Vladimir Putin is not mad he just “has his own logic” which the US, UK and EU countries failed to properly understand before the Ukraine invasion, John Bolton has claimed. Mr Bolton was part of the Trump administration’s efforts to curtail Putin’s power by bringing in sanction regimes but now says that western democracies did not go far enough.
Speaking exclusively to Express.co.uk on a visit to the UK, Mr Bolton spoke of his struggles to persuade Mr Trump to impose sanctions but insisted that the war in Ukraine represented a greater failure of the west.
He said: “The bottom line is that the Russians invaded Ukraine, Crimea, took part of the Donbas in 2014 and they didn’t suffer significant consequences.
“Western sanctions were minimal. Then the chemical weapons attack in 2018, not a lot happened, we expelled some diplomats, you expelled some diplomats.
“As [former MI6 chief] Mark Sedwell, who was my British counterpart, said to Trump when he came to visit Theresa May in 2018: ‘They have conducted a chemical weapons attack on a nuclear power and yet we didn’t do that much in response.’
“If you think you can get away with it you are inclined to do it again.
“Those are failures in deterrence which means we should have done more before the war.”
A number of commentators and observers believe that Mr Putin is insane, but Mr Bolton, who has had one to one dealings with the Russian leader, disagreed.
He said: “I can’t diagnose Putin medically, but I think it is a mistake to believe he is operating impaired in some state just because he is operating in way which we find hard to understand.
“On several occasions I met with him and we would talk about things we would disagree with and he would say through his interpreter ‘well you have got your logic we have got ours. We will see which one prevails.’”
It’s the “different logic” and a sense of anguish over the collapse of the Soviet Union which Mr Bolton believes is behind Mr Putin’s continued push in Ukraine despite massive losses as well as economic and reputational damage.
“He’s lost 100,000 casualties, his economy has been harmed, the question is how much longer can this go on?
“The question is: ‘Can it go on a lot longer?’ It can.”
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Mr Bolton went on: “In his mind and the mind of many Russians the break-up of the Soviet Union was illegitimate, the creation of the independent Republics was a western plot and they want to restore the Russian empire.
“If that I your objective and think we were wrong, you are willing to pay a different price.”
Mr Bolton was part of the efforts in the Trump White House to try to ensure Putin did not launch any new invasions.
He warned that “deterrance is complicated” and that the stand-off in Cold war between the USA and western allies and Soviet Union and Iron Curtain bloc was “not as easy as it seemed”.
He believes that the failure to tame Putin has proved that problem.
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Mr Bolton also spoke of his efforts to force Mr Trump to impose sanctions on Putin who he got on well with personally.
“We imposed a lot of sanctions on Russia which he opposed and what would happen Pompeo and I and others would go and say this is what we want to do.
“He [Trump] would grumble and mull over Ukraine and conspiracy and then he would finally sign.
“He would complain about it later too.
“Then he would be criticised for being too friendly to Putin and he would say ‘my government has put more sanctions on Russia than anyone else.’”