The former shadow agent, 61 years old and sporty, has crossed paths four times with the one who will become the all-powerful head of state of the Russian Federation. A man he “despises”, he says in “The gear”, a book he dedicates to him, released in June.

Vladimir Putin “is Russian like me, but he embodies everything I don’t like: cynicism, lies, lack of empathy, brutality”, he warns from the first pages of the book.

During their first meeting, when he was just a student, Sergei Jirnov claimed to have been “psychologically tortured” by the future president, already a kagebist, because he had spoken too long in French to a foreigner during the Moscow Olympics in 1980.

“I saw this little man who wanted at all costs (…) to make me a French spy or a dissident to progress in his career,” he told AFP.

But Vladimir Putin fails. And Sergueï Jirnov, son of scientists and brilliant student, joined the Andropov Institute, the KGB’s elite school, in 1984, where he found his former tormentor, of more modest origins.

He will cross paths with him two more times, while he is undercover. During their last exchange, in 1990, “I have before me a man who failed in his career as a spy, for lack of intelligence, for the fault of an all-consuming ambition which blinded him, for mediocrity” , he narrates in “The gear”.

But in 1991, when Agent Jirnov joined the prestigious Parisian National School of Administration (ENA), under the nose and beard of the French secret services, first the KGB, then the Communist Party, and finally the USSR , disappear suddenly.

“It was the chance of my life,” he says. After a year at the SVR, the entity in charge of foreign intelligence of the new Russia, he resigned and became a private consultant.

“My solemn oath, I took it to an organization that no longer exists”, not to Vladimir Putin, he says, questioned about his freedom of tone.

His past, however, caught up with him almost ten years later in Moscow, where he said he was the victim of “heavy metal poisoning” from his former employer. “A month later, I see that I am regularly followed. I said to myself that I had to get the hell out.”

He fled to France in 2002, from where he witnessed the irrepressible rise of his nemesis. After fifteen relatively anonymous years, the Skripal affair, named after a former Russian and then British spy who was poisoned with his daughter in England, took him out of his comfort zone.

He then said he was the victim of an “attempted intimidation and another kidnapping” in France, and published a strange message on his Facebook page: “If ever my lifeless body is discovered with signs of a suicide, I beg in advance all the authorities (…) to consider this by default as a premeditated assassination” of the Russian special services.

Since then, the media have been infatuated with Jirnov, one of those characters for whom “reality sometimes exceeds fiction”, remarks François de Saint-Exupéry, boss of the publishing house Nimrod, which published “L ‘scout’, in which the ex-spy recounts his life.

While Russia invades Ukraine, the ex-kagebist becomes essential on television sets. The man in the shadows comes into full light, an “irony” which he “pleases” and suits him because his “only protection is advertising”, he explains.

In front of the cameras as in his books, he shows himself “very anti-Putinian, but that corresponds to what people want to hear”, observes Olivier Mas, a former French spy who has also crossed the media rubicon.

“He knows the Russian spirit very well, the functioning (of the State, editor’s note), he has a very good reading grid”, he continues, underlining the “contacts” that Sergei Jirnov still keeps in Russia.

In front of AFP, he thus mocks a Vladimir Putin who has become a “little old man”. While rumors report his failing health, he sees him remaining in power for a long time… and anticipates the worst, including at the nuclear level.

“I believe he has a desire to go down in history” as the second to have used this weapon, he is frightened. “Let’s become the biggest bastard and the biggest dictator” of recent decades.