Putin vs the West (2023–2024): Season 1, Episode 1 - My Backyard - full transcript

Following the Euromaidan protests and fleeing of pro-Russian Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych, Valdimir Putin invades the strategic region Crimea using separatist forces, and annexes it to the Russian Federation. The western ...

Are you wondering how healthy the food you are eating is? Check it - foodval.com
Putin's a very, very clever
and calculating man.

It was very, very difficult
to find leverage,

and to find ways
of constraining him.

You know, he threatened me
at one point and said, you know,

"Boris, I don't want to hurt you,
but with a missile,

"it would only take a minute."

Vladimir Putin has rocked the
foundations of European security.

This is the story
of Putin's path to war -

how and why he wrong-footed the West
through a decade of clashes...

..told by the leaders who've
locked horns with him.

I was clear, there could be
no business as usual with Russia.

In this episode,
Putin ramps up his aggression.

From an audacious poisoning...

We leave no stone unturned.

We should look at every
opportunity to respond.

..to the moment he launched an
invasion that threatened

to engulf Europe.

We worked to the very end
to try to convince them

to change their plans,

until the tanks were rolling,
and the planes were flying.

The issue for Putin was his project
to rebuild the Soviet empire.

I don't know Putin.
He's said nice things about me -

if we got along well,
that would be good.

Frankly, Putin has built up their
military again and again, and again.

Our nuclear's old and tired,

and his nuclear is tippy-top,
from what I hear.


Welcome home, Mr President!

Donald Trump was sworn in
as president amidst

a storm of allegations of Russian
interference in his election.

After the election,

I called the White House
for congratulate Trump.

And definitely, I tried to be
prepared for this, er,

phone conversation,

because I doubt that Ukraine was
among his first priorities.

My message to the Trump was
exactly like this -

from the very first
phone conversation,

"Don't trust Putin."

Since Russia's invasion
of Crimea three years earlier,

Ukraine had been lobbying America to
send its Javelin anti-tank missiles.

President Obama had refused,

wary of escalating tensions
with Russia.

Now, Poroshenko had a chance
to pitch it to Trump.

You could see that Poroshenko
was literally sweating,

and very nervous.

You know, the look on his face -

I won't forget that, as he moved
forward into the office,

full of trepidation, because
so much was riding on this.

At that time, we have
the Russian occupation.

At that time,
the Crimea was occupied.

At that time, Donbas was occupied.

Would you like to say something?

That's a great honour,
and a great pleasure to be together

with you, dear Mr President.

One of the most reliable,
supportive, and, er, partner,

strategic partner for Ukraine.

The President was very
welcoming to Poroshenko.

And Poroshenko, you know, of course,
was a successful businessman.

You know, Trump was
a successful businessman.

I think that they,
kind of, hit it off.

And it's a great honour to have you,
Mr President, thank you.

I said, "Mr President,
lethal weapons.

"We need lethal weapons.

"Javelin is an anti-tank,
very effective weapon."

President Poroshenko was able to
show the effect that Russian

aggression was continuing
to have on the Ukrainian people,

the Ukrainian Armed Forces.

I think President Trump recognised
that Ukraine was under

serious duress, and it would require
some deterrent capabilities.

I'm proud - on my back,
there was wings,

that I go out from the Oval
Cabinet with the direct promises

of President Trump for the Javelin.

That was a great day.

But it wasn't that simple.

Trump still hadn't signed off
on the deal when he flew to

a G20 summit two weeks later.

Here, he would have
his first face-to-face meeting

with Vladimir Putin.

We were getting, you know,
suggestions, erm,

from the Russians and from
President Putin

that they would obviously be pretty
hostile er, if there were

any transfers of weaponry,

particularly the Javelin
anti-tank weapons, to Ukraine.

There was sensitivity on the part
of the president that anything

we'd do to help Ukraine
would anger Russia.

And, of course, he was very
interested in being friends,

for lack of a better term,
with President Putin.

We look forward to a lot of
very positive things

happening for Russia,
for the United States,

and for everybody concerned.

