Back in the late 1990s, it was widely believed that a group of the former president's insiders, nicknamed "?????" (or "family"), was actually behind most of the Kremlin's policies. 

Members reportedly included then president Boris Yeltsin's daughter, her husband, oligarch Boris Berezovsky, and a man who later become known as the "Kremlin's banker" — Sergei Pugachev.

And by the end of Yeltsin's second term, as his health started to deteriorate, the group went out in search of a successor. They were looking for someone who could play nice with the "family," but could also win an election.

On Thursday, Pugachev told the independent TV channel Dozhd ("Rain") that he was one-third of a threesome "at the helm of 'operation successor,'" along with Yeltsin's daughter, Tatyana Dyachenko, and her husband, Valentin Yumashev. 

Pugachev even claimed that he was actually the one who suggested professional spy Vladimir Putin as a candidate; although he conceded that the then chief of Russia's spy services was already an "insider" by that time, according to the Moscow Times.

“It's not as if I said: 'Oh, here's Putin — maybe he could become president?' Of course it wasn't like that,” Pugachyov told Dozhd.

“Putin was already involved in the story as director of the FSB," he added. "He was, I would say, a key figure, a representative of the siloviki.” 

(The "siloviki" are politicians from security or military services, such as the FSB or the Soviet KGB.)

Pugachev also denied that Berezovksy, who is widely credited with anointing Putin, had anything to do with the selection process: “I will tell you frankly that Boris Abramovich Berezovsky was not part of this circle."'

Pugachev ended up becoming a big player in Moscow during Putin's first two terms, while Berezovsky fled to London.

Pugachev founded Mezhpromback (International Industrial Bank) in Moscow in 1992, and within four years was a "Kremlin powerbroker," helping politicians win elections and speaking to Putin "almost every day probably."

But relations soured in 2010, and he ultimately fled to London in 2011.

"Putin is not someone who sets strategic plans; he lives today." Pugachev told Time last October. "He had no plans; he didn't aim to become president. He hadn't thought of that. He didn't plan to remain in the government at all."

Nevertheless, back in 1999 — seemingly out of nowhere — Yeltsin stepped down as president and named Putin the acting president on New Year's Eve.

"I want to warn that any attempts to go beyond the Russian laws, beyond the Constitution of Russia, will be strongly suppressed," Putin said in his first acting speech as president. "Freedom of speech. Freedom of conscience. Freedom of mass media. Property rights. These basic principles of the civilized society will be safe under the protection of the state."

Later that year, he officially ran in a popular election and won.

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