Putin vs the West (2023–2024): Season 1, Episode 2 - Back with a Vengeance - full transcript

Putin who was against foreign military intervention (and even criticized the west for intervening in Iraq and Libya), suddenly decides to support his ally Bashar al-Assad in Syria by sending Russian air-force to bomb the ISIS terr...

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DAVID CAMERON: Putin, all the time
I dealt with him,

you knew you were dealing with a
difficult and dangerous

and potentially very bad man.

He mourns the loss
of the Soviet Union.

He wants to recover territory
where he can.

He's very hostile to the West
and Western values.

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 locked horns with him.

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



CROWD CHANTS

In this episode, as the uprisings
of the Arab Spring tear through

the Middle East, the West tries
to enlist Putin as peacemaker.

Having been an irrelevant factor
in the Middle East for so long,

suddenly the Russians are back.

But the Russian President,
exploiting the West's inaction,

shows just how far he's willing
to go to keep his allies in power.

Putin doesn't care
about the loss of life.

He doesn't care about the damage
he inflicts.

He doesn't care about what he does
to civilians.

CHEERING

By February 2011, the revolutions
of the Arab Spring had

overthrown dictators.

First in Tunisia, then in Egypt.



Fearing he could be next,

Libya's Colonel Gaddafi ordered his
forces to slaughter his opponents.

MAN SHOUTS: Allahu Akbar,
Allahu Akbar.

Western leaders thought military
intervention was the only way

to stop a massacre,
but they wanted UN approval.

The obstacle was Russia.

American Vice President Joe Biden
flew to Moscow.

The Soviets and the Russians
never had supported

intervention in the domestic affairs
of ANY country.

And so we set out
on a rather ambitious idea to try

to get the Russians to abstain
on a Security Council resolution.

I thought it was going to fail.

Prime Minister.

Vladimir Putin was now
Prime Minister,

after serving
two terms as President -

the legal limit.

It's in our self-interest and I hope
in the self-interest of Russia

that our relationship's closer.

It's always interesting to meet
with Putin.

He's a very engaging guy.

He speaks very bluntly.

We did have a general discussion
about the Arab Spring.

It was just classic Vladimir Putin,

articulating that he's against
people rising up against dictators.

This is not the business
of the external world.

These are the leaders of these
countries.

We have to respect sovereignty.

Even before the Arab Spring,
President...President Putin

had said that about
earlier events in history.

He called them colour revolutions.

Georgia 2003, Ukraine 2004,

where in his view,
it wasn't just citizens rising up

for democracy, it was the US
sponsoring regime change.

Mr President. Nice to see you.
Great to see you, man.

Biden also went to see Dmitry
Medvedev. As Russia's President,

he was in charge of foreign policy.

Good. That's good. Good meeting.

The Vice President framed things
very broadly, to say that we

didn't start the Arab Spring
generally,

we didn't start what was happening
in Libya specifically.

But we cannot let innocent people
just be slaughtered.

We are not being passive
in this effort.

When we got to the idea of doing
something to stop the killing,

President Medvedev jumped in
pretty quickly.

He basically said, yes,
you're right.

But he also said there have to be
parameters here,

we're not in the business
of regime change,

we're in the business
of saving lives.

I was pleasantly shocked

and surprised that there was
a difference,

that Medvedev was supporting
our position.

A vote at the United Nations
would be the test of who was really

calling the shots in Moscow.

The question of course was Russia.

Because Russia has always had
a close relationship with Libya.

I suspected that Russia could
at some moment actually

oppose our drive.

I introduced the British draft,

which had the no-fly zone,
that had increased sanctions

against Gaddafi, condemnation of
the violence against civilians, etc.

But the Russians were not really
engaging in the detail

of the negotiation,
which was very unusual

because the Russians are very big
players in the UN Security Council.

Very active, normally in a negative
way, but very active.

NEWS ARCHIVE: A decisive vote at
the Security Council, ten countries

backing military action
against Colonel Gaddafi's regime.

Five countries, including Russia
and China, abstained,

but without using a veto.

Medvedev's decision not to veto

allowed the West to start
bombing Libya.

