Former British Prime Minister Boris Johnson said France was denying Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and accused the German government of encouraging a quick defeat in Ukraine’s armed conflict for the first time.
Johnson told CNN’s partner network CNN Portugal on Monday that before Moscow launched its all-out invasion of Ukraine on February 24, Western attitudes were vastly different, pointing to the three leading EU countries in the European capital.
Germany strongly rejected his explanation and accused the former prime minister of having a “unique relationship with the truth”.
Johnson pointed out that EU countries have since rallied behind Ukraine and provided consistent support, but he said this was not the case before the Russian invasion.
Johnson told CNN’s Richard Quest in Portugal, “It was a big shock … we were seeing Russian battalion tactical groups coming together, but different countries had very different views.”
“The German view at one stage was that if that happened, it would be a disaster, and it would all be over quickly, and Ukraine had better fold,” Johnson said, citing “all kinds of things.” “sound economic rationales,” he explained of the approach.
“I couldn’t support it, I thought it was a disaster. But I understand why they thought and felt that way,” Johnson continued. Germany has been trying to quickly reduce its dependence on Russian energy since the invasion of Moscow.
“There is no doubt that the French were in denial until the last moment,” Johnson said.
French President Emmanuel Macron visited the Kremlin just weeks before the Russian leader ordered troops into the country ahead of European efforts to dissuade Vladimir Putin from invading Ukraine. In March, the head of French military intelligence, General Eric Widaud, was asked to resign for “failing to anticipate” Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, a military source with knowledge of the matter told CNN at the time.
Johnson also criticized the initial response to the threat of Italian invasion. He told Quest that his government, led by Mario Draghi, “at one stage was saying they couldn’t support the position we’re taking” given Russia’s “enormous” dependence on hydrocarbons.
CNN reached out to the French and German governments. Draghi’s office declined to comment.
German Ambassador to the UK, Miguel Berger, shared on Wednesday comment On Twitter, he linked a government spokesman: “We know that the very funny former Prime Minister has always had a unique relationship with the truth, and this case is no exception.”
While many observers initially believed Russia’s invasion of Ukraine would be over within weeks or days, Kyiv’s forces repelled an initial assault on the capital Moscow and recently launched a successful counteroffensive to regain ground in the east and south of the country.
Attitudes across Europe quickly changed after Russia launched its invasion in February, Johnson said.
“The Germans, the French, the Italians, everyone saw that (US President) Joe Biden had no choice, because you couldn’t come to an agreement with this guy (Putin). That’s the main thing,” the former prime minister said, adding that since then the EU has protested and added that “he did a wonderful thing”.
“After all the worries, I respect the EU’s approach. They became united. Sanctions were tough,” Johnson continued.
During his time in office, Johnson was a frequent critic of Russian aggression and had a close relationship with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky. Johnson was forced to resign in July after a series of scandals that damaged his reputation and led to the dismissal of dozens of ministers.
Boris Johnson talks about his chances of becoming Prime Minister again
Johnson told CNN that Zelensky was “absolutely fantastic” in managing him. “He’s a very brave guy. I think the story of this conflict would have been very different if he hadn’t been there.”
He added, “If Ukraine chooses to join the EU, they should go for it. “I think it will be good for Ukraine,” he said, adding that it has helped bring about political and economic reforms. Kyiv applied to join the bloc earlier this year.
Johnson was replaced in Downing Street by Liz Truss, the shortest-serving British prime minister. His disastrous seven-week term in office has spooked markets and plunged global financial agencies into alarming ‘small budgets’.
Criticizing the small budget, Johnson told Quest: “It’s like me playing the piano. The notes sound perfect individually, but they’re not in the right order or happening at the right time.”
Truss was replaced by Rishi Sunak, Johnson’s political rival who became Chancellor, who visited Kiev for the first time as Prime Minister last Saturday.