There were two sides to him – Former UK ambassador to Russias chilling take on Putin

Vladimir Putin lays flowers on WW2 memorial in Red Square

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Putin today used Russia’s Victory Day parade to tell soldiers they are “fighting for the same thing their fathers and grandfathers did”. He claimed that Ukraine was being armed by the West prior to the invasion in order to launch an attack on Crimea, the peninsula annexed by Russia in 2014. He said: “NATO countries did not want to listen to us. They had different plans, and we saw it. They were planning an invasion into our historic lands, including Crimea … Russia gave a preemptive rebuff to aggression, it was a forced, timely and only right decision.”

Russia has used claims it is fighting fascism to justify its bombardment of cities like Mariupol and Kyiv.

Many saw the Victory Day event as a date for Putin to wrap things up in Ukraine — but Putin has so far been unsuccessful in any attempt to take the country, only making small gains in its eastern regions.

It is there that fierce fighting continues, with Ukrainian towns, especially those in the Donbas region, under severe artillery and shell fire.

With Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, many turned their attention to Putin and the man behind the presidency, delving into the archives to analyse both his mental state and personal profile from decades ago.

Samuel Lovett, a journalist at The Independent, recently spoke to a wide range of diplomats, political aides, fellow journalists and academics who have all met and conversed with Putin in the last 22 years, witnessing his meteoric rise to power.

Among those he spoke to included Sir Roderic Lyne, the British ambassador to Russia between 2000 and 2004 during the early years of Putin’s presidency.

He recalled a joint press conference between Putin and then Prime Minister Tony Blair in London when Putin launched into a “rambling rant” after a British reporter asked about the conflict in Chechnya.

Sir Lyne said: “That just sets Putin off and he got very angry.

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

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“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.

“I concluded from those early encounters with Putin, and I think this is what I was reporting back to London, that there were two Putins: Putin, the rational pragmatist who was trying to improve 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.”

Mr Lovett noted: “These flashes of emotion and passion appeared at odds with the unassuming image that Putin had cultivated, whether intentionally, during the early days of his administration.

“Others who met with him were also taken aback by his lack of charisma, his drab way of dressing, his demeanour and body language.”

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Reports and stories just before Putin entered the Kremlin suggest that he was once less keen to hide his personal life from the eyes of the public.

In 2000, just as he came to power, he co-authored a biography about his life that featured intimate interviews with his family, including his then-wife Lyudmila Aleksandrovna Ocheretnaya.

One passage in First Person : An Astonishingly Frank Self-Portrait by Russia’s President Vladimir Putin hears Lyudmila admit that she “cried all day” on hearing of his appointment as acting president, realising that her family’s “private life was over.”

She said her two daughters, Katerina ‘Katya’ Tikhonova and Maria Vorontsova, saw their father “more often on television than at home. But he always goes in to see them, no matter what time he gets home.”

First Person : An Astonishingly Frank Self-Portrait by Russia’s President Vladimir Putin

She added: “He really loved the girls a lot.

“Not all men treat their girls as lovingly as he does. And he spoils them.

“I’m the one who has to discipline them.”

While Russia is now virtually sealed off from the world, Putin’s words during his Victory Day speech offer some insight into his current thought process.

There were no major policy announcements, but he suggested that Russia was “forced” into the war by NATO.

He pivoted from recognition of Russia’s “greatest generation” to a description of how it was believed the West was arming Ukraine for an attack on Crimea.

Putin also described the war as “sacred,” and said: “The defence of the motherland, when its fate was being decided, has always been sacred [speaking of World War 2].

“And now, you are fighting for our people in the Donbas.

“For the security of our homeland – Russia.”

First Person : An Astonishingly Frank Self-Portrait by Russia’s President Vladimir Putin is published by Public Affairs. You can purchase it here. 

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