam and was admitted to the Chechen State University. Its location between Moscow and St. Petersburg Streets is symbolic.

Ramzan Saslambekov (Grozny): "I decided to become an economist, I took the exams and was admitted to CHSU".

Tabarik Saslambekova, Ramzan's mother: "We didn't think that he'd ever have an opportunity to study".

Ramzan Kadyrov: "When a person knows they have a job, a family, homeland, a safe homeland, it stands high. We want to live and we know how to live. We just didn't have a chance to".

Kadyrov's eyes, the Republic's head, reveal how important peace was to Chechnya, and the results that followed.

Ramzan Kadyrov: "People are happy. You go out and see happy children playing, embracing each other. It's such a pleasure. But there were times when people asked for bread, for water. We had no opportunity. The military gave their combat ration to people. There were no medical services. People died. That was really horrible. We had no idea of what would happen the next day".

Vladimir Putin: "What is important is that people have felt the taste of life, it can be seen everywhere. Over the past 8-10 years, Chechnya's population has increased by 2.3 times. The unemployment rate is still very high. Being over 14%, it exceeds the country's average rate. But still, it's less than 45%, which was before. Industry is developing too. As well as agriculture and the construction sector".

Ramzan Kadyrov: "I promised to myself to do the impossible, if necessary, to change the image of Grozny to make it not so gloomy. So we started to rebuild Grozny without waiting for any programs. And, I assumed the responsibility. We hired development companies using loaned money, I said no matter the cost, we would rebuild the city. If I am imprisoned, let it be. But the President said we should rebuild the city".

Nowadays Grozny is a fiction made true, not only for North Caucasus but for the whole Russia. 40-story skyscrapers are at the foot of the Tersk ridge. Blocks of flats, business centers, banks, here is a 5-star hotel. And this is Akhmad Kadyrov Avenue, flowing into Putin Avenue with new residential areas. Grozny is back to the list of top 20 Russia's strategic cities. For Russia, it's kind of a Caucasus forward stronghold.

Vladimir Putin: It was possible largely thanks to the sentiments in Chechnya itself. Take Kadyrov, Sr. He came by himself, nobody dragged him. But he used to fight for the militants. One day he just came and asked for a meeting. At some point he said: "You know, I understood that Chechnya can effectively develop and be free only as a part of Russia." At first, I didn't get what he meant. He explained that the people who came, especially hardliners, in obvious sympathy to terrorism, they started not just to fight for Chechnya's independence, but to make the Chechen people bend to their will. And people didn't like it. Finally, they came up with the conclusion that it was better to be with Russia.”

- You believed Akhmad back then, though you could have distrusted him.

- You know, he was a very sincere man. I could have distrusted him, of course. But, I believed him because he produced an impression of a reliable man, standing by his word. You know, he was... He was a real man who inspired confidence. I made the right choice as you can see.

- What scenario do you think, Ramzan Akhmatovich, would have played out in North Caucasus and in Russia if it hadn't been for the decisions that the President negotiated with your father?

Ramzan Kadyrov: If Putin hadn't become President in the necessary time, I think we would have lost Russia as all the necessary conditions were created for this. Those who made the Soviet Union collapse were eager to split our state, Russia.

Vladimir Putin: Certainly, we were made to follow the path of the Yugoslavian dissolution. In such a case, the sufferings of the Russian and other peoples of the Russian Federation would exceed considerably our losses during our efforts to fight international terrorism in North Caucasus in the late 90s and early 2000s.

Vladimir Putin,1999: We have no right to afford even a second of weakness. Not a single second. Because if we do, then those who died will appear to have died in vain. Therefore, I suggest we put the glasses on the table today. We are sure to drink to them. But we'll drink later when the principle goals that you all are aware of are completed.

- Did you drink to them?

- I did.

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- When?

- Well... Once we met with veterans, those who had taken part in those hard events. We commemorated those who, unfortunately, didn't return from the battlefield. It definitely was a battlefield.

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