So, in the beginning of 1990 Putin is in Leningrad again. The rector of Leningrad’s State University Stanislav Merkuriev hires him on an insignificant post, as the prorector’s assistant on international matters. Through Merkuriev Putin has resumed his relationship with Anatoly Sobchak, elected in May 1990 as Lensovet’s chairman. Supposedly, Merkuriev recommended Putin as an efficient worker. Sobchak, supposedly, recalled his student and hired him. There exists however a likely version that Putin was appointed to look after Sobchak by the KGB. There is also a version that Sobchak has asked for Putin because he knew him personally and trusted him more. Still, according to the Novy Petersburg Newspaper version (December 24th 1998) Sobchak, supposedly was a KGB informer in the University in the past and as such could have even been Putin’s subordinate. Whatever it was, from May 1990 till May 1991 Putin really executed the functions of Lensovet’s chairman A. Sobchak’s assistant, reviewer, secretary and proxy.
Although there is information that Sobchak’s democratic circle was in shock when they heard whom Sobchak had made his retainer, in reality Putin was insignificant and hardly known to anyone. In June 12th 1991, after the mayor’s elections on which Sobchak won Putin was appointed chairman of the Committee on the mayor’s external relations. He occupied this post during six years. Many people who have become famous in the country now worked with him in the Committee. Alexey Kudrin was the deputy chairman of the Committee on economic development. Dmitry Medvedev was the Committee’s expert. Alexey Miller was a Committee member. Besides, German Gref was working as the chairman of the Committee on property management. Dmitry Kozak was the chairman of the Law Committee, Viktor Ivanov headed the Department of administrative bodies of the city hall, Igor Sechin was the staff head of the chairman of the Committee on V. V. Putin’s external relations. Anatoly Chubais was around; he was the mayor’s senior adviser on economic matters.
With the exception of Chubais who advanced early, this whole gang of Sobchak’s nestlings would have probably stayed unknown in Russia, if it were not for V. V. Putin’s luck. After all there is a lot of functionaries in Russia. And although today Putin’s supporters assure us that this was a very important Committee, it is hardly believable that the external relations of Saint Petersburg’s city hall were so important for the Russian Federation. This was the usual sinecure for functionaries. Kudrin’s post during that time sounds especially dumb: deputy chairman of the Committee of external relations of Saint Petersburg’s city hall on economic development. What is that, he developed external relations economically? Did he try to get the maximum financing for reception dinners for the city hall’s foreign guests? But as we will see, Saint Petersburg city hall interpreted external relations quite broadly and made them a lucrative business.
In the end of 1991 and the start of 1992 Putin initiated Saint Petersburg’s food supply from outside the border in exchange for exportations. On December 4th 1991 he signed a letter with such a proposition to the Committee on external economic relations of the Ministry of economy. In relation to this Putin asked to give Saint Petersburg’s city hall a quota of $124 million for the export of raw materials (wood, oil products, color metal scrap and also 14 tons of rare metals) and “a right to distribute the quotas and give out licenses” to the Committee he was heading. On February 1st 1992 Petr Aven who was then the chairman of the Committee on external economic relations stamped Putin’s letter and on March 25th 1992 the Ministry of Economy gave Saint Petersburg’s CER the right to sign export licenses. Actually, Putin’s CER did not wait the Ministry’s permission to sign thirteen licenses. Most often it was not V. V. Putin himself who signed these important documents but his deputy Alexandr Anikin. What did they sign? A few examples: the Nevsky Dom company received a license to export oil products, Leningrad’s Krasny Krest society received a license to export aluminum and rare metals. The international commercial center of a certain Grigory Miroshnik received the “task” to export 150 tons of oil products in exchange fore meat, potatoes and sugar. The joint stock company Fyvekor received the “task” to export 50 thousand meter cubes of wood in exchange for powder milk.
Already then the activities of the committee headed by Putin gave rise to questions from Petrosovet’s deputies. As far as January 10th 1992 Petrosovet’s 13th session decided to create a work group to investigate the CER’ activities. The group was headed by the deputy Marina Salye, chairwoman of the Petrosovet’s Committee on food and the deputy Yuri Gladkov. This is what the work group has established:
The raw materials, including rare metals were sold abroad with the CER’s permission “at dumping prices, lower the market prices”. In particularly, in the agreement of the Committee with the German firm Jikol (its principal shareholder, a certain Piter Bakhman received a license to export 13 997 kg of rare metals) the price for 1 kg of scandium was established at 72,6 German marks, while the price of scandium on the world market is two thousand times higher – 150 thousand German marks. Prices on other rare metals were understated by 7,10 or 20. Actually, Putin prudently did not sign this agreement, it was signed by one of his deputies.
The Committee’s agreements foresaw commissions for the firms. In the agreement of January 3rd 1992 with the firm LOKK signed personally by Putin the commission was 25% ($540 thousand). In the agreement with Interlesbirzha concluded “with the Committee’s chairman V. V. Putin” and signed by Anikin the commission made up 50% ($5 983 900). In the agreement with the Svyatoslav firm the commission for 20 thousand tons of cotton also made up 50% ($12 million).
Salye’s work group concluded by presenting cases when licenses were given out for exporting raw materials under wittingly fictive food deliveries (since the products did not enter the city). Part of the agreements was concluded with such huge formal violations that they made the agreements legally powerless and the court could not oblige the firms to execute them – to really deliver the food.
Salye’s work group recommended Sobchak to discharge Putin from his post and gave the materials of its investigation to the municipal attorney and to the Control Department of the RF President’s Administration. (The chairman of the Committee of external economic relations Petr Aven was also informed about the results of the investigation). On March 31st 1992 the head of the Control Department Yuri Boldirev put the following resolution on the work groups’ report: “The Department has received materials from the deputies of Saint Petersburg’s City Council demonstrating the need to discharge the chairman of the Committee of the city’s external relations Vladimir Vladimirovich Putin from his functions. I demand to exclude the possibility of his appointment to any other post until the decision of the Department on this matter”.