Former British Prime Minister Boris Johnson has claimed that during a phone call prior to the invasion of Ukraine, Russian President Vladimir Putin threatened him with a missile attack.
Johnson, speaking to the BBC for a documentary to be broadcast later on Monday, said the Russian leader had asked him about the prospects of Ukraine joining NATO, to which he had responded it would not be “for the foreseeable future”.
“He threatened me at one point, and he said, ‘Boris, I don’t want to hurt you, but it would only take a minute with a missile,’ or something like that,” Johnson said, recalling the “very long” and “most extraordinary” call in February 2022, which followed the then-prime minister’s visit to Kyiv.
“But I think he was just playing along with my attempts to get him to negotiate because of the very relaxed tone he was taking, the sort of air of detachment that he seemed to have.”
Johnson’s account is denied by Russia.
Dmitry Peskov, a Kremlin spokesman, said there were “no missile threats” in the exchange.
“It’s either a deliberate lie – so you have to ask Mr. Johnson why he chose to put it that way – or it’s an unconscious lie and he didn’t understand what Putin was talking about,” he told reporters.
Peskov claimed that Putin had explained to Johnson that if Ukraine joined NATO, US or NATO weapons stationed near Russia’s borders would allow a missile to reach Moscow in minutes.
“If that’s how this passage was understood, then it’s a very awkward situation,” Peskov said, as he suggested that there may have been a misunderstanding.
A Staunch Supporter Of Ukraine
Johnson emerged as one of the most ardent Western supporters of Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy as the war dragged on after February 24 last year.
Prior to the invasion, he says he was careful to tell Putin that Ukraine would not be joining NATO anytime soon, while also warning him that any invasion would mean “more NATO, not less NATO” on Russia’s borders.
“He said, ‘Boris, you say Ukraine will not join NATO anytime soon.
”How soon is soon?'” ‘Well, it’s not going to join NATO for the foreseeable future,’ I said. You are well aware of this.'”
The BBC documentary depicts the growing schism between Russian President Vladimir Putin and the West in the years leading up to the invasion of Ukraine.
It also includes Zelenskyy reflecting on his thwarted NATO ambitions prior to Russia’s attack.
“If you know that Russia will occupy Ukraine tomorrow, why don’t you give me something today that I can use to stop it?” asks Ukraine’s president. “Or, if you can’t give it to me, stop doing it.”
Relations between Moscow and London had sunk to their lowest point in decades in the years leading up to the war, following the poisoning of former Russian spy Sergei Skripal in the British city of Salisbury in 2018.
Johnson, who resigned in September after a series of scandals, sought to position London as Kyiv’s most important Western ally.
During his presidency, he visited Kyiv several times, was known as Zelenskyy, and was well-liked by Ukrainians.
He paid another surprise visit last week to express his continued support.
“The sooner Putin fails, the better for Ukraine and the entire world,” he declared in a statement.