But his Prime Minister could not
stay silent for long.

Prime Minister Putin never publicly
criticised President Medvedev.

And that level of disdain
for what his own president did,

I don't remember a moment in history
when that happened.

The Russian President was quick
to hit back.

The US President picked up the phone
to his counterpart.

Obama wanted to reassure him
that we're going to commit to

implementing the objectives that
we set out at the very beginning

of this operation,

to stop what we thought was going to
be genocide.

Not regime change,
not the overthrow of Gaddafi.

But soon Obama and his allies
hardened their stance.

It is US policy
that Gaddafi needs to go.

It is impossible to imagine a future
for Libya with Gaddafi

still in power. He must go.

As the West's bombing of Libya
intensified,

leaders of the world's largest
economies met.

Medvedev and Obama spoke in private.

I can't remember a time
I'd ever seen Medvedev

so angry with President Obama.

He felt betrayed that we had gone
farther in Libya than he had planned

and what had happened in Libya was
confirming what Prime Minister Putin

was saying, that this was going
to be another regime change play,

just like Afghanistan,
and especially Iraq.

And he was planning to run
for re-election.

His main argument
for re-election was,

I have developed this new
relationship with the United States

and with the West that is good
for Russia's national interest.

And he knew as a result of what
happened on the ground

in Libya that he was losing
that argument to the one guy

he couldn't lose that argument to,
Vladimir Putin.

APPLAUSE

ANNOUNCEMENT: Putin.

Within a month of announcing
his bid to return to the Kremlin,

Putin's dire predictions came true.

Gaddafi was hunted down
and brutally murdered,

and Libya lurched into chaos.

The next leader under threat was
Russia's long-time ally,

President Bashar al-Assad of Syria.

His forces were ruthlessly
cracking down on any protests.

GUNFIRE

MEN SHOUT

It was our calculation
that there could not be

any peace settlement in Syria

without the Russians putting
pressure on the Assad regime

to make it happen. We didn't have
the leverage.

Syria had signed arms contracts
with Russia, worth $4 billion.

And the country was home
to Russia's only naval base

outside the former Soviet Union.

Our strategy was to focus on them.

Convince the Russians,
they'll convince the Syrians.

The West's first chance to test
the water with Russia was at the UN.

I really remember that we went
to the Russian mission because

they have the official portrait
of Putin, you know, like in, well,

you have the Queen, they have Putin.
And Putin, the official portrait

of Putin is, he has sort of
totally empty eyes.

It's terrifying, because suddenly
you say, oh, my God,

if I was in a cellar, you know,
tied to a chair

in front of him, I would
really be terrified by this guy.

We had a late-night negotiation
with the Russian ambassador,

Vitaly Churkin,
and we reached agreement on a text,

which talked about if Assad didn't
stop attacking civilians, then

the Security Council would
consider further steps.

So a sort of...a small stepping
stone towards coercive measures.

We had the feeling Churkin
might play along. He had

said to us,
"I will try to sell it to Moscow."

And I rang Churkin at eight o'clock
in the morning on the day

of the vote and said, "Have you
received instructions from Moscow?

"How are you going to vote?"

And he said, "I think it'll be OK."

So I put the phone down and thought
that was great.

And then 20 minutes later
he rang me back and said,

"This text is totally unacceptable,
and we will veto it."

What we see is
the policy of regime change

and we believe this is very
dangerous.

Vitaly Churkin really became
the voice of his master.

And we felt all the Russian mission
was becoming

a sort of a stronghold,

that obviously they had decided
that Syria was their vital interest.

That was the moment
where we could feel this is

the Putinisation of Russian
foreign policy.

CROWD CHANTS

Having seen leaders toppled
across the Middle East, Putin was

soon facing protests
against his own rule.

The biggest demonstrations in Moscow
since the end of the Soviet Union.

He still won the election
by a landslide.

CHEERING AND APPLAUSE

Three months later, Putin arrived
at the annual G20 Summit.

It was Obama's first chance to talk
to him about Syria face-to-face.

Putin was 45 minutes late.

