Johnson claims Putin threatened to kill him
Boris Johnson has said the "extraordinary" conversation took place in February after he had visited Kyiv in an attempt to show Western support for Ukraine amid growing fears of a Russian assault. But the Kremlin has dismissed the claim as "a lie".
The Kremlin has called Boris Johnson a liar and denied claims made by the ex-PM that Vladimir Putin threatened to kill him with a missile in a call ahead of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
The former prime minister has alleged the Russian leader told him “I don’t want to hurt you, but with a missile, it would only take a minute” in an “extraordinary” conversation which took place in February after he had visited Kyiv.
However, on Monday, the Kremlin accused Mr Johnson of lying, with spokesman Dmitry Peskov telling reporters what he said was not true, or “more precisely, a lie”.
“There were no threats of missiles,” Mr Peskov said.
“It is either a deliberate lie – so you have to ask Mr Johnson why he chose to put it that way – or it was an unconscious lie and he did not in fact understand what Putin was talking to him about.”
Mr Peskov said President Putin had told Mr Johnson if Ukraine joined NATO, it would mean US or NATO missiles placed near Russia’s borders would be able to reach Moscow in a matter of minutes, and suggested that there may have been a misunderstanding.
“If that’s how this passage was understood, then it’s a very awkward situation,” Mr Peskov added.
Mr Johnson, who became a key backer of Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy’s administration in the months after Russia invaded, made the claim as part of a new BBC Two series looking at how the West grappled with Mr Putin in the years before the war.
The former PM recalled that on the visit to Kyiv he warned Mr Putin that an invasion of Ukraine would be disastrous and there would be tougher Western sanctions on Russia if he did so.
Mr Johnson also said he told the Russian leader that the escalation would only see Western states increase support for Ukraine, meaning “more NATO, not less NATO” on Russia’s borders.
“He said, ‘Boris, you say that Ukraine is not going to join NATO any time soon. […] What is any time soon?’ and I said ‘Well it’s not going to join NATO for the foreseeable future. You know that perfectively well’,” Mr Johnson said of the call with Mr Putin.
“I think from the very relaxed tone that he was taking, the sort of air of detachment that he seemed to have, he was just playing along with my attempts to get him to negotiate.”
“He sort of threatened me at one point and said, ‘Boris, I don’t want to hurt you, but with a missile, it would only take a minute’, or something like that.
Earlier this month, Mr Johnson made a surprise visit to Ukraine amid renewed scrutiny over his personal finances.
He said it was a “privilege” to be invited to the war-torn nation by Zelenskyy, with whom he had a close working relationship during his time in office.
Downing Street indicated Rishi Sunak was “supportive” of the visit, after claims it could undermine his authority on foreign policy.
Mr Johnson was pictured visiting Borodianka near Kyiv – a town heavily damaged by the Russian invasion.
In a statement, Mr Johnson said: “The suffering of the people of Ukraine has gone on for too long.
“The only way to end this war is for Ukraine to win – and to win as fast as possible. This is the moment to double down and to give the Ukrainians all the tools they need to finish the job.”
A spokesperson for Mr Johnson added that he fully supports UK government policy on Ukraine, including the recent decision to send Challenger 2 tanks.
The ex-prime minister pitched himself as a key ally of Kyiv during his time in Number 10, providing support and calling on Western allies to follow suit in the early days of Russia’s invasion last February.
As his scandal-plagued premiership unravelled, Mr Johnson was accused of using trips to Ukraine or phone calls with Mr Zelenskyy as a distraction for crises at home.
His latest trip came amid allegations BBC chairman Richard Sharp helped the former prime minister arrange a guarantee for a loan – and that Mr Johnson later recommended Mr Sharp for the role of BBC chair.
Mr Johnson’s spokesperson has denied the report as “rubbish”.
Senior Tories raised concerns about the trip, with Commons defence select committee chair Tobias Ellwood telling the newspaper that Mr Johnson should “not interfere with the messaging or the official lines of communication” between London and Kyiv.