When he first came to power the world leader Vladimir Putin most admired was Tony Blair. This fact is little known, rarely acknowledged, and frankly scary.
In fact, Blair was the very first foreign premier to visit Russia after he took power. Putin was still misleading the world that he would be a liberalising reformer. A naïve Blair bought the lie.
Then Blair lied to Putin over and over again.
Working with George W. Bush, Blair told the Kremlin he was certain Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. It later came to pass Hussein did not.
In any case, Putin was in no mood to listen to the Anglo-American West.
In the run up to the 2001 invasion of Afghanistan, former Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice had promised, on behalf of the Bush-Blair bromance, that new American air bases in southern Uzbekistan and near Bishkek, in Kyrgyzstan, would be temporary. They would be manned, the Americans and British promised, only so long as was needed to topple the Taliban.
In the end, it would take 13 years for these bases to shut.
In the intermediary years a wave of “coloured revolutions” swept Ukraine, Kyrgyzstan and Georgia, which Putin blamed entirely on Western-backed NGOs. He saw the bases simply as a military extension of these efforts. Putin incidentally could not understand that some people living within the former imperialist hell of the Soviet Union simply did not want to live under the Russian yolk any more, despite the changing of the guard.
So Putin’s brief dalliance with the West began in the context of the war on terror – and it ended pretty soon afterwards in that same context.
When Putin poked holes in the war in Iraq’s basic premises of course, it worked.
It was easy for Putin to poke, after all – the Iraq war has been a spiralling, expensive disaster that has neither served the national interests of its key protagonists nor made the world safer.
Southern Iraq is only just stabilising again, after much bloodshed, and the travails of northern Iraq under the Islamic State are well documented.
The particular way the Iraq War was sold by Blair has now become a key weapon in the arsenal of Vladimir Putin against the West.
It is one of his most powerful tools, created kindly for him by Blair.
Take the recent attempted assassination of Sergei Skripal, a former senior Main Intelligence Directorate (“GRU”) spy from Russia.
Before the Iraq War, there was only ever one entity that would be blamed for an attempted assassination on Skripal.
Britons would observe an informant and traitor against his own state, Russia, who had been threatened with murder on live television by Putin himself, who was living in Britain, and who had been found with a nerve agent in his blood stream.
Any sane person would look at the evidence of Russian assassinations overseas and conclude the Skripal attempted assassination came from Russia. This was a man who had risked his life to help the British state. Ordinarily, the British people would be with him.
Yet when it came to it, 14 per cent of Britons weren’t certain his attempted assassination was conducted on behalf of the Kremlin.
This is a relatively small but enormously concerning proportion of the British public, and it says a lot about what Blair has done to truth in our country.
Crucially, the Leader of Her Majesty’s Opposition, Jeremy Corbyn, agrees with these doubters.
Corbyn has argued since Skripal that after Iraq and the ‘dodgy dossier’, he now wants “incontrovertible evidence”, as he put it to the BBC, before he will blame Russia for the Skripal attack.
In this post-truth climate, which Blair helped build and which dictator Putin is now exploiting, Corbyn’s views no longer seem unusual.
They certainly match with his communications director, Seumas Milne, who said that intelligence from British agencies, particularly regarding chemical weapons, had been “problematic” in the past.
He was clearly alluding to the dodgy dossier which Blair had concocted back in 2002, with the abhorrent complicity of the then head of the Secret Intelligence Service (MI6), Sir John Scarlett.
Russian state propaganda via outlets like RT (formerly known as Russia Today) and Sputnik – which broadcast in multiple languages across Europe, are universally premised on the fact that Blair, aka the British government, lied about Iraq.
So why, ask the Kremlin, would the British government not lie again about Skripal, or the recent chemical weapons attack in Syria?
In lying about Iraq, Blair had inadvertently created the foundational myth of post-millenial Kremlin propaganda.
His initial admirer in Putin – who felt lied to during the run-up to the Iraq war – had expertly turned this faux-pas from Blair and Scarlett against Britain.
As Politico and others reported, while the Skripals recovered in a provincial English hospital, diplomatic officials in the Russian embassy played endless reels of Blair lying about Saddam Hussein before the 2003 invasion to assembled diplomats and journalists during their London press conferences. They referenced the death of David Kelly, the scientist who committed suicide in mysterious circumstances after expressing his private doubts to a BBC journalist about Blair. This was all done to remind the public that Britain had lied about national security matters before, and might be doing so again.
The propaganda is effective precisely because Blair lied about Iraq. Blair did lie, egregiously. He misled the British people, various heads of state, and he was assisted by senior and now disgraced members of the British intelligence community. What he did was sow doubt amongst the British people that government could ever be trusted again. It has certainly shaken our trust in our leaders in a way that was largely unprecedented.
There is a big difference though between having a lying naïve Prime Minister matched with a malleable and unprofessional intelligence service, under pressure from the United States, conducting intelligence gathering in a closed police state like Iraq, and what happened in Salisbury.
Or with Alexander Litvinenko, or the 14 other cases of probably Russian assassinations on British soil that Buzzfeed uncovered last year, which are now being re-investigated by British authorities.
Were any country – France or India, China or South Africa – assassinating people on British soil so flagrantly and repeatedly, Britons would be universal in their support for truth.
The genius of Russia though was to weaponise the dodgy dossier against us. They made us doubt truth. Hence why their assassins stalk our streets so boldly.
Who gave the Russians the weapons to make us doubt, to allow them to get away with these crimes? Tony Blair did in late 2002 and early 2003.
The man was a liar, and lies eventually come around.
The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.