LONDON — Former U.K. Prime Minister Boris Johnson said that President Vladimir Putin didn’t seem serious about avoiding war in the days before Russia invaded Ukraine — and at one point told the British leader it would be easy to kill him with a missile.
The Kremlin denied Putin made any such threat.
In a documentary released Monday, Johnson says he called Putin in February 2022 and tried to dissuade him from war, telling him Ukraine would not be joining NATO in the foreseeable future – a longstanding concern of the Russian leader – and warning invasion would bring “massive” Western sanctions.
“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,” Johnson says in the BBC series “Putin vs the West.”
Johnson says that Putin “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.”
The three-part series produced by veteran documentary-maker Norma Percy recounts how Western leaders dealt with Russia’s president in the years leading up to the Feb. 24, 2022 invasion.
Percy said Monday that she did not think Putin was making a direct threat but “it was a reminder that he could do it, and (Johnson) should remember that when he is dealing with him.”
Asked about Johnson’s comments, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said that his account was untrue, “or, more precisely, it was a lie.” Peskov said Johnson may have deliberately lied or failed to understand what Putin was telling him.
“There were no threats with missiles,” Peskov said on a conference call with reporters. “While talking about security challenges to Russia, President Putin said that if Ukraine joins NATO the potential deployment of U.S. or other NATO missiles near our borders would mean that any such missile could reach Moscow in minutes.”
Johnson was one of the most prominent international allies of Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy until he was forced out of office in mid-2022 by ethics scandals. Britain remains a major supplier of military and humanitarian aid to Ukraine.