Sir Laurie Bristow: our man in Kabul is showing true heroism

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 (AFP via Getty Images)
(AFP via Getty Images)

Since June, Sir Laurie Bristow has been Her Majesty’s man in Kabul — now our man in Kabul airport — and is very much the hero of the hour. He has been seen personally overseeing the processing of hundreds of papers for would-be travellers to the UK and signing many of the visas.

The senior diplomat, 57, was hand-picked for the Kabul exodus job and had been the special envoy to several countries for the upcoming COP26 conference.

“He may look like a mild accountant,” says a friend from his days in Moscow, “but he’s tough, smart and very adroit.” He served in Russia as deputy ambassador and then ambassador. “He had to deal with the fallout of the Litvinenko crisis. He did it really well.” Alexander Litvinenko, an ex-Russian agent-turned-Western security analyst, was murdered in London by agents using the deadly radioactive polonium in 2006. “It was a lean time, relations with Putin were the worst,” recalls a friend.

Another veteran UK ambassador to Russia, Sir Rodric Braithwaite, says: “I know nothing but good about him. He had no illusions about Putin, but didn’t let that get in the way of having a deep knowledge of Russia and sympathy for its people.” Even now he is finding time for the underdog, says Braithwaite, responding to an email about a friend cut off in Herat.

Bristow’s career is that of a classic specialist in diplomacy. Educated at Cambridge, he joined the Foreign Office in 1990. His job took him through security and counter-terrorism to Turkey, the Balkans and Eastern Europe. In Kabul he seems to be on a rescue mission for the Foreign Office, saving as many Britain is obliged to as possible and salvaging a tarnished reputation.

It was first reported he would be airlifted out of Kabul last Sunday. Instead he set up his stall at the UK visa desk and said he would stay as long as he could. He got a further 300 troops in to help and aims to get visas to at least 6,000 applicants. “He is very quick-thinking,” says his Moscow friend.

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