The west must not make the mistake of “normalising” relations with Vladimir Putin again after the invasion of Ukraine, Boris Johnson has said, as he warned that allowing Russia to win would herald intimidation from the Baltic to the Black Sea.
The prime minister gave his latest assessment of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine at Conservative party conference, describing the Kremlin’s actions “a vicious and a barbarian attack on innocent civilians, the likes of which we haven’t seen since the 1940s”.
He warned that if Russia were to succeed in Ukraine then it would be the end of freedom in Ukraine, would mean the “extinction of any hope of freedom” in Moldova and Georgia, and would represent a “green light to autocrats everywhere”.
Citing the world’s response after Putin’s invasion of Crimea in 2014, he said: “I know there are some around the world, even in some western governments … who say that we’re better off making accommodations with tyranny. I believe they are profoundly wrong and to try to renormalise relations with Putin after this, as we did in 2014, would be to make exactly the same mistake.”
Johnson also appeared to compare the struggle of the Ukrainian people for freedom to the same instincts in the UK population who narrowly voted for Brexit.
“I know it’s also the instinct of the people of this country to choose freedom every time … When the British people voted for Brexit in such large numbers … it was because they wanted to be free to do things differently, for this country to be able to do things differently and run it self,” he said.
Johnson gave his speech to a hall of activists in Blackpool. The Ukrainian ambassador to the UK was also in the audience, alongside the foreign secretary, Liz Truss, and defence secretary, Ben Wallace.
The prime minister thanked Wallace for making him read “Putin’s crazy essay” about his invasion plan some months ago. But he struck a pessimistic note about the idea that the Russian leader could be deposed, saying he did not believe “democratic freedoms are going to sprout any time soon” in the country.
Giving his own analysis of Putin’s motives in invading Ukraine, Johnson said it was because the Russian leader was frightened of having a democratic neighbour with a free press and free elections.
“You have to ask yourself why he did it – why did he decide to invade this totally innocent country?
“He didn’t really believe that Ukraine was going to join Nato any time soon, he knew perfectly well there was no plan to put missiles on Ukrainian soil.
“He didn’t really believe the semi-mystical guff he wrote about the origins of the Russian people … Nostradamus meets Russian Wikipedia. That wasn’t what it was about.
“I think he was frightened of Ukraine for an entirely different reason. He was frightened of Ukraine because in Ukraine they have a free press and in Ukraine they have free elections.”