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Putin's First Column: 'Why It's Hard To Fire People'

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By Shaun Walker in Moscow | The Independent

In the past year he's been painting pictures, singing songs, and demonstrating his expert judo moves. This week Russia's Prime Minister Vladimir Putin will complete a clean sweep of the artistic disciplines after turning his hand to writing. Mr Putin's first ever column for a Russian media outlet will be published on Friday, entitled "Why it's hard to fire people".

But while the previous efforts, along with his skiing, tiger-shooting and bare-chested fishing expeditions, have been propaganda for personal abilities, the article seems to have a more serious point. Written for a niche monthly magazine, Russian Pioneer, it reads as the first admission by Mr Putin of the scale of infighting that raged in the Kremlin during his eight years as president.

"Conflicts within a team, especially within a big team, always arise," writes Mr Putin, in extracts leaked to a Russian news agency. "This happens every minute, every second - simply because between people there are always clashes of interest."

Most analysts believe that during Mr Putin's presidency, a vicious battle was fought for power and influence between liberals and hardliners within and around the Kremlin. This continues today as the relatively liberal President Dmitry Medvedev and his close associates appear to be fighting off challenges from a hardline group of conservative former KGB officers. Mr Putin is sometimes lumped in with the latter group, but many analysts suggest that he actually played a delicate balancing act to stop the two groups from descending into all-out war.

The scuffles are rarely aired in public and Mr Putin himself has not made direct reference to them before. But now he seems to confirm the most radical of interpretations. "I can say honestly that while I was president, if I hadn't interfered in certain situations, in Russia there would long ago ceased to have been a government."

The magazine's editor Andrei Kolesnikov said he had not had to make any corrections as the article was written in excellent Russian, albeit with Mr Putin's famous idiosyncratic expressions in abundance.

For any corporate hotshots looking for tips on how to get rid of underachieving employees in times of economic crisis, the article lays out the "Putin method" of firing, which - on paper at least - sounds surprisingly humane. "Sometimes from outside it seems like someone should simply be swept aside with a broom," writes Mr Putin. "But I can assure you that it's not always like this. You should never bad-mouth someone behind their back, and it's impermissible to fire somebody and toss them aside just because somebody has told you something bad about them."

Mr Putin also claims that he always gives people the right to fight their corner. "In contrast to previous, Soviet rulers, I always do it personally. I usually call the person into my office, look them in the eye, and say: 'There are concrete complaints. If you think this isn't true, then please, you can fight against it; argue your case'."

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