Trump really laboured under
the delusion that a good personal

relationship with Putin would
moderate Putin's behaviour.

Thank you. Here we go.
Thank you. Thank you.

Thank you very much. Thank you.

FIONA HILL: Later in a phone call,

President Putin told
President Trump,

"If you supply the Ukrainians with
weapons, they will ask for more".

The Russians clearly didn't
understand why it was that

Ukraine might have any importance
to the United States

in a foreign policy and
security sense.

Very dismissive.
"What's Ukraine to you?

"Why are you so concerned
about Ukraine?"

Two days after Trump's
meeting with Putin,

his new envoy to Ukraine was sent to
assess the situation on the ground.

There had been sporadic fighting

since the Russian invasion
three years earlier.

We flew very low and very fast
across eastern Ukraine.

We went to an apartment building.

Everything had been shot out.

You could look over the line
of contact and see the

Russian forces on the other side.

The Ukrainians showed
where the Russian tanks are,

and said, "We can't have
the tanks this close.

"If they move towards us, we need
to be able to take them out."

They said that, "We need these
lethal defensive arms

"as quickly as possible".

Back in Washington, Volker joined
Trump's National Security Team

in trying to convince the President.

I said, "Russia is using all
kinds of offensive arms

"inside Ukrainian territory
to kill Ukrainians".

"So, from both a moral
and a defensive,

"and a diplomatic perspective,

"you need to actually provide
these lethal defensive weapons."

I said, "Not a Russian tank would
be hurt by a Javelin missile

"if it didn't attack Ukraine.

"There wasn't a Russian infantryman
that would be injured or killed

"by American-provided ammunition

"if they didn't attack
the sovereign country of Ukraine."

I tried to make the case
that it's actually weakness

that provokes Russia.

And I believe that Russia invaded
Ukraine in 2014 because Putin said,

"I can get away with it.
The Americans won't do anything."

So, I think the provision of
defensive capabilities to Ukraine

was important to establish or
re-establish deterrence of Russia.

President Trump agreed.

At the end of that year,
Trump finally signed the order

to send lethal weapons to Ukraine.

Our reaction to this decision that
has been taken by President Trump,

that Americans has crossed the line.

He was talked into sending
these Javelins.


And, of course, it was only
the beginning of arming Ukraine.

The beginning of
a very dangerous path.

The fact that the US was supplying
the regime with lethal weapons, er,

I think he saw as a threat to him.

Putin believed Ukraine
was illegitimate.

It had ripped out of the
Soviet Union, out of Russia,

and he made it clear that he
considered the break-up of

the Soviet Union the greatest
geopolitical catastrophe

of the 20th century.

Since 1991, 13 former Communist
countries had joined

the defensive alliance of NATO,

and Ukraine was lobbying
to do the same.

After Putin's invasion of Crimea,

NATO had stepped up its presence
along its eastern flank

and deployed a new
missile defence system.


..Vladimir Vladimirovich Putin.


Facing re-election,
Putin seized on the idea of a threat

from the West as a rallying cry.


I remember that video,
and I really just thought of it as,

"This is Russian domestic politics.

"He's trying to make people feel

"that the US and the West is a
threat and that he's tough,

"and Russia's strong,
and he can make sure that

"he protects the Russian people."

Is this a sign that this is
definitely something that

would be done, or actually just
trying to sabre-rattle?

Trying to say, you know,
"I'm a strong man here.

"I could do this if I wanted to."

Only a few days later,
the British Prime Minister would be

forced to deal with a threat from
Russia on her own turf.

I remember my private secretary
saying to me that this couple

had been taken ill on
this park bench in Salisbury.

So, when I was first told, it wasn't
absolutely clear what it was.

Of course, quite quickly,
it became quite clear that this was

the use of a chemical weapon.

A nerve agent.

The government has confirmed
that the two people suspected of

being poisoned in Salisbury are a
former Russian spy and his daughter.

Sergei and Yulia Skripal remain
critically ill in hospital.

