Former British Prime Minister Boris Johnson claimed that France was “in denial” about the possibility of a Russian invasion of Ukraine, accusing the German government of initially favoring a Ukrainian military defeat in a protracted conflict.
Johnson told CNN’s partner network CNN Portugal on Monday that before Moscow launched its full-scale invasion of Ukraine on February 24, Western attitudes varied widely.
His comments drew strong denials from Germany, which accused the former PPM of having a “unique relationship with the truth”.
While Johnson emphasized that EU countries have since rallied behind Ukraine and are now providing firm support, he said that was not universally the case in the period before the Russian invasion.
“It was a big shock … we could see Russian battalion tactical groups gathering, but different countries had very different views,” Johnson told CNN’s Richard Quest in Portugal.
“If that happens, it will be a disaster, then it’s better to get it all over with and Ukraine to fold,” Johnson claimed, “by all means quoted.” “There are good economic reasons for that approach.”
“I couldn’t support it, I thought it was a destructive way. But I can understand why they thought and felt that way,” Johnson continued. After Moscow’s occupation, Germany moved rapidly to reduce its dependence on Russian energy.
“There is no doubt that the French were in denial until the last moment,” Johnson said.
French President Emmanuel Macron touted Europe’s efforts to dissuade Vladimir Putin from invading Ukraine, visiting him in the Kremlin weeks before the Russian leader ordered his troops into the country. In March, the head of French military intelligence, Gen. Eric Vidaud, was told to step down in part for “failing to anticipate” the Russian invasion of Ukraine, a military source with knowledge of the matter told CNN at the time.
Johnson also criticized Italy’s initial response to the threat of invasion. He told Quest that its government, led by Mario Draghi, “couldn’t support the position we are taking at some point,” given their “huge” reliance on Russian 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 An opinion On Twitter, he told a government spokesman: “We know the entertaining former prime minister has always had a unique relationship with the truth. This case is no exception. ”
Many observers initially believed that the Russian invasion of Ukraine would be completed within weeks or days, but Kyiv’s forces instead repelled Moscow’s initial assault on the capital and recently launched successful counterattacks to regain ground in the east and south of the country.
Johnson said attitudes across Europe suddenly changed after Russia began its invasion in February.
“What happened was that everybody — the Germans, the French, the Italians, everybody, (US President) Joe Biden — saw that there was no option. Because you could not negotiate with this person (Putin). That’s the main thing,” said the former prime minister, adding that the EU has done a better job of countering Russia since then.
“After all my concerns … I pay tribute to the way the European Union has acted. They have been united. The sanctions have been tough,” Johnson continued.
During his tenure, Johnson has been a frequent critic of Russia’s invasion and has developed a close relationship with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky. Johnson was forced to resign in July after repeated scandals tarnished his reputation and led to the resignation of dozens of ministers.
Boris Johnson has spoken about the possibility of becoming Prime Minister again
Johnson told CNN that Zelensky has been “absolutely excellent” under his leadership. “He is a very brave man. I think the history of this conflict would have been very different had he not been there.
“If Ukraine chooses to join the EU, they should go for it. I think it will be a good thing for Ukraine,” he said, adding that it would help achieve political and economic reforms. Kyiv applied to join the bloc earlier this year.
Liz Truss was elected to replace Johnson in Downing Street. Her disastrous seven-week term was capped by a “mini-budget” that spooked markets and raised concerns among global financial agencies.
In a scathing critique of that mini-budget, Johnson told Quest: “It’s kind of like when I play the piano. The notes are perfectly fine individually, but they are not in the right order, or occur at the right time.
Johnson’s chancellor-turned political rival Rishi Sunak, who visited Kyiv for the first time as prime minister on Saturday, replaces Truss.