So it already had a tense feeling
by the time he showed up.

You know, as I listened to Putin
in Los Cabos, describing

Assad as the only person
that could bring stability

and order to Syria,
I heard Chechnya as his model.

There was a violent situation
in Chechnya and he didn't negotiate

a pacted transition between
the opposition and the regime.

What he did is he just gave his guy
more weapons and said,

"Kill as many people as you want,"

and that is the way
that he restored order in Chechnya.

And that was the argument
I heard him make.

Relations between Obama and Putin
were faltering.

But that summer, the British
Prime Minister saw an opportunity

to repair the West's relationship
with the Russian leader.

We used the Olympics to try and

further some bilateral relations.

I must have had dozens of meetings,

and one of those was Vladimir Putin,
who was coming over,

and someone on my team said,
"He's a judo enthusiast,

"why don't we take him to the judo?"

Putin congratulated David Cameron
on the success of the British

opening ceremony, which was
the talk of the moment.

And Cameron said, "Well, of course,

"I had great British assets
to play with, Vladimir.

"I had Her Majesty the Queen and 007
and Mr Bean."

And then he offered Putin help
preparing the Sochi Olympics,

which were coming next.

And I remember Putin saying,
"Well, there's a Jewish saying,

"that if a problem can be solved
by money, it is not a problem."

Then they turned to Syria.

While of course there have been
some differences in the positions

that we've taken
over the Syrian conflict,

we both want to see an end to that
conflict and a stable Syria.

So David Cameron said,
"This isn't another Libya,

"we don't intend
any kind of Western military action,

"we're not interested in us
going to war in Syria,

"we want a political outcome."

And in response Putin said,
"Well, I'm the same.

"We're at a moment in history
uniquely

"when Russian troops are not
deployed anywhere abroad,

"and I'm very proud of that, and
that's the way I want it to stay.

"I don't intend
any kind of Russian military

"adventurism in the Middle East
either."

Putin said there was
a lot of wrong with Assad's

leadership in Syria, they did lots
of bad things

and he kept saying,

"Look, I'm not an Assad supporter,
I'm not determined to keep him in

"power, but the point is I'm worried
about what will happen if he goes,

"and there will be a vacuum there
which even worse people will fill."

We have seen what's happened
in Iraq.

We have seen what has happened
in Libya,

and when we were making
another analysis,

what is the plan
by Western countries in Syria,

we have seen that the only point
they would like to make is to

bring down Assad. When we were
asking the counterparts,

who is going to replace Assad,
there was no answer.

It was, let us just bring him down,
like with Gaddafi,

let's kill Gaddafi and
we will see what's going to happen.

They couldn't provide names -
no plan, no names, nothing.

REPORTER: How did the meeting go?

So I went and sat with him
watching this judo match,

which included a Russian judoka.

And it was very fascinating
because the umpire called the result

one way, and Putin turned to me and
said, "I don't think that's right."

Suddenly, the umpire was overruled
by the other umpires

and turned out Putin was right,
and knew more about judo

than the person who was umpiring
the match.

COMMENTATOR: Ippon!
Oh, it's an ippon!

And then he won the final

and Putin was clearly
absolutely thrilled by this.

ANNOUNCEMENT: Ladies and gentlemen,

please show your appreciation
for your new Olympic champion.

But I remember saying to him,

you should go down and congratulate
him and shake his hand.

And he said, "I can't do that." And
I said, "No, you should, I think

"it's a perfectly good thing to do.
Go, you should do it."

COMMENTATOR: One of the most
powerful men in the world...

..meets Vladimir Putin.

Later that evening he rang me
from his aeroplane, to make a point

about how much he had enjoyed coming
to the Olympics, how much it meant,

how he wanted to have a positive
and purposeful relationship.

And it sounded like
there had been some

celebrations on the flight back,
to be frank.

He was saying things
that I've never heard him

say before, about literally
what a wonderful day it had been.

It was a new side to him.

And that's
when it really began to occur to us

that maybe we could pull
something off here.

You know,
maybe we have de-iced Putin.

EXPLOSION

In Syria, what had started
as a government crackdown had now

become a bloody civil war.

