Putin truly came from Russia with love at Trump summit

Europe Letter: US president’s meeting with Russian leader was stranger than fiction

US president Donald Trump says he misspoke at his joint press conference with Vladimir Putin and meant to say he saw no reason why it was not Russia that interfered in the 2016 US election. Video: The White House

 

Bond watched the water lap gently against the quayside. Helsinki’s Presidentinlinna looked well in the hot July sun. On the rooftop he could see the discreet snipers watching, secret service and FSB, working together.

He was glad to be back in a city he knew well – a hotbed of spies during the cold war. Finland has a 1,340km border with Russia, and Helsinki lies just three hours by train from St Petersburg, and one hour by plane from three Baltic states that are Nato members. Its neutrality is an irresistible invitation to intelligence agencies to play their deadly games.

He had crossed swords with Smersh and its agents here more than once. And he remembered well the young Russian whose nom de guerre, Vlad, still chilled his very soul.  

Vladimir Putin was young and wiry, superfit, a black belt in judo. And ambitious. A ruthless foe. Based in Dresden as a covert agent in the late 1980s, he travelled often to Helsinki.

Bond remembered him after a particularly gruesome killing. He had emerged from a sauna, bared torso, his rippling muscles gleaming with sweat, a homoerotic vision – though that was not Bond’s inclination. That time he had escaped.

Vlad would go far, to head the KGB, and then to become president . . . now he has led his country for the best part of 18 years. But still KGB through and through . . . or FSB, its successor.

Now he is back in Helsinki, the old stomping ground, and, ironically, Bond was here again too, seconded as part of the vast protection detail.

Felix Leiter swore. The CIA man sat beside Bond, impatient. Now, holding his hand to the earpiece through which the presidential press conference was being relayed, he muttered: “That bastard has just announced that he sees no reason to disbelieve Putin. He’s just pissed all over the service . . . and he’s blamed us for the poor state of relations.”

He quoted his president’s comments on his own intelligence agents’ assessment of electoral meddling claims. “They say they think it’s Russia. I have president Putin,” Trump said, “and he just said it’s not Russia . . . I will say this, I don’t see any reason why it would be.”

Would be? Wouldn’t be? It hardly mattered.

Bond sympathised. Donald Trump, who had also just screwed over his own PM, Theresa May, was a type all too familiar from the long cast of those with whom he had tangled while serving OHMSS – billionaires gone rogue with a compulsion to rule the world. Men like Le Chiffre, Graf Hugo von der Drache, Dr Julius No, and Auric Goldfinger.

Striking resemblance

But the resemblance to Ernst Stavro Blofeld was perhaps most striking. A towering giant of a man – “a big man, perhaps 6’3, and powerfully built” – who akin to Trump, a former wrestler, had been a champion amateur weightlifter in his youth before becoming obese in middle age.

Bond remembered him too as without conscience but not necessarily insane, and motivated solely by financial gain.

Blofeld, however, was a meticulous planner of formidable intellect.

Bond had strangled him to death, and would have no compunction doing the same to Trump if – when – the CIA asked him. Favour for favour, deep state for deep state.

Not, however, until he had spent time with the gorgeous Melania, who would surely not be able to resist his manly charms. The 29-year-old Moscow agent Maria Butina, now safely under arrest in DC, had been his last target – at the appropriate venue of a National Rifle Association convention – before he turned her in to the FBI.

“A journo has just asked Vlad if he has any compromising material on Trump,” Leiter snorted. “He’s hardly likely to say yes . . .”

“There were over 500 American businessmen” in Moscow, Putin laughed. “High-ranking, high-level ones. I don’t even remember the last names of each and every one of them. Do you think that we try to collect compromising material on each and every single one of them?”

“And yet,” Bond retorted, “we used to warn them all that that was precisely what the KGB did.”

Leiter nodded. Putin, he noted, even had the chutzpah to admit that “I was an intelligence officer myself, and I know how dossiers are made up”.

“What do you think then of our Manchurian Candidate?” Leiter asked Bond. Could Trump really be a deep cover Russian plant?

“Not sure,” said Bond. “Maybe. But does that matter if he behaves the same way? And, by the way, you better check that football for bugs . . . ”

“Potus rolling,” their earpieces crackled. “Heading Air Force One . . .”

Both men rose as one.

With apologies to Ian Fleming – truth is stranger than fiction.

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