The Foreign Secretary says the
government will respond robustly

if any Russian state
responsibility is proven.

As soon as we identified
the victims, we knew that it was

likely to have some kind of
Russian angle to it.

The chemical weapon
that had been used,

the fact that it was a Novichok -

and Novichoks had been developed
actually in the period

of the Soviet Union.

So, fairly swiftly,
our key prime suspect,

if you like, was the Russian state.

This was a trap, er, a set-up.

Because it has no logical
explanation at all.

First, we do not need
to kill these people.

Second, if there is a need,
there is a much...

..much simple things to do that,
er, and unnoticed, of course,

they will simply get out of
the map and disappear.

THERESA MAY: The government has
concluded that it is highly likely

that Russia was responsible
for the act against

Sergei and Yulia Skripal.

"Highly likely" is a new invention
of the British diplomacy to

describe why they punish people.

Because these people are
"highly likely" guilty.

Like, you know, in Alice
in Wonderland,

and the King said, er,
"Let's ask the jury,"

and the Queen shouted, "No jury.

"Sentence first,
verdict afterwards."

That's the logic of "highly likely".

Their initial approach
was the classic -

admit nothing, deny everything,
make counteraccusations.

And so, we wanted the Russians
to understand we were not prepared

to allow this grotesque attack
to go unpunished.

Theresa May called in
her top advisers.

The Prime Minister's view
on this was,

"We leave no stone unturned.

"We should look at every
opportunity to respond to what was

"an outrageous provocation."

You have nothing off the table.

You have to be prepared to
look at all options.

We discussed a key cornerstone,
if you like, of the NATO alliance

where if a member of the alliance
is attacked, under Article 5,

they can essentially ask
for response from all NATO allies.

Somebody said "Look,
Theresa, hang on a minute.

"This would be a little
bit disproportionate.

"The only time Article 5 has
actually been used was in response

"to the 9/11 attacks.

"And that's probably going to feel,
to some of our allies, like a bit

"of a disproportionate response."

We came to the decision
that we would expel

Russian intelligence officers,

and that was an important signal
to Russia that we know exactly

what you've done, and actually,

we are going to act
against your network.

To show the West meant business,

the Prime Minister wanted her allies
to kick out Russian spies, as well.

Top of the list was
the American President.

I said, we had a very clear
expectation from the United States,

we had our special relationship,

and if the United States wanted to
ensure that Russia got a clear

message about chemical weapons,
they should stand alongside us.

Who are you going to believe?

Are you going to believe
the United Kingdom?

Long-standing allies? Or Russia?

His tone was, "Well, go and
ask the Europeans,

"get them to do something.

"If they do something, which I very
much doubt, maybe I'll do something.

"But I'm certainly not inclined
to go out on a limb,

"if they're not going to do it."

What I remember is how hard
the UK had to work to build that

international outrage that I
think the crime deserved.

You know, you could see the magnetic
pull of Putin and Russian influence,

even in the EU.

We were negotiating over the weekend
to try and ensure that we had

every country doing something.

I'd be talking to my French
counterpart and he'd say,

"No, we'll call the Italians.
You call the Germans."

My Austrian counterpart
actually said to me,

"Well, you know, this is all very
well, Fiona,

"but, you know,
"the Russians are very nice to us.

"Nothing like that
has happened here."

And I was thinking in my mind,

"My goodness, what happened
during the Cold War"?

Vienna and Austria was
the centre of espionage,

and just exactly these
kinds of events.

I mean, films were made about this!

"Wasn't there The Third Man?"
I thought to myself.

We only got 16 EU countries
to do it, right,

and quite a few who didn't.

France and Germany did four each,
I think.

Other countries did,
you know, a few.

Ukraine - 13.


Interesting, America -

which was then under
Donald Trump's presidency -

did 60.

It's the greatest collective
expulsion of Russian diplomats

and intelligence officials
in history.

So far, more than 130 diplomats
or spies will have

to leave 24 countries.

