Johnson said Putin made the remarks during a “very long” and “extraordinary” call in early February last year, as Russian troops gathered along the border with Ukraine. Johnson, who was prime minister at the time, had recently visited Kiev to show Western support for Ukraine.
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“He sort of threatened me at one point and said, ‘Boris, I don’t want to hurt you, but with a rocket it’ll only take a minute,’ or something like that. You know… gleefully,” Johnson said.
Russia has one of the world’s largest stockpiles of nuclear weapons, including longer-range missiles, but Johnson suggested he did not view Putin’s comments as a serious threat.
“From the relaxed tone he took, the kind of aloofness he seemed to have, he just played along with my attempts to get him to negotiate,” Johnson said.
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov denied that Putin threatened Johnson with a missile strike, saying the former prime minister either deliberately withheld the truth or misunderstood the Russian president.
“It’s a lie, there were no missile threats,” he told reporters at a news conference. “Speaking of challenges to the security of the Russian Federation, President Putin noted that if Ukraine were to join NATO, the possible deployment of NATO or US missiles near our borders would mean that any missile would reach Moscow within minutes. If this passage is taken in this way, it is very embarrassing,” he said.
Johnson, for his part, said he had warned Putin during the talk that tougher sanctions would follow if an invasion occurred and that this would boost Western support for Ukraine, resulting in “more NATO, not less NATO” at the Russian borders.
“He said, ‘Boris, you say that Ukraine will not join NATO any time soon. … What time is it?’ and I said, ‘Well, it won’t be joining NATO in the foreseeable future. You know that very well,” Johnson recalled of the exchange. Three weeks after their call, on February 24, Russia invaded Ukraine.
Johnson has tried to position himself as one of Ukraine’s most outspoken supporters. He made a surprise visit to Kiev just over a week ago – despite having no official role in the British government after being removed from office in September following a series of scandals – and met with President Volodymyr Zelensky, promising that Great Britain Britain “Ukraine would stay as long as it takes.”
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In separate comments on excerpts from the documentary “Putin vs the West”, airing Monday night, British Defense Secretary Ben Wallace also spoke of exchanges with Russian officials during a visit to Moscow last February.
Referring to talks with Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu and General Valery Gerasimov, Chief of the Army General Staff, he said: “I remember I told Minister Shoigu ‘they will fight’, and he said ‘my mother is Ukrainian, they won’t!’ He also said he had no intention of invading.”
“That would be ‘vran’e’ in the Russian language. “Vran’e” I think is some kind of demonstration of bullying or strength: I’m going to lie to you. You know I lie. I know you know I’m lying, and I’m still going to lie to you. He knew I knew, and I knew he knew. But I think it was about saying, I am powerful.
“It was the pretty chilling but direct lie of what they weren’t going to do that I think they confirmed they were going to do. I remember when we walked away, General Gerasimov said, ‘Never again will we be humiliated. We used to be the fourth army in the world, now we are number two. It’s America and us now.” And there in that minute was that sense of possibly why [they were doing this].”
Natalia Abbakumova in Riga, Latvia contributed to this report.