Way back in 2001, Tony Blair went to great lengths to make new Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin feel welcomed on the world stage, even suggesting to the U.S. Vice President Dick Cheney that Putin deserved a seat at the “top table” and giving the Russian Prime Minister a pair of silver cufflinks as a birthday gift.
“You will recall that Putin actually asked you to come to celebrate his birthday on Sunday so we are bringing a set of the new silver No 10 cufflinks as your gift—he will be the first leader to have them,” a note from an official said about a 2001 visit by Blair to Moscow. Information about Blair’s Putin views, the cuff links, and more were released by the National Archives.
The newly declassified files reveal then-Prime Minister Tony Blair as friendly towards Putin, despite serious official reservations about Russia’s new president.
Putin told Blair in Moscow at the time that he did not want to be seen as anti-NATO, nor to seek to slow down NATO expansion, a claim that was strongly contradicted by Russia’s defense minister.
Putin, who had once been an agent of the KGB, was grateful for support from a new Labour Prime Minister during the first NATO-Russia Council meeting in Rome in May 2002.
“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 a meeting between Blair and Cheney 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.”
Officials were never so optimistic about Putin. Approximately one year after KGB lieutenant officer Mr. Putin became president, an internal No 10 briefing note entitled “Putin’s progress” raised concerns about Russia activities, including espionage.
“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.”