It's rare that words in diplomacy
are backed up by so much action.

Russia responded immediately,
evicting diplomats from Britain

and every nation that had
backed Theresa May.

The row over Salisbury helped fuel

the nationalist fervour
Putin was stoking.

In the middle of the crisis,
he cruised to victory

in the Presidential elections,
confirming his status as

the longest-serving
Russian leader since Stalin.


Discussing priorities
for his new term,

Putin pointed to an issue
that had been simmering for years.

The two leaders agreed that
their respective national

security councils would have
more direct contact,

and so, I thought this was a good
way to talk about arms control,

including the INF Treaty.

President Ronald Reagan and
General Secretary Mikhail Gorbachev

signed themselves and their
countries into the history books

today and set their seal on a
treaty that would eliminate

the world's stockpile of land-based
medium-range nuclear weapons.

The INF Treaty, which controlled
Intermediate Nuclear Forces,

marked the end of years of Cold War
tensions over the stationing

of missiles in Europe and the USSR.

But evidence was mounting
that Russia had been developing

new missiles and deploying them
close to the border with Europe.

We considered the Russians to have
been in very serious violation

of it for well over a decade,

and it didn't make any sense at all
to have the US bound by a treaty

that the Russians were not bound by.

That's obviously unacceptable.

The Russians refused
to admit any violation.

Trump's team flew to Moscow to
take it up with Putin.

Here we were on the plane,

and President Trump,
what does he do?

He immediately tells the press,

"Oh, we're going to pull out
of the INF Treaty".

Russia has not adhered to
the agreement, so we are going to

terminate the agreement, and we are
going to develop the weapons.

We're not going to be
the only one to adhere to it.

I think you understand that.

OK? Thank you, thank you, everybody.

It was unexpected, to say the least,

but it was very much
in the Trump mode.

Mr President.

This treaty is dated of '87.

Er, I was much younger
at that time,

but I was part of our team
in negotiating this treaty

in Geneva, with the Americans.

And I think it is one of the best
treaties that we have achieved,

because it is very simple.

Simple in terms of verification,
and of trust to each other.

Putin said, "I thought on
the great seal of the United States,

"the eagle had olive branches
in one of its claws."

Well, thank you Mr President,
it's a pleasure to see you again.

But I didn't bring any more olives.

TRANSLATOR: That's what I thought.


It was clear that the Russians
wanted to keep us in the INF Treaty

while they were basically
developing weapons,

erm, because of their
own broader security concerns.

President Putin said
to Ambassador Bolton, "OK.

"Right, so we won't have
the INF Treaty.

"What's going to happen post-INF?

"How are we going to manage
the intermediate nuclear forces?"

These missiles, they will reach
St Petersburg in 3-4 minutes,

and Moscow, in 7-8 minutes,
or something more, perhaps,

I'm not sure about
the details of it.

So, the risk of danger, of war
will be much, much higher

than without these missiles.

What Putin was mostly concerned
about was what the United States

would do in Europe,
once we had the capability.

As he might have been, except he
was the one who had posed a threat

to begin with by already stationing
noncompliant missiles.

Most of the countries at greatest
risk of Putin's missiles

were members of NATO.

Everyone's attention was riveted.

The Germans, the Dutch,
the Norwegians,

they stepped forward and said,

"Well, hey, is this really
the moment?

"Isn't there more work that
we can do at the diplomatic table?"

The Russians were invited
to a special meeting.

The atmosphere in
the room was very tense.

The INF Treaty was considered to be
a cornerstone of European security.

We explained our concerns,
and that we expected from Russia

to destroy all these systems which
violated the INF Treaty.

Russia was represented by Deputy
Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov.

He was very clear and said,
"The problem is NATO,

"the problem is the US,
but the problem is not Russia."

I said, "Our efforts are sincere
to try to save the INF Treaty,

"and we would very much like
to look for ways to work with you

"in order to resolve this issue."

And he just shook his head
and he said,

"The relationship is going
in the wrong direction,

"and there's no way we can do
problem-solving with NATO."

