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Boris Johnson blamed EU for Russia’s 2014 attacks on Ukraine and was branded ‘Putin apologist’

Future prime minister was condemned for arguing Brussels had ‘caused real trouble’ in Ukraine – in stark contrast to current stance

Rob Merrick
Deputy Political Editor
Monday 28 February 2022 12:42 GMT
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Missile strikes apartment block in Ukraine

Boris Johnson blamed the EU for provoking Russia’s earlier attacks on Ukraine in 2014 and was branded a “Putin apologist” amid a storm of criticism.

The comments – made at the heart of the Brexit referendum battle, in 2016 – led to the future prime minister being likened to then Ukip leader Nigel Farage and being rebuked by Downing Street.

The current crisis has seen Mr Johnson arguing he is leading the West in confronting Moscow’s invasion of its neighbour, by sending weapons to Ukraine and demanding tough sanctions.

But, when leading the Brexit campaign, the then-Conservative backbencher took a very different stance over the annexation of Crimea and Putin’s arming of separatists in the east of Ukraine.

In a speech, he dismissed the EU as a “force for instability”, attacking its “pretensions to run a foreign policy and defence policy” – and claiming there was a direct link to Russia’s actions.

“If you want an example of EU policymaking on the hoof and EU pretensions to running defence policy that have caused real trouble, then look at what has happened in the Ukraine,’’ Mr Johnson said.

“All the EU can do in this question, in my view, is cause confusion and, as we’ve seen in the Balkans, I’m afraid a tragic incident, and in the Ukraine things went wrong as well.”

The speech was widely condemned, also drawing comparisons with the stance taken by the leader of France’s National Front, Marine Le Pen.

“If further evidence were needed about the careless disregard for our security demonstrated by Leave campaigners, by being a Putin apologist, Johnson has provided it,” said Jack Straw, the former Labour foreign secretary.

A No 10 spokesman criticised Mr Johnson’s comments, saying then-prime minister David Cameron was “clear that the illegal annexation of Crimea was brought about by Russia alone”.

The speech was a response to Mr Cameron raising the stakes in the Brexit battle with a claim that the UK leaving the EU could increase the risk of a European war.

He had said: “Can we be so sure that peace and stability on our continent are assured beyond any shadow of doubt? Is that a risk worth taking? I would never be so rash as to make that assumption.”

Mr Johnson hit back, saying: “I think it is very, very curious that the prime minister is now calling this referendum and warning us that world war three is about to break out unless we vote to remain.

In 2022, Mr Farage has continued to blame the West for the current invasion of Ukraine, arguing the attack was caused by Nato and the EU trying to “poke the Russian bear with a stick”.

Admitting he had been wrong to dismiss warnings of an invasion, the former Brexit party leader nevertheless pointed to the expansion of the Western military alliance and the EU as the cause.

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