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New Putin Biography on Shelves

January 17, 2002

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MOSCOW (AP) _ President Vladimir Putin reminisces in a new biography about his boyhood in the street ``jungles″ of Leningrad and says he aspired to join the KGB secret police from watching patriotic films.

``I learned that I must be able to respond immediately to any offense,″ Putin said, recalling a fight he picked and lost before entering first grade. ``I understood that in order to win I have to go to the end in any fight, as if in the last, decisive combat.″

``Vladimir Putin: A Life Story,″ written by journalist Oleg Blotsky and released to bookstores this week, chronicles Putin’s youthful years through university graduation and recruitment by the KGB. It relies on interviews with the president and accounts from friends and teachers who knew him in Soviet times in Leningrad, now St. Petersburg.

Blotsky, who covered the Chechnya war, said he got access to Putin through Kremlin aide Sergei Yastrzhembsky, the main spokesman for Russia’s military campaign in the breakaway republic.

Although Blotsky said he had to persuade a reluctant Putin to share memories of his youth, the book appeared to be part of the Kremlin’s effort to enhance the image of Putin, who is highly popular in Russia. The book is the first of a planned trilogy on Putin, Blotsky told Rossiyskaya Gazeta newspaper.

``I was educated on the street,″ Putin, 49, says in the book. ``To live and be educated on the street is just like living in the jungles.″

When Putin entered school, his pugnacity irked his teachers and stalled his entry into the Young Pioneers, the Communist children’s organization. Putin was only allowed to join in sixth grade, not the fourth grade with most other kids.

``I was disobedient and didn’t follow school rules,″ Putin said. ``When a person is educated in the jungles, he continues to live according to their law when he reaches a new environment.″

Putin’s school friends and teachers described him as a frail but temperamental boy who never hesitated to challenge stronger kids. ``He never was afraid of anyone,″ said Viktor Borisenko, a close friend during their school years.

Borisenko said Putin once worked himself into a frenzy in a fight, and Putin’s teacher Vera Gurevich remembered that he fought like a ``tiger cub.″

Recalling the preschool fight in which he was beaten for the first time, Putin said he had picked it because his rival looked weaker. The defeat taught him a valuable lesson on restraint and respect for others.

But, he added, ``I also understood I must be strong enough to fight back in any case, whether I’m right or not.″

After joining the KGB, Putin said his bosses taught him a similar fighting philosophy.

``There is no need to meddle into anything without extreme necessity, but as it happens, you must proceed from the assumption that there is no way back and you must fight until the end,″ Putin said. ``They taught me this rule in the KGB, but I learned it much earlier in fights during my childhood.″

Putin said was influenced to join the KGB from patriotic movies and books describing the feats of Soviet clandestine agents. He described knocking on the door of KGB headquarters to apply for a future job when he still was in high school.

In a 20-minute conversation, a KGB duty officer told Putin he should first graduate from a university law school _ advice Putin heeded.

Putin had recalled similar details of his childhood in a book of interviews published after he became Russia’s acting president on Dec. 31, 1999. He subsequently won the March 2000 election. Putin also co-authored a book on judo, which he has been practicing since age 13.

Despite being a tough kid, Putin said he always had a soft spot for his parents.

``I had a big advantage over many of my peers: I felt the constant care and attention of my parents,″ he said. ``The family was a solid, reliable foundation for me.″

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