Strict instructions, I'm sure,
to punch NATO in the nose.

The Americans confirmed
their withdrawal from the Treaty,

undeterred by Putin's threats
of a new Cold War.

Putin already had
the largest stockpile of

nuclear warheads in the world.

And his forces were now deployed
from the Arctic Circle

to the Middle East.

But it was the threat to his
immediate neighbours

that was causing the most concern.

ALL: Tri, dva, odin!

That year, a former comedy actor
was elected in Ukraine.

Volodymyr Zelensky had to decide how
to deal with the ongoing conflict

in the east of his country.

To end the fighting in Donbas,

Zelensky wanted to renegotiate
a deal his predecessor had agreed

with Putin four years earlier.

The Minsk Agreement had been signed
as Russian-backed forces threatened

to overwhelm Ukraine's army.

But the ceasefire it promised
had never held.

Six months after taking office,
Zelensky got his chance to

confront Putin at a summit hosted
by the French President.

It was a very tense meeting.

It was the first meeting
of the presidents.

President Macron,
he was trying to, sort of,

make acquaintance for everybody.

Erm, he promised that it will be
a good dinner, French-style,

with a good wine afterwards,
probably been pushing us not

to have a very long conversation.

Minsk Agreements, they are
absolutely clear that Donbas

will remain part of Ukraine,

but with special status
and possibilities.

Having its own militia, having
special relationship with Russia,

er, speaking Russian language
without any interference.

Under the Minsk deal, elections
were due to be held in Donbas -

despite the Russian-backed
separatists remaining in control.

We were trying to get the Russian
tanks out of our territory,

which Putin himself
personally said, "No".

He slammed the table,

and he used a couple of words
which I markedly remembered.

And he was quite upset with,
you know,

the way the discussion was going.

The problem is, he was promised
by his own people that

President Zelensky would be
eager to accommodate.

And it was not happening.

I was thinking,
"Jesus, I've seen it before.

"It's going to nowhere."

I remember I was telling
President Zelensky,

"You can't bargain with him.

"Putin does not need
anything from us.

"There is no river,
no building or city, or -

"he wants us not to exist."


For all Zelensky's efforts,

there were no further meetings

between the two presidents in
the year that followed.

Instead, Putin celebrated
the seventh anniversary of

his capture of Crimea.



That spring, after NATO had
conducted its largest military drill

in Europe for decades,

Putin announced a huge training
exercise on Ukraine's border.

For years, Ukraine had been
trying to join NATO.

But progress had been stymied by
countries including France

and Germany, who were worried
the move could antagonise Russia.

Zelensky stepped up his efforts to
win over NATO'S Secretary General,

Jens Stoltenberg.

I had to tell him the reality,

and that is that to make
decisions on membership,

to invite a country
to become a member of NATO,

we need consensus, we need
all allies to agree.

And there was no consensus in NATO.

I suggested that we should focus
providing political

and practical support.

The best way to increase the
security of Ukraine was to actually

support them and enable them
to defend themselves.

Putin soon announced the official
end to the military exercise.

But tens of thousands
of troops and heavy armaments

remained on the border.

For me, it was the beginning of
something that was very worrying.

I felt very strongly -
we need to help Ukraine,

we need to help them
defend themselves,

we need to give them hope.

So, I wrote to the Prime Minister
at a very high classification.

Ben Wallace came to me and -
with a letter, secret letter.

And it was basically making
the case for us stepping up

our military support for Ukraine.

And what I said to Ben was,
"Look, let's do this.

"Let's keep in step with
the Americans as far as we can."

Now, the Americans were already,
I think, providing Javelins

and other kit, so we went
for the NLAWs, the famous

Belfast-made anti-tank weapon.

In America, a new President
had taken office.

Joe Biden had spent years dealing
with Putin as Vice President,

and there were high hopes
for their first summit.

There had been this sense of
build-up in the media here

in the United States, in Europe,

that it was, sort of, a return
to the Cold War days, in terms of

the superpower showdown.

