Dr Fiona Hill, one of the globe’s leading experts on Russian politics, has advised multiple US administrations on the Kremlin, including George W Bush and Donald Trump. While she has a thorough understanding of Russian affairs, Dr Hill was still met with some surprises when she was seated next to President Vladimir Putin at a meeting between Washington and Moscow officials. Recalling her encounter on the latest episode of BBC Radio 4’s Desert Island Discs, Dr Hill said: “I noticed he didn’t eat anything. I saw the watch on his wrist, very expensive.” She went on: “This sounds really bizarre, but I could smell that he was freshly laundered. It was almost like he’d stepped out of some sort of special preparatory bath into the moment.
“I just thought ‘every element of this is staged. This is a performance.'”
Dr Hill also spoke of other strange elements of the meeting – including why she ended up sitting next to Putin.
She said: “At the time I was actually working for the US Government…I sat next to [Putin] and I thought ‘why am I seated next to him?’
“Was it because they thought I was like M [Judi Dench’s character in James Bond]? I was kind of channelling my inner fantasies.
“Then I thought ‘am I the least likely person to stab him with a fork?’
“Turns out it was nothing of the sort. I was later told by the person sitting on the other side of him, one of his press people, that it was because I am a ‘nondescript woman’.
“‘Neither too old or too young, you are not fancily dressed. You’ve got no cleavage. You are just kind of there’.”
Dr Hill spoke of how she was so close to Putin, she could have touched him.
She said: “If I’d have reached out my hand ever so slightly I would have touched him. He had a finely tailored suit, a little vein pulsated on the side of his face.
“I noticed right away he, like the rest of us, could really have done with glasses because he had these giant cards about who was who and what he should say.”
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Contrary to what other experts have said, Putin’s former staff member claims the president is not “losing his mind” and is “as calculated as ever” in his attack on the neighbouring country.
The ex-politician explained: “He knows what he wants and is trying to implement policy to achieve his goals.
“The only thing that can really stop Putin in Ukraine and in Europe, is resistance.
“Resistance that is being produced by the Ukrainian military, while all Ukrainian people that heroically resisting these aggressions.”