Tony Blair once argued that Vladimir Putin should be given a seat at the international ‘top table’, according to newly released official files.
His call came despite deep misgivings among officials about the new Russian president.
Papers released to the National Archives in Kew, west London, reveal that Mr Blair, as prime minister, believed Putin was a ‘Russian patriot’ and that it was important to encourage him to adopt western values.
But behind the scenes officials feared the Kremlin leader represented a return to old Cold War attitudes – and questioned whether he could be trusted.
An internal No 10 briefing note from January 2001 – nearly a year after Putin assumed power – entitled ‘Putin’s progress’ highlighted the concerns, including a resurgence in Russian espionage activities.
‘Despite the warmth of Putin’s rhetoric about the close links between Russia and the UK, the Russian intelligence effort against British targets remains at a high level,’ it said.
‘The Russian intelligence presence in the UK is at Cold War levels, and they continue to try to post active and hostile officers to work against British interests worldwide.’
The document lists a series of assurances given by Putin to Mr Blair during their meetings at various international summits, which turned out to be false.
They included backing for the West’s tough line on dealing with Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein and undertakings that Moscow would stop supplying Iran’s nuclear programme.
On the sinking of the Russian submarine Kursk with the loss of all 118 crew, the paper said that while Putin had thanked Mr Blair for his offer of assistance, Russian officials had obstructed its delivery while spreading false rumours that it was the result of a collision with a British sub.
Putin also told the prime minister he did not want to be considered to be ‘anti-Nato’.
The memorandum is among a series of briefing notes for Mr Blair’s foreign policy adviser John Sawers as he prepared to meet senior officials in the new US administration of George Bush.
In his talks with vice-president Dick Cheney at Camp David, Mr Blair discussed his views on the Russia’s leader.
‘The Prime Minister described him as a Russian patriot, acutely aware that Russia had lost its respect in the world. To describe him as a Russian de Gaulle would be misleading, but he had a similar mindset,’ the note of the meeting said.
‘He (Mr Blair) understood that Putin had a low approval rating in the US. But he thought it was better to allow Putin a position on the top table and encourage Putin to reach for Western attitudes as well as the Western economic model.’
The newly released files have revealed other insights into Mr Blair’s time in power.
The Labour government were anxious to offload the £800 million structure, as the much-vaunted Millennium Experience attracted barely half of the projected 12 million visitors.
But as they looked around for other offers, they were presented with one particularly eye-catching proposition – uproot the whole thing from south-east London and move it 80 miles to Wiltshire.
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