They talked very forthrightly about
areas where we disagreed.

And Putin made very clear
his belief that Ukraine should be

subjugated under Russia,

and that's something we
fundamentally disagreed with.

But there's a sense that
we needed to put guard rails around

our relationship with Russia,

so we did not end up into
an unintended conflict.

I think that the last thing
he wants now is a Cold War.

As I said to him,
"This is not a 'kumbaya' moment,

"as you used to say back
in the '60s, in the United States,

"like, 'Let's hug and
love each other.'

"But it's clearly not in
anybody's interest -

"your country's or mine -

"for us to be in a situation where
we're in a new Cold War."

And I truly believe he thinks that.

Biden's hopes were short-lived.

Within months, as the West
was reeling from America's chaotic

withdrawal from Afghanistan,

Putin's generals put on a display
of Russia's military might.

US intelligence was also picking up
even more worrying reports.

I had watched Putin increasingly
stewing in a combustible combination

of grievance and ambition.

We had begun to put together
a pretty clear and pretty

troubling picture
of Russian military planning.

I had come to believe that
President Putin was quite serious

about launching a major new
invasion of Ukraine.

Biden dispatched Burns to Moscow
to confront Putin directly.

The Covid pandemic
was sweeping through Russia.

Moscow, in particular, was in the
midst of one of the worst waves of

Covid that Russia had experienced.

President Putin had isolated
himself in Sochi.

And so, my conversation with him
was actually over a secure phone

from an office in the Kremlin.

I was very direct in laying out
the message that President Biden

had asked me to convey -

that we know what he's up to,
and to tell him that he's going

to pay a heavy price if
he launches such an invasion.

Erm, President Putin listened
to all this with no effort to deny

that this planning was under way.

He had a list of grievances
about Ukraine and about the West,

and the ways in which he felt
the Western leaders,

including the United States,

hadn't paid attention to
Russia's concerns over the years.

I was troubled before
I arrived in Moscow.

And I was even more
troubled after I left.

NATO ministers gathered
to decide what to do about

the new intelligence.

Zelensky sent
his new Foreign Minister.

The stronger we are,
the less tempting it will be

for Russia to move forward.

We'd been informed that the
worst-case scenario

is very likely to happen.

That Russia has an intention
to attack Ukraine, and will use

everything in its power
to occupy the whole country.

And I can probably say that many
people were truly shocked.

All allies agree that it was
a significant military build-up,

but there were differences on how
to interpret those facts.

And to what extent was this just
a demonstration of power,

an attempt to coerce Ukraine?

There were a number of
colleagues who were not convinced.

And they would ask, you know,
myself and other Baltic colleagues,

like, you know, "Do you really
believe that this is possible?"

That a full-scale invasion
of a country of 40 million people,

it's truly incomprehensible.

I said to the Allies, that,
"OK, maybe you have a bit different

"assessments of the likelihood
of a full-scale invasion.

"But in one way, it doesn't matter,
because regardless of whether

"the likelihood is 80% or 20%,

"we need to be prepared
for the worst."

As the summit wrapped up,

Putin addressed a new intake
of ambassadors to Moscow.

His words were aimed firmly at NATO.

I talked to him after his
big pronouncement.

And so, you know, I begin with
a long preamble about how

our two countries have fought
together against fascism,

how they were integral to
the defeat of Nazism.

And, you know, he liked all that,
he bought all that.

But then, he kept saying,

"You must rule out any
NATO membership for Ukraine".

I said "Well, we can't rule out
NATO membership.

"It's a free country."

It was pretty alarming, you know,
he wasn't moving at all.

And during 20 years since
the first enlargement of NATO,

we have heard that there will be
no further enlargements.

And we have got seven waves
of enlargement.

And it was on the verge of
Ukraine applying to NATO.


For Putin, if Ukraine strengthened
its ties with the West,

an ancient bond would be destroyed.

He'd recently used a 5,000-word
polemic to glorify the historic ties

between the two countries -

from the Orthodox Church
to the ancient Russian language.

