Vladimir Putin has developed a "messianic obsession" with Russian greatness caused by periods of isolation during the pandemic, a former NATO chief has said.
Lord Robertson of Port Ellen was secretary general of the military alliance from 1999 to 2003, during which he met the Russian president on numerous occasions.
The Labour peer said Putin had developed a "dangerous mindset" since Covid-19 forced the former KGB officer into periods of isolation where he is believed to have cut himself off from advisers.
And during a lecture on the future of European security he warned the West against provoking the Russian leader into ordering his troops to commit "even more reckless violence" in Ukraine.
Painting a picture of an unstable and paranoid leader who had grown detached from his advisers, Lord Robertson described Putin – who has been the subject of much speculation about his physical and mental health – as "thin-skinned".
He told his University of Oxford audience that "words matter" to Putin and that Western leaders should be careful not to use "loose language" when speaking about Russia and the invasion of Ukraine.
Lord Robertson was quoted in The Times, saying: "Words matter and they are magnified and distorted and the reaction to loose language from Western countries can lead to an ‘I’ll show them’ response.
"The man in the Kremlin has a remarkably thin skin and we should avoid provoking him into even more reckless violence against the Ukrainians."
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He continued: "I have seen him in the meetings I had, in what were good times, display an emotional side which surfaced from the cool, controlled approach he took to most matters."
Putin has been pictured sitting at the ends of very long tables while meeting foreign leaders and sometimes even with his own officials.
It has been speculated that his actions are being caused by paranoia over catching Covid.
Lord Robertson concluded: "Today, closeted away from the virus and from the real world, that emotionalism has been boiled up with a partial view of history and a messianic obsession with Russian greatness. It has produced a dangerous mindset."
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