Vladimir Putin threatened to assassinate Boris Johnson in the run-up to the Ukraine war, it emerged last night.
The former prime minister said the Russian leader had bragged it would ‘take only a minute’ to kill him with a missile after he warned him to abandon his plans to attack Ukraine.
The astonishing threat was made in February last year after Mr Johnson visited Kyiv to assure Ukraine president Volodymyr Zelensky that Britain would back his country if Russia invaded.
Mr Johnson said that on his return, he had ‘a very long, most extraordinary call’ with Putin. At the time, the Russian president was publicly denying that he planned to invade Ukraine, despite massing tens of thousands of troops on its borders.
Boris Johnson said Vladimir Putin bragged it would ‘take only a minute’ to kill him with a missile after he warned him to abandon his plans to attack Ukraine
Mr Johnson said that on his return, he had ‘a very long, most extraordinary call’ with Putin
Mr Johnson told him that war would be an ‘utter catastrophe’ and trigger unprecedented Western sanctions. He played down the prospect of Ukraine joining Nato, given the opposition from members such as France and Germany, but warned that war could galvanise support behind Kyiv and would result in ‘more Nato, not less Nato’ on Russia’s borders.
Mr Johnson said: ‘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 perfectly well”.
‘He sort of threatened me at one point and said, “Boris, I don’t want to hurt you, but with a missile it would take only a minute”..
‘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.’
Mr Johnson said: ‘He sort of threatened me at one point and said, “Boris, I don’t want to hurt you, but with a missile it would take only a minute”
The astonishing threat was made in February last year, after Mr Johnson visited Kyiv to assure Ukraine president Volodymyr Zelensky (right) that Britain would back his country if Russia invaded
Zelensky shook hands with the former prime minister as he visited again on January 22 amid Russia’s attack on Ukraine
The revelation comes in a BBC documentary series called Putin v the West, which is due to be broadcast tonight.
Mr Johnson played a leading role in galvanising Western support for Ukraine last year at a time when key players including Germany, France and Italy were wobbling.
He confirmed there were ‘differences of opinion’ with Western allies, as some were reluctant to wean themselves off their dependence on Russian oil and gas. ‘An argument that was deployed, particularly by our German friends, was that when it came to the sanctions you needed creative ambiguity,’ he said.
‘I didn’t understand that myself. I thought you just tell them, “We’re going to cut off Russian oil and gas, we’re going to sanction every single one of your oligarchs, we’re going to impound your yachts”, and I thought I carried everybody with me.
Mr Johnson has continued to be a thorn in Putin’s side since leaving office, conducting a series of high-profile interventions designed to prevent Western leaders from backsliding
‘And [then-Italian PM] Mario Draghi said, “Look, I’m sorry, I literally just have to say that we cannot do this. We cannot dispense with Russian oil and gas”.’
Mr Johnson has continued to be a thorn in Putin’s side since leaving office, conducting a series of high-profile interventions designed to prevent Western leaders from backsliding. Last week he visited Mr Zelensky in Ukraine again to help bolster support for the president’s demand for more Western tanks.
In a rallying cry in the Daily Mail, Mr Johnson wrote: ‘What conceivable grounds can there be for delay? Why are we not giving the Ukrainians all the help they need, now, when they need it?’
The former PM also dismissed Putin’s threats to deploy his nuclear arsenal if the West steps up support for Kyiv, saying he would ‘become a global pariah and plunge Russia into such a state of cryogenic economic exclusion as to make the current sanctions look moderate’.
Within days, Germany and the United States announced that they would supply tanks to Ukraine, sparking fury in the Kremlin.
Mr Johnson reveals that he agreed to step up military support for Ukraine in June 2021 after receiving a ‘secret letter’ from Defence Secretary Ben Wallace outlining the looming Russian threat. Mr Wallace said he flew to Moscow shortly before the outbreak of war for talks with his opposite number, Sergei Shoigu, and army general Valery Gerasimov, who is now in overall command of Russia’s war effort. He said: ‘I remember saying to minister Shoigu, “They will fight”, and he said, “My mother is Ukrainian, they won’t!” He also said he had no intention of invading.
‘I remember as we were walking out, General Gerasimov said, “Never again will we be humiliated. We used to be the fourth army in the world, we’re now No 2. It’s now America and us”. And there, in that minute, was that sense of potentially why [they were doing this].’
Putin v the West will be shown on BBC Two at 9pm.
Mr Johnson was told to stop asking for loan advice from Richard Sharp days before Mr Sharp became BBC chairman, a leaked Cabinet Office memo shows.
Mr Johnson and Mr Sharp sought advice in early December 2020 over the former’s wish to accept an £800,000 loan from Canadian businessman Sam Blyth.
Cabinet Secretary Simon Case commissioned the advice three days after a meeting with Mr Sharp on December 4. But 18 days later, he warned the former prime minister to avoid speaking to his former mayoral adviser, whose appointment is now under review after claims he helped secure a loan before taking on the BBC role.
The caution on December 22, 2020, seen by The Sunday Times, said: ‘Given the imminent announcement of Richard Sharp as the new BBC chair, it is important that you no longer ask his advice about your personal financial matters.’
A spokesman for Mr Johnson said: ‘Richard Sharp has never given any financial advice to Boris Johnson, nor has Mr Johnson sought any financial advice from him.’