This is a president who is now
really evoking an ethnic nationalism

we haven't seen in Europe,
really, since the war,

potentially, in the Balkans.

But also, a man who was thinking
like a politician about legacy.

This is not about NATO and
all the red herrings

that he was throwing out.

The issue for Putin was his project
to rebuild the Soviet empire.

His project to reintegrate
what he regarded as the

spiritual heartland
of Mother Russia.

As the West frantically looked
for a diplomatic way out,

NATO'S Secretary General

convinced the Russians
to attend a crisis meeting.

It was absolutely clear that
the purpose of the Russian military

build-up was to invade Ukraine.

But of course, plans can be changed,
it's never too late to step back.

There had not been a NATO-Russia

since 2019, the main reason

..Russia's claim that we should
not be discussing Ukraine -

while, of course, Ukraine
was an obvious subject for

any dialogue with Russia.

We met in this room,
Russia was sitting down there.

The Russian delegation shared
with us some maps.

And those maps were not depicting
NATO territory in the correct way.

Turkey, Greece, Denmark, Norway,

and other countries were not part of
NATO, according to the Russian maps.

That prompted comments
by some allies that,

"Hey, part of my territory
is just not on the map."

So, that's the...


Deputy Foreign Minister
Grushko represented Russia,

he presented a set of proposals.

One was to ensure
no further NATO enlargement.

The other proposal from Russia was
that NATO should accept to remove

all its troops
and infrastructure from

the eastern part of the alliance.

And I said, "We can discuss arms
control, but we cannot discuss

"a proposal of Russia that will
ban any NATO enlargement."

This is not NATO
aggressively moving east -

this is east and central Europe
wanting, by their own choice,

to be part of NATO.

And it's not an aggressive action,

it's a defensive alliance
defending new members.

I felt the meeting had not gone
as well as we hoped for.

There were no real indications from
the Russian side that they really

wanted to sit down and engage
in a real effort to find

a diplomatic resolution.

With options running out,

Western leaders held a
video conference.

We had one thing that
we could threaten Putin with,

in addition to military
support for Ukraine,

was a package of sanctions.

They had to be absolutely
knockout sanctions.

The problem with that was
hydrocarbons, oil and gas.

And, you know, there was
a difference of opinions

around the table.

An argument that was deployed
particularly by our German friends

was that when it came to sanctions,

you needed creative ambiguity.

I didn't understand that myself,
I've got to be totally honest,

I thought, "Just tell them you'll
cut off Russian oil and gas.

"We're going to sanction every
single one of your oligarchs.

"We're going to impound
your yachts."

And I thought I'd carried
everybody with me,

and Mario Draghi said,
"Look, I'm sorry.

"As Italy, I just have to say
that we cannot do this.

"We cannot dispense with
Russian oil and gas."

In January, Putin attended
the annual memorial

to mark the siege of Leningrad.

Publicly, he continued to maintain
that Russia had no plans

to invade Ukraine.

But a steady stream of Russian
battalions was heading

to the border.

We were seeing increasingly
detailed confirmation about

Russian planning for invasion,
and also about the precision of

their planning for the
political day after, as well.

I arrived in Kyiv and met
with President Zelensky

in his offices, in downtown Kyiv.

President Biden had asked me
to share with him

our most updated intelligence.

Their plan was for
a lightning strike, erm,

from Belarus south into Kyiv itself.

It'd decapitate
the Ukrainian leadership

and install a puppet regime.

I fly into Kyiv, and it's very weird

because the city
is still buzzing.

Volodymyr Zelensky and I had
a long dinner and, you know,

we tried to get to the bottom
of what their strategy was.

And we couldn't get
much out of them.

We should develop our economic
partnership... Yeah.

Talking to our ambassador,

she and I both thought that Zelensky
thought that Putin was bluffing.

But I think we misunderstood
what Zelensky was doing.

If he stood up in a press
conference with me and said,

"Russia is about to invade our
country, Boris Johnson said so,"

it's a disaster.

