Boris Johnson has claimed that Vladimir Putin told him “I don’t want to hurt you, but with a missile, it would only take a minute”, in a call ahead of the Russian invasion of Ukraine.
The former prime minister said the “extraordinary” conversation took place in February after he had visited Kyiv in a last-ditch attempt to show Western support for Ukraine amid growing fears of a Russian assault.
Mr Johnson, who would emerge as a vocal backer of Volodymyr Zelensky’s administration in the months after Russia invaded, made the claim in a new three-part series for BBC Two looking at how the West grappled with Mr Putin in the years leading up to the war in Ukraine.
The former PM, who left Downing Street in September, made the visit to Kyiv in early February to warn Russia that an invasion would prove disastrous.
Mr Johnson recalled that he warned Mr Putin there would be tougher Western sanctions if he ordered an invasion of Ukraine.
He also said he told the Russian leader that the escalation would only see Western states increase support for Ukraine, meaning “more Nato, not less Nato” on Russia’s borders.
“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 perfectively well,’” Mr Johnson said of the call with Mr Putin.
“He sort of 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,” Mr Johnson said.
“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.”
The programme also hears from Mr Zelensky about his efforts to win over Nato Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg.
“I told him: ‘Jens, I want to join Nato, do you see us in Nato?’ Because nothing would defend our country except for actual membership,” Mr Zelensky said.
“I said: ‘It’s just unfair and not nice. You don’t see us as equals.’ I told him that our army is ready, our society is ready, and I believed that Nato is not ready.” Mr Zelensky details his frustration with the Nato position in advance of the conflict.
“If you know that tomorrow Russia will occupy Ukraine, why don’t you give me something today I can stop it with? Or if you can’t give it to me, then stop it yourself.”