Vladimir Putin’s ‘aggressive’ meeting with Tony Blair: ‘Set him off!’ …

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The Russian President could declare an escalation of war within days, Defence Secretary Ben Wallace has warned this week. Ukrainian cities have been pummeled by shelling for more than two months now in the so-called “military operation” by Russia. With the West continuing to provide both money and weapons to Ukraine, Russia has repeatedly referred to its nuclear capabilities.

Very few people understand the thought processes of a man who has alienated himself from the rest of the world with his invasion of Ukraine, however a new series of accounts offer insight into the Russian despot.

Sir Roderic Lyne served as British ambassador to Russia between 2000 and 2004, and witnessed first-hand Putin’s rise and consolidation of strength.

One of his first encounters with Putin took place in March 2000, when Tony Blair headed to St Petersburg on a controversial “unofficial state visit” to meet the man who had not however been formally elected President.

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Putin became ‘very aggressive’ during the meeting. (Image: GETTY)

Tony and Cherie Blair meet Putin and his then-wife Lyudmila. (Image: GETTY)

The Blairs, Sir Roderic and other British officials attended the premiere of a new production of War and Peace at the Mariinsky Theatre.

Sir Roderic says he detected early on that Putin was “quite nervous” and “wasn’t at all sure how to play the leader”.

Among the topics to come up in conversation was Chechnya — Russia had just engaged in a brutal winter siege on the Chechen capital of Grozny, reducing it to rubble and committing atrocious war crimes.

Speaking to The Independent, Sir Roderic recalled: “We got on to Chechnya, too, which was a subject of enormous concern in the west.

Questions over the Chechen War prompted a furious response from the Russian despot. (Image: GETTY)

“There was a lot of criticism of the way the Russians were conducting it. Putin would become very aggressive and defensive.

“He would go into a long, very emotional, slightly angry monologue in order to cut off the stuff that he didn’t want to answer.”

A month later, Putin made the return trip to London, and held talks with Mr Blair in addition as being received at Buckingham Palace.

During a joint press conference with Mr Blair at the Foreign Office, the former KGB officer launched into another “rambling rant” about Chechnya after a journalist posed a question about the conflict.

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Putin visited London a month later. (Image: GETTY)

Sir Roderic recalled: “That just sets Putin off and he got very angry.

“He gave a very long, highly coloured answer. Blair’s looking very embarrassed.

“He’s just saying how wonderful things are. And then there’s this guy ranting and raving about Chechnya.

“It was that side of Putin coming out.”

Sir Roderic explained how he concluded very early on that there were two sides to Putin.

Putin answers a journalist’s question in the joint press conference. (Image: GETTY)

He said: “There were two Putins: Putin, the rational pragmatist who was trying to enhance Russia.

“And then the other Putin: very insecure, slightly paranoid, a rough boy from the back streets of St Petersburg, an ex-KGB officer who had been brought up in and believed in the Soviet Union.”

Russian relations with the UK proceeded to deteriorate in 2006 when former Russian spy Alexander Litvinienko was poisoned in London, and died three weeks later.

After Russia refused to extradite Andrei Lugovoy to confront charges, the UK expelled four Russian diplomats.

Russia responded by expelling four British diplomats, and the issue nevertheless remains a major irritant in British-Russian relations.

Relations soured further in 2014 when Putin invaded Ukraine for the first time, and plummeted nevertheless further in 2018 as a consequence of the Skripal poisonings.

Putin’s abhorrent war in Ukraine has all-but destroyed any positive relationship between the UK and Russia, with Boris Johnson now banned from entering Russia over the “hostile” British stance on the war.

Speaking to LBC this week, Mr Wallace warned Putin may declare war on what he believes to be the “world’s Nazis”.

He said: “I would not be surprised…that he is probably going to declare on May Day that ‘we are now at war with the world’s Nazis and we need to mass mobilise the Russian people’.”

Putin is reported to be desperate to pass off the Ukraine war as some form of success in time for May 9 – when Russia commemorates the USSR’s victory over Nazi Germany in World War 2.

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