War in Ukraine | “Putin is a mediocre being”

Former KGB spy exiled in France releases Sergei Jirnov Equipmentanalytical book on the war in Ukraine, with keys to understanding the deep motivations of Russian President Vladimir Putin. The press talked to him.

Posted at 12:00 p.m

Jean Christophe Laurence

Jean Christophe Laurence
The press

Question: You met Vladimir Putin four times when he was with the KGB. What impression do you keep?

R The impression of something insignificant, very humble, normal, nothing extraordinary. Which is extraordinary – and I felt that when we first met [Jirnov a été « cuisiné » par Poutine en 1980] – is that he is a careerist capable of anything to achieve his goal. He’s ruthless.


Sergei Jirnov, former KGB spy in exile in France

How could someone so “insignificant” remain in power for more than 20 years? Good strategist?

That he is a great strategist is a myth. Putin did not build up his power grab. He was thrown there by people who were counting on him. He knew how to be in the right place at the right time. Putin missed his career with the KGB. He wanted to be a spy abroad and it didn’t work out. He was a helpful and efficient official, but he doesn’t have a stature. He was lucky, that’s all. But he was adept at organizing power. He knows how to surround himself with those who owe him a debt and how to turn up his nose to win his favor.

Obviously you don’t have a very high opinion of him.

think again I just want to dispel the myth. He is mediocre, but at the same time a genius of Machiavellianism, a genius of conspiracy, a genius of privatizing power. But look at his war in Ukraine. He makes mistake after mistake. He was wrong about himself, his army, Ukraine, the Ukrainians, the West and Europe.

Do you think he can win the war in Ukraine?

Putin will never defeat Ukraine with conventional weapons. He can destroy some cities and conquer territories, but after that he can no longer control them. Ukrainians will fight to the last to defend their country. The danger comes when he realizes he’s losing or not earning enough. He is capable of using nuclear weapons.

You ask the question in your book: Is he crazy enough to do it?

Within Ukraine, yes. He may realize that using such a weapon will permanently cut him off the geopolitical map of the world. The problem is that we’re not at all sure if it’s still rational. All these denazification stories, if he believes them, he’s sick. And if he doesn’t believe it, he’s a bastard.

What is your analysis of the current situation?

Already now we can say that Putin failed his war because he wanted to conquer Ukraine in 10 days… This gave the Ukrainians an opportunity to regain control. The Russians are striking more concentrated and stronger, but the Ukrainians are receiving more and more Western military aid, and this is driving us into a war of stalemate.

We still have the impression that the Russian army is advancing inexorably…

It’s moving forward, yes, but at what cost? If it loses 10,000 men and 50,000 shells every time it tries to travel 5 or 10 kilometers, that’s bad progress. They may be relentless, but they’re moving forward inch by inch. It took them two months to capture Sievierodonetsk. Even if the Russian military arsenal is very large, they will run out of resources.

How can such slow progress be explained?

The bad strategy, the inefficiency of the army. Putin prepared his war very poorly. He is playing his regime because if he loses, whether officially or not, he risks creating a situation where part of the people and elites will want to replace him. He is protected. But historical statistics tell us that every dictator ends badly, overthrown by his own entourage.

You worked for the KGB for almost eight years. You resigned in 1992. Why did you go into exile in France?

Two or three years after the end of the KGB, the Russian secret service began to rebuild itself. They wanted to bring back the people who left like me. We got a little angry because I mocked her to sever ties with that past forever. They wanted revenge. In the winter of 2001, I contracted an illness that closely resembled poisoning.

Today you openly criticize Putin’s regime. Do you think the Russian secret services are still watching you?

Absolutely. I always feel threatened. But I’m used to it. I take precautions. In general, I watch what I eat, what I drink, where I go and how I get there. But it goes without saying that I won’t tell you the details!



Editions Albin Michel

220 pages

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