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Former UK prime minister says Vladimir Putin made thinly-veiled assassination threat

By Sarah May on
 January 30, 2023

In a documentary series airing this week on the BBC, former British Prime Minister Boris Johnson claims that Russian President Vladimir Putin threatened to assassinate him via missile strike last February.

According to Johnson, Putin's comments were made during the run-up to his country's invasion of Ukraine after the prime minister warned against initiating the conflict that has now dragged on for nearly a year.

“Most extraordinary call”

Johnson's revelations come in an installment of Putin vs. The West in which he recounts the role he played in the days and weeks prior to the start of the war, including paying a visit to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky in Kyiv prior to the Russian invasion.

After attempting to reassure Zelenksky of British support should Putin move ahead with his planned aggression, Johnson returned to London, where he engaged in “a very long, most extraordinary call” with Putin, as the Daily Mail details.

According to Johnson, he strongly cautioned Putin that initiating a war with Ukraine would prove to be an “utter catastrophe” that would bring crippling sanctions from the West.

The British leader also attempted to ease Putin's mind about another key issue after the Russian leader asked, “Boris, you say that Ukraine is not going to join NATO anytime soon...what is anytime soon?”

“It would only take a minute”

After Johnson told Putin that Ukraine would not be joining NATO at any point in the “foreseeable future,” things ultimately took a slightly alarming – and menacing – turn, according to the former PM.

“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.'”

Given Putin's reputation for ruthlessness, those words certainly had the power to strike fear in the heart of just about anyone, but in the documentary interview, Johnson downplayed their significance.

“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,” Johnson said.

Persistent adversary

Even though he is no longer in office, Johnson has been unrelenting in his support for Ukraine and has continued working to maintain pressure on Putin from the West.

As the Mail noted, just last week, Johnson was again in Ukraine to lend credibility to Zelensky's bid to receive more tanks from countries such as the United States and Germany.

Johnson also took to the pages of the Mail imploring Western allies to promptly grant Zelensky's requests, asking rhetorically, “What conceivable grounds can there be for delay? Why are we not giving Ukrainians all the help they need, now, when they need it?”

The former prime minister also aimed to tamp down fears sparked by Putin's period promises to unleash his country's nuclear capabilities if Western nations bolster their involvement in the conflict, suggesting that the Russian leader knows full well that to do so would make him “a global pariah” and would “plunge Russia into such a state of cryogenic economic exclusion as to make the current sanctions look moderate.”

Conflicting signals

Despite Johnson's apparent confidence in the notion that Putin will not resort to nuclear weapons even in the face of military or other types of setbacks in his Ukrainian conquest, recent statements by a close ally of the Russian president have caused concern among those who do not necessarily share that optimism, as The Hill reports.

In a Telegram post earlier this month, former Russian president and longtime Putin confidant Dmitry Medvedev warned that if his country's side of the conflict faces significant defeats in Ukraine, nuclear war is a distinct possibility.

Suggesting that such a prospect is an “elementary” conclusion, Medvedev opined that nations armed with nuclear weapons simply do not lose wars “on which their fate depends.”

Though Putin has floated the notion of using tactical nuclear capabilities from time to time, back in October, he denied that such a strategy would be employed in Ukraine. However, with numerous Russian officials recently declaring the decision by President Joe Biden to send 31 Abrams tanks to Ukraine akin to “a permanent escalation” of hostilities by the West, only time will tell whether Johnson's assessment of nuclear risk proves valid.