The only time I met Vladimir Putin, says Alastair Campbell in his podcast The Rest is Politics, was in 2003, when the Kremlin flew Tony Blair out to a “vast complex in the middle of nowhere” outside Moscow. As Blair’s then director of communications, I went along. Putin’s estate had every luxury you can imagine, from “swimming pools to stallions”. But despite the comfortable setting, Putin “abused Blair” relentlessly. He was enraged and shouting, and only just stopped short of calling Blair George Bush’s “poodle”. When it finally ended, I turned to David Manning, Downing Street’s foreign affairs advisor, and said: “That’s the death of diplomacy.”
Putin’s dismissive view of the West hasn’t changed since, says Campbell’s co-host, former Tory MP Rory Stewart. But he hugely underestimates us. Witness the enormous success of US intelligence in the run up to the Ukraine invasion. “They called the whole thing” almost hour by hour. The CIA found the entire invasion plan and went public with it, destroying, at a stroke, Putin’s attempt to disguise it as a spontaneous reaction to alleged genocide. This gave the West three weeks to prepare and three weeks for a lot of pundits “to embarrass themselves”: he’ll never invade, the Americans are crying wolf, they said. Even a former head of MI6 said it would never happen. Now we can show Moscow that it’s not Putin who is the sleeping giant, but us in the West.
Listen to the full podcast here.