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Putin opens up for CNN's Larry King
Russian leader speaks about submarine tragedy, U.S. presidential politics and religion
NEW YORK (CNN) -- Russian President Vladimir Putin talked freely Friday about the status of the Russian navy, the presidential race in the United States, his own career with the KGB and the "ideological vacuum" that resulted from life in a communist state.
Appearing for an hour with CNN's Larry King, Putin, through a translator, also answered questions about the recent loss of a Russian navy submarine, his opposition to a United States missile defense system and his religion.
Asked about the loss of the Russian navy submarine Kursk, Putin said, "We don't know what triggered those explosions."
The Kursk was lost during naval exercises on August 12 when it sank to the bottom of the Barents Sea. Russian officials say 118 men died on the ship.
"Now we know for sure that, in result of the powerful blast ... 75 or 80 percent of the crew died within 90 seconds," Putin said.
Putin said he might act differently if confronted again with such a disaster. He was lambasted in the Russian press for not ending his vacation to rush to the scene where 118 seamen died.
"The only thing which could have been changed was ... possibly to halt my working meetings, to suspend them at my place of vacation ... I could have gone back to Moscow," Putin said.
"But again, this would have been a PR (public relations) action, since in any city of the country or throughout the world, I'm always linked to the military... From the point of view of PR, that could look better. Maybe yes it would look better."
Sinking caused him long-term concern
Putin said the sinking of the submarine gives him concern about the status of the Russian military.
"We need to look into the status of our armed forces. ... it was not the first incident of a kind," Putin said. "Such incidents happened both in the Soviet Union and the United States.
"The question is ... to analyze it thoroughly .... and maybe jointly, with our partners, to work out a more efficient rule of conduct at the high seas, like we have been able to do with our joint scientific and research policies in outer space," the Russian president added. "That's also a hostile environment we've been able to deal with jointly."
U.S. presidential campaign leaves him optimistic
Putin, who has served as president for 100 days, said Russians "are very much interested in what's going to happen" in the upcoming U.S. presidential election.
He said he has met Vice President Al Gore -- the Democratic Party nominee -- briefly. But asked if he favored either Gore or Texas Gov. George W. Bush, the Republican Party nominee, Putin replied, "I think the American people should express their preferences and we'll accept their choice."
Regarding the positions put forth by the candidates, he said, "Basically, what we've seen in their pre-election documents gives us a sense of optimism."
Economic difficulties were expected
Putin, a graduate of Leningrad State University, served in the KGB for 16 years prior to the collapse of the Soviet Union. Asked by King if he had enjoyed that career, Putin said, "Well, you know, it was an interesting job. It allowed (me) to increase my vision, to get certain skills -- skills of dealing with people, with information ... It taught me to choose what is the priority and what is less important. That was useful..."
Putin said he is enthusiastic about Russia's economy, saying it had undergone "dramatic change, unprecedented internationally."
Difficulties for Russian consumers, he said, were anticipated.
"Nobody expected there would be change without imagining what would be entailed. But I think that right now we can confidently state that the country is able to deal with it."
'I believe in human beings'
Asked if he was religious, Putin said he prefers to keep such information private, though he admitted he wears a crucifix, a gift from his mother.
"I think such things are sacred for everybody. Everybody's belief is not to be shown off; it's inside a man's heart."
Asked by King: "Do you believe in a higher power?" Putin replied, "I believe in human beings. I believe in his good intentions. I believe in the fact that all of us have come to this world to do good. And if we do so, and if we do so together, then success is waiting for us ...
"And most important; we will achieve the ultimate goal -- comfort in our own heart."
CNN.com writer Jonathan D. Austin and Reuters contributed to this report.
Russia denies 'friendly fire' sunk Kursk
The Government of the Russian Federation
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