Assad's regime was accused
of cluster-bombing civilian areas.

GUNFIRE

More than 60,000 people had been
killed by the time

John Kerry took office
as Secretary of State.

We condemn this indiscriminate
killing of innocent civilians,

and we condemn it
in the strongest terms.

And it is just further evidence
that Assad has to go.

Kerry flew to Moscow,
hoping to convince Putin.

Things got off to a bad start when
he was told to wait on the runway.

I began to wonder, do the Russians
always do this to put us

in a bad mood before these meetings?

We got out and walked around
on the tarmac

just so he could stretch his legs.

We eventually got permission
to drive into the city.

But we were told Putin's
been delayed...

..and I explained to Kerry, this is
pretty standard operating procedure.

Don't over-react. He does this to
everybody.

He did it to President Obama.

They took us on a tour of
Red Square.

It was all decorated for the
May 9th celebrations.

The Secretary of State waited
three hours before he was

summoned to the Kremlin.

How are you?

I was struck by Putin's mood
that day.

He was not as provocative as he had
been with Obama in Los Cabos

the year before.

We share some very significant
common interests

with respect to Syria.

So it's my hope that today we'll be
able to dig into that a little bit.

We wanted a signal from
President Putin in that meeting,

and he gave us that signal.

It was very clear.
He said, "Work with Lavrov.

"He's my guy."
He was sitting right there.

Putin's Foreign Minister, Sergey
Lavrov, took Kerry for a stroll

around the grounds of his official
guesthouse.

At the end of their walk,
they said, "We're back in business.

"We're going to try to resuscitate
multilateral negotiations

"over Syria."

Kerry proposed a transitional
government that would see

Assad depart,
as the way to stop the bloodshed.

At the Secretary of State's request,
I talked to Lavrov about what

a transition government in Syria
would look like...

..and the key jobs that would have
to be on a negotiating agenda.

After about 10 or 15 seconds,
Foreign Minister Lavrov just

cut me off, and said,
"You Americans are always trying

"social engineering, and you did it
in Iraq too, and we will not

"stand for it in Syria, we will have
nothing to do with this."

It is not for us to decide
who should lead Syria.

It is for the Syrians to decide.

And we are not in
the regime-change game.

We are against interference
in domestic conflicts,

and this is our position which
should be of no surprise to anyone.

The Secretary of State had been
knocked back.

But David Cameron,
who'd been invited by Putin to the

site of the Winter Olympics, was
determined to pursue his own pitch.

We flew to Sochi
and it was a big deal for us.

We were trying to really lock Putin
into a result which was Assad going.

Putin always had this big pile
of briefing cards...

..and he picks them up and he slaps
them down on the table -

I can hear that slap to this day -
and says,

"OK, David, let's talk."

He said, "I know you think
I'm too supportive of Assad. I think

"your policy of backing
the opposition means

"you're backing extremists
like the Al-Nusra Front."

And I said, "No,

"our policy is to get a new
provisional government,

"we can ally with
that provisional government,

"and then we can take out
the Al-Nusra Front and the dangerous

"Islamist extremists
and terrorists that threaten us."

And Cameron said, "The Al-Nusra
Front, I want to destroy them."

And Putin said, "David,
now you're talking my language."

And then Cameron said, "OK, and
we're going to create a political

"process, you're going to be on the
world stage dictating what happens."

All this was music to Putin's ears.

I was suggesting a conference
in Moscow where the transition

to a provisional authority
would get the rubber stamp.

There was a potential opportunity.
You could see the end of Assad,

you could see the end
of the fighting and the bloodshed.

So there was an opening
and there was hope.

After lunch, in a grand gesture,
Vladimir Putin grabbed David

and dragged him off,
wearing his shades,

looking like a man of action,
into a jeep

and drove him off in the opposite
direction of all the rest of us.

He drove at breakneck speed
off to a helicopter.

We jumped on a helicopter,
we flew up into the mountains.

Putin was inordinately proud
of all that they were doing

to make sure the Winter Olympics
was a success.

And then we landed at the site
of the stadium.