What happens? Economic meltdown.

Plus, everybody who is remotely
vulnerable to a Russian attack

is going to scarper.

I get back from Kyiv,
and the following day...

..I've got Putin on the blower

And this is a very long call,
and a most extraordinary call.

He was being very, very familiar.

I said to him,
"Look, if you do this,

"it will be an utter catastrophe.

"It will mean a massive package
of Western sanctions.

"It will mean we continue to
intensify our support for Ukraine.

"And it will mean more NATO,
not less NATO, on your borders."

And he said, "You say..."

He said, "Boris, you say that
Ukraine is not going

"to join NATO any time soon,"

he said in English, "any time soon.

"What is any time soon?"

And I said, "Well,
it's not going to join NATO for

"the foreseeable future.

"You know that perfectly well."

It fundamentally wasn't about...

He, sort of, threatened me
at one point and said, you know,

"Boris, I don't want to hurt you,
but with a missile,

"it would only take a minute,"
or something like that, you know?

You know, jolly.

But I think from the very
relaxed tone that he was taking,

the, sort of, air of detachment
that he seemed to have,

he was just playing along with
my attempts to get him to negotiate.

Three days later, Putin was
guest of honour at the opening

ceremony of the Winter Olympics.

There, the Chinese leader joined
him in opposing NATO expansion,

as the two men said there were
"no limits" to the bond

between their countries.

It sent a very strong message
that China now is actually, er,

an even closer partner,
supporter of Russia,

this statement just underlined
the importance of standing up for

the principle of every nation has
the right to choose its own path.

The following week,
Britain's Defence Minister

set off on a last-ditch
mission to avoid war.

We landed at Moscow, we all had
to be tested for Covid.

Remarkably, our interpreter
failed her test,

even though she seemed
to have passed on the plane.

But you know!

We were greeted by Minister Shoigu,
the Minister of Defence,

and the Chief of the General Staff,
Gerazimov, a very powerful figure

in the Russian military,
very close to President Putin.

I took deliberately
my Chief of Defence Staff,

but I also took my commander
of the field army with me.

It was important to signal
to the Russians that, you know,

if you do these things, the people
who will be dealing with that

response are sitting in this room.

Thank you, Minister Shoigu,

and thank you for agreeing
to meet at this time.

A time none of us wish to be in
an atmosphere of insecurity,

anxiousness, and indeed,

It benefits neither of us.

So, the assumptions that
they had made were -

the Ukrainians won't fight,

the Russian armed forces are
close to invincible,

that the international community
will fracture, and in fact,

that the Ukrainians
will welcome them.

And I remember saying to Minister
Shoigu that they will fight,

and he said, "My mother is
Ukrainian, they won't!"

He also said he had
no intention of invading.

That would be "vranyo" in
the Russian language.

Vranyo, I think, is a, sort of,

demonstration of bullying
or strength, which is,

"I'm going to lie to you.
You know I'm lying.

"I know you know I'm lying,
and I'm still going to lie to you."

He knew.

He knew I knew, and I knew he knew.

But I think it was about saying,

"I'm powerful".

It was the fairly chilling,
but direct lie of what they were

not going to do, er,
that I think to me confirmed

they were going to do it.

I remember as we were walking out,
General Gerasimov said,

"Never again will we be humiliated.

"We used to be the fourth army in
the world, we're now number two.

"It's now America and us."

And there, in that minute,
was that sense of potentially why.

I take the call in
the office in Number Ten.

And Zelensky's very, very calm.

But he tells me, you know,
they're attacking everywhere.

"The tanks are coming in everywhere,

"we're doing our best, but it's,
you know, they're huge numbers" -

and it just sounds appalling.

But I say that, you know...

.."For God's sake, find a way
of looking after yourself.

"And, you know, if there's anything
we can do to help you find

"somewhere to be safe,
then we want to do it." And...

..he doesn't take me up
on that offer.

And, you know, he heroically
stayed where he was.