MOSCOW (AP) — President Vladimir Putin's former bodyguard, who recently has been appointed regional governor, said he once confronted a bear outside of Putin's residence.
Alexei Dyumin, 43 told the daily Kommersant in an interview published Tuesday that he was on duty while Putin was asleep at a presidential residence when he saw a bear standing at its glass doors.
"We looked each other in the eyes, he stepped back a bit. I opened the door and unloaded the entire cartridge of my pistol under his legs," he said. "I felt pity for the bear."
Dyumin said the animal retreated, and Putin later praised him for sparing the bear.
When Putin appointed Dyumin last week as the acting governor of the Tula region south of Moscow, many commentators speculated it's an interim step in his quick ascent. Some even claimed that Putin could be grooming the burly general as his successor, the allegation that appears dubious as the Russian president so far hasn't signaled any intentions to step down after his current term ends in 2018.
While the tight-lipped officer gave few details of his service next to Putin, he shared some yet unknown details about the secretive Russian leader, a figure of immense interest to both his fans and foes.
In another episode Dyumin recalled, Putin was visiting Chechnya soon after rebels' defeat there and boarded a backup helicopter instead of his main one on his way back. Dyumin said he tried to warn Putin that he had chosen the wrong aircraft, but the president ignored him. The helicopter with Putin safely flew back, but the chopper he was supposed to board, which Dyumin and some others took, caught fire and crash-landed immediately after takeoff.
"I thought then what was it," Dyumin said, casting it as an example of Putin's good luck.
After serving for many years as Putin's bodyguard, Dyumin in 2014 was given general's rank and named the chief of the military's Special Operations Forces, an elite group of troops that perform sensitive tasks abroad.
"The zone of action for the Special Operations Forces is the entire world," he said.
Some Russian media claimed that Dyumin led the operation to whisk former Moscow-friendly Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych to Russia after he was chased from power in February 2014 following massive street protests. Dyumin himself denied the claim as a "myth."
He also refused to comment on media claims that he played a key role in the Russian takeover of Ukraine's Crimean Peninsula, which was annexed by Moscow in March 2014. He said only that he received the Hero of Russia medial, the nation's highest military award, for "performing special tasks" but refused to elaborate.
The following year Dyumin was named the deputy chief of Ground Forces and promoted to deputy defense minister in December.
Dyumin, whose father was a military officer, didn't show any political ambitions in his interview, casting himself just as a military man following orders in accepting the new job.
"When I was offered the job, I was a military man, and it was the commander in chief who set the task," he said. "I will work to succeed."