And then we were reunited
with a rather relieved

set of Foreign Office officials
and security detail!

They probably thought
I'd been kidnapped for a while.

A month later, when Putin arrived
in the UK for a G8 Summit,

the mood was shifting.

The West had just gone public
with accusations that Assad's

forces were using chemical weapons
in Syria,

and there were growing calls
for military intervention.

We took Putin upstairs, to the study
that had been Margaret Thatcher's

office and had Margaret Thatcher's
painting on the wall.

Putin said,
"Oh, truly she was an Iron Lady."

And then in this very confined
space - that room's small

and we're all sort of knee-to-knee,
huddled around, having this

meeting - they got down to business.

Cameron said, "If chemical weapons
are used in Syria,

"and we have evidence
they're beginning to be used,

"the world cannot stand by."

And Putin said,
"What is this evidence?

"It's worthless.

"We haven't forgotten Iraq,

"we haven't forgotten
Colin Powell at the UN."

And then there was a moment
where, to me,

in the room, Putin just seemed
to lose patience with all of this.

And I had a notebook in my pocket
at that meeting

to record what was said.

This is actually the notebook
that I noted it down, in the margin.

"In a very quiet voice."

And Putin said, "I know you're a
great country with a great history.

"And you all think
I'm not democratic like you.

"I won't argue with you.

"I'm an ex-KGB man, I'm wicked
and scary with claws and teeth

"and you're all so well-bred
and so well-educated.

"But you remember Abu Ghraib, David?
Did you see those pictures?

"It was medieval,
what happened there.

"To get what you want in Syria,
it will have to be the same again."

CAMERA SHUTTERS CLICK

At the summit the next day,

Cameron hoped his fellow leaders
would help change Putin's mind.

DAVID CAMERON: At the G8,
you had seven very like minds,

who believed in democracy
and the rule of law.

And in Putin you had someone
who took a different view.

It was very much seven against one,
and Putin digs in more.

DAVID CAMERON: I was in Cornwall
on a family holiday.

It's the place we go every year.

And I remember going into a little
room in the house

where we were staying,
where there was a television...

CHILD CRIES

..and seeing the pictures,
and it was just terrible.

CHILDREN SCREAM

And the sight of, you know,
those little children's bodies

laid out on the floor.

It was just shocking.

And I think important to see it,
not just to read about it,

but to look at the images yourself.

And I thought that the red line
had been crossed,

that action should be taken.

I called President Putin.

By then it was as clear as it could
be that it was a regime attack.

We were already getting
the evidence.

He said, "Oh, well, it's not
in the regime's interest to carry

"out a chemical weapons attack.

"It's much more in the interest
of the opposition.

"We haven't seen the evidence."

And I knew he was seeing
the same evidence as me.

And that was the first time
I thought, "This guy's just lying,

"and will say anything." You know,

deny, deny, deny, even though it was
perfectly clear what had happened.

The Prime Minister recalled
Parliament

to vote on military action.

Expecting problems from the Labour
opposition,

he began to canvass his own MPs.

There's quite
a lot of people on my own side,

in the Conservative parliamentary
party, who don't support

action against the use
of chemical weapons.

I had endless meetings
with Conservative MPs, saying,

"This isn't the Iraq War.
This is Syria.

"This is the use of chemical
weapons."

But I was struggling to convince
some of my own colleagues.

CHANTING: Hands off Syria!
Hands off Syria!

Britain had gone to war in Iraq
without UN approval.

Cameron consulted his ambassador
about what might be possible

this time.

I sent some advice to Downing Street

about how we could create
a UN moment which would make

clear that the Russians would veto

any attempt to get authorisation
through the UN Security Council

for missile strikes.

I said, "What I could do is draft
a resolution

"and show it privately to the
Russians on Tuesday evening,

"and get them, essentially,
to set out their view on it."

And the meeting ended
fairly quickly,

and I reported back to London
to say that the Russians had made

clear they could not accept
the resolution.

Cameron hoped he'd done enough to
persuade Parliament to

vote for air strikes.

The ayes to the right - 272.

