‘I witnessed his eyes flick from charm to sharp pinpricks’: SIR RODERIC LYNE, Britain’s former ambassador to Moscow, paints a scathing portrait of Vladimir Putin
As British ambassador to the Russian Federation, I had a view from the front row of Vladimir Putin’s charms and tantrums.
While trying to turn his country into an economic power, he befriended Western leaders in order to learn how to become a world power-broker.
I recall how, in 2000, Putin invited Tony Blair to St Petersburg for talks in the grandiose throne rooms of Tsarist palaces at Peterhof and the Hermitage. He took his British guests to a night at the opera: Prokofiev’s War And Peace – based on Tolstoy’s novel. Everything was designed to impress, to show that Russia was a great country.
As a former KGB officer, Putin knew how to turn on the charm and tailor the approach depending on who he was talking to. He’s skilfully manipulative – a vengeful man trained to stamp on dissidents and foreigners.
His cold eyes can flick from charm to sharp pinpricks SIR RODERICK LYNE writes of Putin
His cold eyes can flick from charm to sharp pinpricks. He’s deliberately rude – a trick, of course, that insecure people use to show they are the boss. This darker, irrational side has led to his most petulant political decisions.
During the brutal war in Chechnya, Putin would fly off into an angry, emotional rant whenever Western leaders or journalists tried to discuss it. His staff told me that rational discussion with him was impossible: Putin just lost his rag. His eyes would flash and he would talk, uninterrupted, for 20 minutes, in an uncontrolled scream of fury.
Similarly, today, an unhinged Russian leader likes to rave that the West is trying to dismember Russia.
Isolated in a bubble with a few ageing ex-KGB cronies, and divorced from reality, Putin has gone for a full-scale invasion.
I believe this to be a fatal miscalculation.
Putin desperately needs a quick victory. For even if he manages to install a Quisling government in Kyiv, it would become an endless burden for Russia, with mass civil disobedience and continuing armed resistance.
At home, too, Putin has been clamping down on freedom ever more tightly because he is nervous. He has lost support. People are angry that living standards have fallen by a third over the past decade; and at the regime’s grotesque corruption. They don’t want to see lots of body-bags return home from Ukraine.
Half of Russians do not want Putin to be re-elected in 2024; and more than 40 per cent of young Russians want to leave the country according to Sir Roderick
Half of Russians do not want Putin to be re-elected in 2024; and more than 40 per cent of young Russians want to leave the country.
The madness of Putin’s rambling public appearances has been visible to all, including the generals he relies upon to carry out his orders. The more repressive he becomes, the more the costs of Ukraine and of international isolation weigh down, the more likely it will be that forces within Russia decide that it is time for a change.
The Ukrainians have tasted freedom for more than 30 years and will do everything to preserve it. Soon, perhaps, ordinary Russians may feel the same.