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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

WHAT THE PAPERS SAY: Too-Reliable Stepashin Bids Farewell to Yeltsin

From a telephone interview with former prime minister Sergei Stepashin conducted by Komsomolskaya Pravda correspondent Alexander Gamov.

Well, what's up Sanya [Stepashin says to Gamov upon answering the telephone]? This time you didn't get a chance to earn some extra money helping out as my assistant, as you did when I was at the Interior Ministry, did you?

Gamov: I think for you and I everything's in the future.

Stepashin: I hope so too.

G: As to helping you out, I'd be happy to do it even now!

S: Thanks, dear. So, what are you calling about?

G: The people are concerned: the worry about how you're feeling, what your mood is like?

S: Everything's fine.

G: Some are interested to know: Why was Sergei Vadimovich [Stepashin] so nervous before the television cameras when he spoke of his firing, after all surely it wasn't unexpected?

S: It was and it wasn't [unexpected] at the same time. On Thursday I'd had a preliminary discussion with the president. And after that simply wonderful conversation with Boris Nikolayevich [Yeltsin] (we hadn't talked like that and understood each other like that in a long time), I left on a very good business trip in the Russian regions - at, by the way, his initiative. And when I returned, I wasn't quite prepared for Monday's turn of events.

There's something else. I had several variants of my [departure] speech. Some of them were pretty harsh, I tell you frankly. But nevertheless I spoke as I thought I should, and at the urging of my inner conviction, or if you prefer, of my decency.

G: Can you describe the president's condition when he told you of his decision to fire you?

S: I think that he took that decision with great difficulty. When I arrived to see him at Gorki-9 early in the morning, he already wasn't alone. That suggests that he needed some kind of support in order to take that decision. Then, after I had made my farewells with the Cabinet, I called Boris Nikolayevich from my office, laid out several recommendations - especially regarding the North Caucasus. I'm still worried about that situation. And purely in a human way I said thanks for ten years of working together.

G: Was Boris Nikolayevich also upset that day?

S: He doesn't show his emotions, but I think that of course he was upset.

G: When you and he parted ways, what was the conversation?

S: The president said to me: "Sergei Vadimovich, you and I will remain as one team." I answered him: "Boris Nikolayevich, I won't be joining any other teams and will remain with you - that's a fact." And then I said, as an officer should, "I have the honor!" [or chest imeyu, which is what a Russian officer says upon saluting and depating from a superior's presence.]

G: From the outside, your firing looked like the result of some sort of intrigue by the Kremlin based on a very simply reason: It seemed like: Stepashin is an unreliable person; therefore, we must remove him.

S: And who found me so unreliable? Sash [short for Alexander], what do you think?

G: I never had any doubts in Stepashin.

S: Well who was I so unreliable for? For the authorities? For the country? For the president? For those who believed in me, including the governors - I traveled around half of the country meeting them!? Or for our partners abroad, with whom I managed to straighten things out with enormous labor? Enormous!

Hardly anyone knows, but the International Monetary Fund only decided everything in the final hour at the time of my conversations with [President Bill] Clinton and [Vice President] Gore. Agreement was reached on the reconstruction of an enormous - $170 billion - Soviet debt. No one for some reason talks about that.

That's why I was removed, because I was reliable.

I never wanted to serve anyone; no one ever bought me. Not everything is for sale and not everything can be bought in our country.

G: There's another popular explanation, that Stepashin didn't behave himself well when they tried to put him into the Fatherland-All Russia bloc. That you distanced yourself from that.

S: It's not exactly like that. I never hid my sympathies to the All Russia bloc. But the prime minister can't be on the [party's Duma elections] list second, or third, or sixth place, only in the first place! And the offer that they made was simply not workable. That's all.

.. G: After your sacking, you immediately called your parents. How did they accept the president's decree?

S: They were upset. My mama is a straightforward person. She says: "Seryozhinka, I don't understand anything. Why did they fire you?" They're waiting for me to come visit; they want me to come home soon.

G: And how did your wife and son react?

S: My Tamara, as is proper for an officer's wife, supported me in everything. Volodya I hadn't seen for a month - he's an independent person. That very evening [of the firing] he came to see me at the dacha, and we worked out what to do next. (But for now that's between us). My son hugged me and told me what mistakes I'd made. I agreed with him. But the most important thing is that he supported me.

.. G: It seems you are doomed to remain in big politics. Have you thought of trying to escape it?

S: Right now I'm doing two things. The first is that I'm gradually gathering my things up, because I have to move out of the prime minister's dacha. This is a good distracting therapy. The second is that I am carrying out very active consultations with our leading politicians. I will meet with my friend Yevgeny Maksimovich Primakov, with Yury Mikhailovich Luzhkov, and with Mintimer Sharipovich Shaimiyev. I spoke for a long time with Anatoly Borisovich Chubais. My former deputy prime ministers came to see me. [Interior Minister] Volodya Rushailo came by - he was having a difficult moment, it was early in the morning.

G: What will you do next?

S: I suppose I will decide on Monday definitively.

.. G: What was your biggest error as prime minister?

S: I don't know if it's an error or not, but I simply can't be changed. I never served the interests of a particular group that felt that I was not reliable in that situation. That's where I stand, and where I will stand, for as long as I can.

G: When you became prime minister, many realized that Stepashin is a man of culture and high education, someone who knows by heart the works of Pushkin and Shukshin. In these days do you turn to the classics for inspiration?

S: Pushkin I'm not reading for now, nor Shukshin. But starting tomorrow my son Volodya and I have agreed to start studying English, I want to quickly revive my knowledge. I felt the need for that during my trip abroad. That's also good therapy.

G: Are you waiting for Boris Nikolayevich to call?

S: He and I have pretty much talked everything out. But if he has such a desire - of course I would respond to his call in a purely human way. But, I think that for now there won't be a call. He also has a lot to think through.

G: What awaits Russia?

S: Russia consists of people. And in their very hands is the fate of the nation. I am convinced that both this winter and in the summer of next year, Russians will make the right choice.

G: Will you help us do that?

S: Certainly. Well, Sasha, thanks for the call. Hugs.

G: Hugs.