The noes to the left - 285.

CHEERING

LOUD SHOUTING

Thank you. So the noes have it.

Unlock!

It was a pivotal moment
for David Cameron's premiership,

and for British foreign policy,
because after that, he said

to us very clearly,
"We're not doing anything else

"adventurous on foreign policy
that gets us into trouble with

"my people in Parliament.

"I need them for the EU referendum
that's coming."

I drove down to work early
in the morning.

There was very little traffic -
it was lovely.

Erm, late summer day.

Early afternoon, the President spoke
at the Rose Garden.

Good afternoon, everybody.

And we thought the President was
going to announce the strikes.

Literally, we were standing there
waiting for him

to say we've undertaken strikes.

I will seek authorisation for
the use of force from the American

people's representatives
in Congress.

We were left sort of open-jawed
and dumbfounded.

It was not at all
what we were expecting.

The atmospherics, when he's landing
for the G20, were tense.

There was no formal meeting set,
which is extremely

unusual for one of these meetings.

Usually, everything's crafted out
ahead of time.

We had nothing on the agenda
with President Putin.

And as we talked about it
on the drive in the car,

it's like, "When are you going
to get around to talking to Putin?"

Obama said, "We'll figure it out."

Are we ready, yeah?

As the official business got under
way, one issue couldn't be avoided.

I remember very well
that in that dinner,

when we were discussing Syria,

President Zuma from South Africa,
or President Dilma Rousseff

from Brazil, they were opposing
any kind of foreign intervention

against the Assad regime.

They were supporting
the position of Putin.

And the same was coming
from China or India.

Putin was capitalising on the fact
that there were some threats,

but that those threats were not,
er, materialising.

So it was clear, after that
discussion, that the United States'

position - I would say
the West's position - was isolated.

MUSIC: Nut Rocker

The row over dinner meant
a light show Putin had

organised for his guests didn't
start until 1am.

Putin was almost playing up
to being this sort of new

Russian emperor. It was incredibly
lavish,

this vast son et lumiere
and fireworks

at this enormous palace, and it was
getting colder and colder.

The Russians were
sort of piling more

and more blankets onto everyone
to try and stop them from freezing.

And my bilateral with Putin was set
for sort of two in the morning.

And all the meetings I was in
with Putin, this is probably

the most bad-tempered.

So the Prime Minister
began, I think, hoping to get to

bed by saying, you know,
"There's no need for us

"to rehearse all the arguments
on Syria again, Vladimir."

But Putin couldn't resist sticking
his thumb in the wounds.

So, I remember him saying,
"Well, I'd just like you to know I'm

"very grateful to all
of your Conservative backbench MPs

"who voted against you on Syria."

And so David Cameron sort of,
in some sense, took the bait

and wanted some way to hit back
at Putin. So he changed the subject

to LGBT rights and said,

"Well, there is something
I need you to know, Vladimir."

I pitched it as, "Look, this is
going to be an issue for you,

"Mr President, because you're
chairing these Olympics, and you're

"going to have a lot of people
very concerned about the

"approach that Russia takes."
And he took this very badly.

And they got into a bicker fest,

late at night - two proud men who
always like to have the last word.

I remember Putin saying, "Well,
I didn't make the Russian laws,

"I just have to implement them,"
and Cameron saying,

"Oh, come on, Vladimir. We know that

"what you want around here is
what happens around here."

Putin said, "Well, look, David,
don't you know there's a demographic

"crisis in Russia? We've got
an ageing population.

"We need more births, we need more
babies. If I give gay rights

"and gay marriage to the Russian
people,

"we'll have even fewer babies."

It was becoming increasingly clear
that the relationship was no

longer a load-bearing one,
it was just a pretty angry one.

Overnight, Obama was receiving
troubling news from Congress.

We were getting reports
about the way the votes were going.

I remember hearing
this is pretty soft support,

we're going to be in trouble here.

The summit was nearly over

when he finally snatched
a moment with Putin.

And Putin made this offer
to cooperate with us.

"We'll help you and
the international community

"get rid of chemical weapons.

"And, in return, you're not going
to use force inside Syria."

