The former President of Georgia, Mikheil Saakashvili, now living in exile in Amsterdam, said: “I think that for some reason Russia believed that the UK would be softer on Russia than, say, the United States.
“I don’t imagine him doing the same now on Trump’s America, because that might trigger unpredictable reactions from Trump. For some reason he believes there will not be the same reaction from the UK long term.”
However he praised Prime Minister Theresa May’s handling of the Salisbury incident, saying: “It was swift, no nonsense language and she appeared as someone strong and resolute.”
Speaking about Mr Putin he said: “The guy has been evolving and evolving in a worse direction and he has been moving his red lines all the time.
“Moving the red line, crossing it and moving it again. He has been warning about moving it, hearing his own voice, seeing the lack of reaction from the West and moving it further.”
“He thinks that he can manipulate everyone, he thinks that the world is a very cynical place: everybody is for sale and he has this advantage, he is eternal, he is always in power,” Mr Saakashvili said.
“All these western leaders: they come and go. You don’t have to invest much in them because they are all about the next elections… Vladimir Putin is long term.
“He is always there so he can have longer plans, he can manipulate, he learnt how to trick the democratic systems.”
Mr Saakashvili, 50, was in no doubt that the attack in Salisbury was carried out by Russia and suggested that it was under the direct orders of Mr Putin.
“Since the time of Stalin, these kind of things are only authorised by the main leader. Stalin used to sign death sentences personally and Putin is priding himself on being like Stalin.
“There is no way any Russian mafia or Oligarchs on their own would decide to kill someone like Skripal without explicit order from Putin. And all this BS about someone else doing that? It’s just not working,” he said.
He claimed the UK’s acceptance of wealthy Russians and their money has helped the Russian government infiltrate British society.
“I think the fact that oligarchs feel so much at ease in London that they can buy newspapers, they can influence public opinion and do very well in the public finance sphere but also get football clubs – just be a strong presence in British society and have lots of traction.
“So there is a strong foothold established in London and he thinks that from his standpoint nobody would risk long term damage to relations because there are too much powerful interests inside UK at play.”
He added: “They are much more efficient than the Soviets were with their ideological agents or spies because now it’s not ideology but money that talks. And it looks like that language is understood in the West much more powerfully.”
Mr Saakashvili was the pro-western president of the former Soviet state of Georgia from 2004 to 2013. His bitter relationship with Vladimir Putin dates back to the brief war between Russia and Georgia in 2008.
He said that Russia’s 2008 invasion of Georgia marked the beginning of Mr Putin’s test of the West’s resolve.
“They [Western nations] really thought seriously that the 2008 war was an exception. It was a grave mistake,” Mr Saakashvili said.
The West, he claimed, has repeatedly underestimated Vladimir Putin.
“Every new US President thought he can reset relations with Russia. George Bush started with it, Obama started with it.
“People were telling me just a few months before the 2012 elections in Russia: ‘Oh, our intelligence tells us that Putin is not running anymore, he is tired of power, he wants to have a rest, he wants to go around the world and enjoy life’.
“I have been hearing that from the top of that administration.
“It couldn’t have got more delusional… we know its absolute BS – Putin would never go. For him, losing power means physical death.”
However, Mr Saakashvili says Mr Trump’s stance is different and will be more effective.
“I think Trump is certainly on the right page this time because he’s all about a strong America – Putin doesn’t understand the language of weakness…Trump invested in the US army. And that’s exactly the thing that Putin understands.”
Mr Saakashvili claimed that Mr Putin personally obsesses about him: “He has a long and malicious memory. He follows my itinerary very carefully. He knows what visas and documents I have in my passport. The guy never lets go. It always stays with him.
“He is the guy who promised to hang me by certain parts of my body. I am almost the only guy he managed to kill publicly who is still walking, so in many ways I am luckier than the others.”
In 2013 Mr Saakashvili lost the Georgian election amid allegations of abuse of power.
The following year he moved to Ukraine after forging a political alliance with his old student days acquaintance, Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko.
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He quickly became one of Ukraine’s most popular politicians. But he then accused Mr Poroshenko of corruption. In December President Poroshenko removed his citizenship and last month he was bundled into a van and deported.
He is now stateless, living with his Dutch wife in Amsterdam, but says he’s planning a political return to Ukraine soon.