Putin ‘out of control’ and potential use of nuclear weapons a concern, says Michael Gove

Russian leader capable of ‘terrible violence’ and has already committed war crimes, says minister

Adam Forrest
Monday 14 March 2022 09:18 GMT
<p>Russian president Vladimir Putin</p>

Russian president Vladimir Putin

Vladimir Putin is “out of control” and has committed war crimes with his invasion of Ukraine, said cabinet minister Michael Gove – who said the UK government was concerned about Russia’s nuclear threat.

Mr Gove said he does not think it is helpful to think of Russian president as “mad” – but said he was operating in a “moral sphere the rest of us would find almost impossible to conceive of”.

Asked whether the possibility that the Putin regime could use nuclear weapons was a real concern for the UK government, the senior minister says: “Yes.”

Mr Gove said it is was known that Putin was capable of “terrible, terrible violence”, but said it was not for him to specify how the UK government would respond to a chemical attack on Ukraine.

“[Use of chemical weapons] would be a war crime. It was a war crime in Syria – it is the case that already Vladimir Putin has committed war crimes,” he told Sky News’ Sophy Ridge on Sunday programme.

Mr Gove added: “Our response is something that will be agreed in concert with our allies … It would be a response specifically targeted to deal with that escalation.”

Leonid Volkov – a close adviser to the stanch Putin critic and Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny – said Mr Putin was a “crazy person” and it was difficult to predict what he could do next.

Asked on Sky News on Sunday if he believed Mr Putin could use nuclear weapons, Mr Volkov said: “He is crazy enough. We cannot we can expect, unfortunately, everything.”

However, Mr Gove was reluctant to go into further detail on Putin’s “grisly options” and the issue of Russia’s nuclear threat, saying: “I hope you’ll excuse my caution when we’re talking about such momentous and potentially terrifying escalation.”

The levelling up minister said Putin was operating “according to a set of criteria, totally detached from those which you or I would consider to be reasonable or rational”.

He added: “I don’t think it’s helpful to think of Putin as mad. I think what we do need to think of him as, and indeed we do need to recognise, is someone whose ruthlessness takes them into a moral sphere that the rest of us would find almost impossible to conceive of.”

Mr Gove also told the BBC that the Ukrainian people were facing “a series of war crimes perpetrated by a leader who is out of control”.

Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer said he agreed that Putin has committed war crimes during the invasion of Ukraine. “What I have seen already amounts to war crimes. Particularly the awful attacks on civilians,” he told Sky News.

Attorney General Suella Braverman said Boris Johnson’s government would help put Russian soldiers found guilty of war crimes in Ukraine behind bars.

Ms Braverman wrote: “The evidence is there, the world can see it accruing. Our job now is to collect it, preserve it and use it when the moment comes.”

It comes as deputy prime minister Dominic Raab prepares to travel to the Hague on Monday to assist the international effort to gather evidence of war crimes.

The justice secretary, a former lawyer who has prosecuted war crimes, has previously said that the UK has acquired intelligence during past investigations which would prove “absolutely critical” to the International Criminal Court (ICC).

The ICC has already started an investigation that could target senior officials believed to be responsible for war crimes, crimes against humanity or genocide following Russian’s invasion of Ukraine on 24 February.

Meanwhile, Mr Gove said also he wants to look at the possibility of using the properties of sanctioned oligarchs to house refugees and for other purposes – even though legal experts have warned that frozen assets cannot be seized.

He told the BBC: “We are saying you are sanctioned, you are supporting Putin, you have no right to use your home or profit from it, while you are not using or profiting from it, if we can use it to help others, let’s do that.”

The Independent has a proud history of campaigning for the rights of the most vulnerable, and we first ran our Refugees Welcome campaign during the war in Syria in 2015. Now, as we renew our campaign and launch this petition in the wake of the unfolding Ukrainian crisis, we are calling on the government to go further and faster to ensure help is delivered. To find out more about our Refugees Welcome campaign, click here. To sign the petition click here. If you would like to donate then please click here for our GoFundMe page.

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