During the London Olympics of 2012, Vladimir Putin attended a gold medal judo match as the guest of William Hague, then the UK secretary for defence. It was, Hague recalled recently in a Times piece, “the one occasion when I met him that we got on well”.
The chummy day out was part of the West’s concerted attempts to demonstrate respect to Moscow. Hague shared the Russian’s fascination with judo and listened as Putin excitedly instructed him on the dark subtleties of his favourite judo moves.
The translators were baffled as the men exchanged judo phrases in Japanese. Champagne was produced when the Russian competitor won gold: Hague recalled the expression of relief on faces of the Russian officials on the edges of the mee …