The President was really intrigued
by it.

There were many people inside
the Obama government that wanted

to use force
and thought it was necessary

and thought that,
if he didn't, it would be very

bad for his credibility,
because he had drawn a red line.

Putin had suddenly offered him
this way out.

And it was my analysis that,
if he said it to you personally,

Mr President, that he was
going to make good on the deal.

Putin had seized his chance
to play peacemaker

and protect his ally.

There would be no air strikes.

But Obama had secured Putin's
promise that Syria's

chemical weapons would be removed
and destroyed.

It's actually one of the decisions
that I'm most proud of.

In part, because it...

..pushed against the conventional
wisdom in this town,

and the ease with which military
actions gain momentum,

the greater difficulty
in pulling back

and ensuring that diplomacy is given
a chance.

This surprising alliance
between Putin

and Obama provided a diplomatic
opportunity

to bring the Syrian government and
opposition to the negotiating table.

Everybody agreed that the Americans
will make sure that the

opposition will be there,
and the Russians will make sure

that the Syrian government will
be there.

The key goal of the negotiation was
to stand up

a transition governing body.

We thought the Russians might resist
that, but they didn't.

They accepted the American...

..suggestion that that be the key
issue.

I warned the Americans

and the Russians that you'll be
bringing your allies

kicking and screaming. They will not
be coming in good faith.

It took four months
for the Americans

and Russians to bring the warring
parties together.

After a first round of talks
ended in deadlock,

the two sides reconvened.

The Syrian opposition
REALLY surprised us.

They prepared a formal proposal
in writing

for Brahimi,

which said, "We came here

"to negotiate a transition governing
body with full executive authority.

"We are prepared to discuss...

"..each position
without preconditions,

"including the position
of president."

I said, "Are you really prepared
to negotiate

"that Assad stay on,
at least for a time?"

And they said, "It depends
what else we get in the deal."

I presented it
to Ambassador Jaafari -

the head of the government
delegation -

and he refused to look at it.

I started reading it,
so Mr Jaafari said,

"We are not hearing a word
of what he has to say.

"We are not interested in this."

So, at that moment, Mr Lakhdar
Brahimi looked at him and he told

him, "Look, it's very clearly,

"you are not authorised on behalf of
the regime to make any decision,

"and we cannot continue this way."

In a last-ditch attempt
to save the talks,

the Americans went to see
the Russians.

The whole Russian delegation was
there, and it was led by

First Deputy Foreign Minister
Gennady Gatilov, a great big fellow.

And I remember, still, Gatilov

just looking straight at us
and saying,

"No. We're not going to put
pressure on the Syrian Government to

"negotiate anything." And that was
the end of the negotiation.

In Syria, the situation was
desperate.

Isis was now rampaging
through the country,

having already captured
huge swathes of Iraq.

GUNFIRE

REPORTER: Jihadists in eastern Syria
greet the announcement of a strict

Islamic caliphate stretching
across the border with Iraq

and ruled by the extremist group
Isis.

How to combat Isis was top
of the agenda at the next year's

UN General Assembly.

Putin, out in the cold
after invading Crimea,

decided to attend
for the first time in a decade.

Here, he had the world's attention.

Putin's speech made no mention
of what he was about to do.

Two days later, he sent
his air force into action in Syria.

We weren't expecting it.
It came out of the blue.

It was a significant shock.

It was on a morning when I think
we had a Security Council meeting.

So it totally blew our agenda
off schedule.

We were not the only ones
who were wrong-footed by this.

Foreign Minister Lavrov did not
appear to be comfortable with

the situation he was in
that morning.

He was irritable.

He didn't want to engage,
which wasn't his style.

He was usually very happy
to harangue you at length.

So to see him so rattled and ruffled
was very unusual.

The impression was very clear that
Lavrov had not been in this loop.

Concerned that Russia was
becoming the major

player in the Middle East,
David Cameron sent his new

National Security adviser to see
his US counterpart, Susan Rice.

The Russian military intervention
immediately solidified

Russia's defence of President Assad,
and indeed

strengthened their status, if you
like, in the Middle East as a whole.

