Former British Prime Minister Boris Johnson He claimed that France was “in denial” about the prospect of a Russian invasion of Ukraine, and initially accused the German government of preferring a quick Ukrainian military defeat over a protracted conflict.
On Monday, Johnson told CNN partner Portugal’s Portuguese network that the positions of Western countries diverged greatly before Moscow launched its programme. All-out invasion of Ukraine On February 24, he singled out three leading EU countries in comments unlikely to be welcomed in European capitals.
While Johnson stressed that EU countries later rallied behind Ukraine and are now providing consistent support, this was not the case universally in the run-up to the Russian invasion.
“This thing was quite a shock… We could see Russian tactical contingent groups coming together, but different countries have very different points of view,” Johnson told CNN’s Richard Quest in Portugal.
“The German opinion was at one point that if it was going to happen, which would be a disaster, it would be better if the whole thing ended quickly, and Ukraine collapsed,” Johnson claimed, citing “all kinds of sound economic reasons” for the approach.
“I couldn’t support that, I thought that was a disastrous way to look at it. But I can understand why they thought and felt the way they did,” Johnson continued. Germany has rapidly sought to reduce its dependence on Russian energy since the conquest of Moscow.
Johnson also said, “Do not doubt that the French were in denial until the very last moment.”
French President Emmanuel Macron has confronted Europe’s efforts to dissuade Vladimir Putin from invading Ukraine, To visit him in the Kremlin Just weeks before, the Russian leader had ordered his troops into the country. In March, the head of France’s military intelligence, General Eric Vidaud, was asked to step down in part for “not foreseeing” a Russian invasion of Ukraine, a military source familiar with the matter said. to CNN at the time.
Johnson also criticized Italy’s initial reaction to the threat of an invasion. He told Quest that its government — at the time led by Mario Draghi — was “at some point simply saying it wouldn’t be able to support the position we’re taking”, given its “enormous” dependence on Russian hydrocarbons.
CNN has reached out to the French and German governments. Draghi’s office declined to comment.
Many observers initially thought the Russian invasion of Ukraine would be completed in a matter of weeks or days, but Kyiv’s forces have instead repulsed Moscow’s initial push toward the capital and have recently launched successful counter-offensives to recapture territory in the country’s east and south.
Once Russia launched its invasion in February, Johnson said, attitudes across Europe changed rapidly.
“What happened is that everyone – the Germans, the French, the Italians, everyone, (US President) Joe Biden – saw that there was simply no choice. Because you can’t negotiate with this guy (Putin). That’s the whole point,” said the former prime minister. , adding that “the EU has done brilliantly” in its opposition to Russia since that time.
“After all my fears… I applaud the way the European Union has acted. They have come together. The sanctions have been tough,” Johnson continued.
During his time in office, Johnson frequently criticized the Russian invasion and cultivated a close relationship with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky. Johnson was forced to resign in July after repeated scandals tarnished his reputation and caused the resignation of dozens of his ministers.
Boris Johnson talks about his chances of becoming prime minister again
Johnson told CNN that Zelensky was “absolutely outstanding” in his leadership. “He’s a very brave man. I think the history of this conflict would have been very different, because he wouldn’t have been there.”
He added that “If Ukraine chooses to be a member of the European Union, it should strive for that. And I think it would be a good thing for Ukraine,” helping it achieve political and economic reform. Kyiv applied to join the bloc earlier this year.
Johnson was replaced at Downing Street by Liz Truss, who was the shortest-term of any British Prime Minister. Her disastrous seven-week term was sunk by a “small budget” that terrified markets and prompted global financial agencies to express concern.
In a euphemism for that scaled-down budget, Johnson told Quest: “It’s like when I’m playing the piano. Individually the notes sound just right, but they’re not in the right order, or happen at the right time.”
Truss has since been replaced by Johnson Consultant turned political rivalRishi Sunak who visited Kyiv for the first time as prime minister on Saturday.