Boris Johnson has claimed France was “in denial” about Russia’s hostile intentions towards Ukraine ahead of February’s invasion, while accusing the German government of initially favouring a quick victory for Moscow.
The former prime minister risked deeply offending European allies in his assessment of their attitudes to the impending war in an interview with CNN.
While acknowledging the EU is now providing staunch support to Kyiv, Mr Johnson claimed that there were deep rifts between their approaches as Vladimir Putin massed Russian troops near the Ukrainian border last winter.
“This thing was a huge shock … we could see the Russian battalion tactical groups amassing, but different countries had very different perspectives,” said the former PM.
He took a swipe at Emmanuel Macron, who fronted diplomatic efforts to prevent the war, speaking several times with Putin and visiting him in the Kremlin in the weeks running up to the 24 February invasion, as well as phoning him immediately after troops crossed the Ukrainian border to urge him to pull them back.
“Be in no doubt that the French were in denial right up until the last moment,” Johnson told CNN.
He accused the German government of preferring a swift Ukrainian defeat in order to avoid economic disruption.
“The German view was at one stage that if it were going to happen – which would be a disaster – then it would be better for the whole thing to be over quickly, and for Ukraine to fold,” said Mr Johnson.
With Berlin heavily dependent on Russian energy, he said there were “all sorts of sound economic reasons” for that approach.
But he added: “I couldn’t support that, I thought that was a disastrous way of looking at it. But I can understand why they thought and felt as they did.”
He also said that the Italian government – at the time led by Mario Draghi – was “at one stage simply saying that they would be unable to support the position we were taking”, given their “massive” reliance on Russian hydrocarbons.
But attitudes across Europe changed quickly after the invasion and the EU has “done brilliantly” since that point, he said.
“What happened was everybody – Germans, French, Italians, everybody, (US President) Joe Biden – saw that there was simply no option,” he said.
“Because you couldn’t negotiate with this guy. That’s the key point.
“After all my anxieties … I pay tribute to the way the EU has acted. They have been united. The sanctions were tough.”
Mr Johnson told CNN that Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelensky had been “absolutely outstanding” in his leadership.
“He’s a very brave guy. I think the history of this conflict would have been totally, totally different it he hadn’t been there.”
He added that “if Ukraine chooses to be a member of the EU, they should go for it. and I think it would be a good thing for Ukraine.”