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31 Dec, 2022 17:30

Former UK PM suggested bringing Putin into the Western fold

Tony Blair described the Russian leader as a ‘patriot’ and wanted to give him a place at the ‘top table’ of nations
Former UK PM suggested bringing Putin into the Western fold

Former UK prime minister Tony Blair believed Russian President Vladimir Putin should be encouraged to embrace Western values and allowed “a position on the top table” after he was elected in 2000, papers released by the National Archives on Friday reveal.

Blair reportedly described Putin as “a Russian patriot, acutely aware that Russia had lost its respect in the world” in a meeting with then-US vice president Dick Cheney in 2001, likening his mindset to that of “a Russian de Gaulle” while cautioning against any further comparison with the French leader.

While acknowledging Putin’s “low approval rating in the US,” the Labour politician told Cheney he thought it best to “encourage Putin to reach for Western attitudes as well as the Western economic model.”

Blair’s cabinet was not so convinced, according to a briefing note included in the archives, which complained about “the Russian intelligence effort against British targets” continuing “at Cold War levels.

Despite reassuring Blair that he did not want to be considered “anti-NATO,” Putin was nevertheless attempting “to try to post active and hostile officers to work against British interests worldwide,” the author of the memo claimed. 

Like his predecessor Boris Yeltsin, Putin had expressed interest in joining NATO, even allegedly asking its director outright when they planned to “invite us to join NATO” in 2000. Meetings on the subject of Russia’s possible accession to NATO had been taking place for years under Yeltsin, and Putin himself declared it was “hard for me to visualize NATO as an enemy” shortly before his election victory in 2000.

But while officials in some NATO countries embraced the idea of Russia as a member, many more didn’t, and the bloc’s eastward expansion in the early 2000s along with Western-backed uprisings in former Soviet territories eventually convinced Putin a partnership was not in the cards.