When I asked whether there was
likely to be a stronger

response from Washington,

she said that she didn't expect that
to be the case, that the Americans

had not intervened militarily
in Syria for four years,

why would they do so
after the Russians had got involved

directly themselves?

The West had decided
not to hold Putin back in Syria.

It was soon clear
just how dangerous this could be.

It was a critical day for me
because that day,

I formed the new government
after the first November election.

Around 9.30, I received a call
from Chief of Staff that a Russian

plane was shot down.

It was...
aeroplane crossing our airspace.

This was seen as a risk
by our air force.

And also, Turkish border
is, at the same time, Nato border.

The, er, statements coming from
Russian side was not very positive.

Russian retaliation would risk
a direct conflict with Nato.

It's the first time

since the Korean War that Nato has
downed a Russian plane.

I decided to convene
the North Atlantic Council.

We're not normally talking
about combat

engagements between a Nato ally

and Nato's largest, most militarily
capable neighbour, Russia.

I said, "Look, it's the sovereign
right of Turkey to

"protect its borders,
including its airspace."

I was also a bit kind of -
quote, unquote - "panicky"

because you never know what the
Russians would do.

The Turkish ambassador explained how
Turkey had warned the Russian pilot.

He shared with us an audio where
actually,

we were able to hear the warning.

The Turkish controller, in
Turkish-accented English, warned

repeatedly,
time after time after time,

with no response from the Russian
pilot.

My Central and Eastern European
colleagues and Baltic colleagues,

I mean, they were applauding me...

HE LAUGHS

..for shooting down
the Russian airplane.

This is how you should deal
with the Russians.

This is what is called
position of strength in practice,

not as a concept, but in practice,

so they were kind of jubilant
about it.

While Turkey was arguably right to
defend its airspace,

it also launched the entire alliance
on what could be a dangerous path.

My main task was to prevent
that this incident

led to something that was bigger,
more dangerous and risked

coming out of control.

Nato released a statement
calling for calm.

The situation was defused.

Neither Turkey nor Russia had
the appetite for a full-scale war.

But in the months that followed,

Russian bombing in Syria
increased dramatically.

Putin's planes were not only
bombing terrorists.

Civilians were also being hit.

EXPLOSION

Nowhere was this more evident
than the opposition-controlled

city of Aleppo.

What was going on in Aleppo was
truly shocking.

We had evidence of strikes
on hospitals which had been

partially destroyed,
and then Russian aircraft going

back for a second strike
on the same targets.

So I had this conversation
with Sergey Lavrov.

"Sergey, you are not attacking Isis.

"You're attacking schools,
hospitals."

The Lavrov response was
just flat denial.

"We're attacking Isis targets."

He would demand evidence,
and when you presented him

evidence, he would deny it.
"It's just bogus, made-up."

Lavrov's a bully
and a physical intimidator.

He gets up close to you, he's a very
big man and he'll just repeat

his position and snarl at you that
this is the case and you're wrong.

SHOUTING

SIRENS BLARE

The French President and German
Chancellor confronted Putin.

Putin was very clear, very sober,
very brutal,

saying, "When you look at Aleppo,
there are a number of Chechen

"fighters, and I don't want these
Chechen fighters to return to

"Chechnya, to my country,
to destabilise Russia.

"And therefore, I'm ready to bomb
all of Aleppo to make

"sure that these people
don't survive."

What the Russian president said
was enormous...

..not only in its brutality,

also because he went ahead
bombing and destroying Aleppo.

And we see it several years later
now in Ukraine.

Two years after he first ordered
air strikes in Syria,

Putin was ready
to declare victory.

Putin, who had long-railed against
intervening on foreign soil,

had done just that.

He'd beaten the West at its own game
and kept his man in power.

Russia was back with a vengeance.

Obama's red line in Syria had been
effectively ignored,

and we hadn't responded.

Putin will have taken a very clear
lesson from that.

And I think many of us felt
privately

that he'd pulled a blinder.

Next time, Putin ramps up his
aggression...

..as the West faces its greatest
test in decades.

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