The choreography for an interview with Vladimir Putin is worthy of the Bolshoi Ballet; every step rehearsed, nothing left to chance. Our stage that night on June 26 2019 was the cabinet room in the Kremlin Senate building next to Red Square. It is an imposing chamber with statues of the four great imperial tsars: Nicholas I, Alexander II, Catherine the Great and Peter the Great overlooking the president’s working desk. The Financial Times [FT] interview, months in preparation, would take place at a small round table nearby; filmed by Russian television and broadcast the following evening. It was Putin’s first serious interview with a Western publication in several years.

Shortly before eight o’clock, we were summoned to the Kremlin with its vast long corridors lined with red carpets and prints including Napoleon’s snow-bound retreat from Moscow. We entered a large room with yellow-painted walls, white stucco ceilings and a table crammed with cakes, sweets, tea and coffee which...

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