Ukraine war: Boris Johnson risks pushing Putin towards 'tactical nuclear strike'

MOSCOW, RUSSIA - MAY,16 (RUSSIA OUT) Russian President Vladimir Putin seen during the Summit of Collective Security Treaty Organisation (CSTO) at the Grand Kremlin Palace, May,16,2022, in Moscow, Russia. Leaders of post-Soviet states have gathered at the Kremlin for the summit of CSTO marking its 30th anniversary this year. (Photo by Contributor/Getty Images)
Vladimir Putin is being pushed to a nuclear attack, an independent peer has claimed. (Getty)

The UK government's policy aims in the Ukraine war are pushing Vladimir Putin into a corner and could precipitate a nuclear strike, a Lord has claimed.

Independent crossbench peer Lord Skidelsky, who until the start of the year was a director of the Russian oil refining firm Russneft, criticised the government’s approach to Ukraine during a debate in the House of Lords on Wednesday.

Earlier this month Boris Johnson echoed the words of Winston Churchill in a video-link address to Ukraine MPs, describing the country’s resistance Putin’s invasion as its “finest hour”.

Johnson stood for the Ukrainian national anthem ahead of his speech, where he confirmed the UK will send a package of support worth £300 million to Ukraine, including anti-ship missiles and anti-aircraft systems.

Lord Skidelsky has criticised western policy with regards to Ukraine. (Getty)
Lord Skidelsky has criticised western policy with regards to Ukraine. (Getty)

On 7 May, the UK government said it would provide a further £1.3 billion pounds in military support and aid to Ukraine.

Johsnon has been one of the strongest supporters of Ukraine's efforts to resist Russian forces since Vladimir Putin launched the invasion on 24 February.

But Lord Skidelsky suggested such moves could push Putin to counter with severe force.

He said: “British policy aims for a Russian military defeat which it will help bring about by economic sanctions and by supplying the Ukraine with necessary means of war.

“It is an open secret that both France and Germany regard our hawkishness as driving up the price of peace and thus making a ceasefire more elusive.

“I believe that Putin’s war aims, unlike Hitler’s, are limited and that therefore the fashionable domino theory – that if you give way here then one after another will fall – is wrong.”

Watch: Putin showing 'barbaric aggression' against Ukraine – Johnson

He added: “If it happens that Russian conventional forces were actually pushed to defeat as the prime minister and foreign secretary want, Russia might well counter with tactical nuclear weapons.

“To avoid these huge risks the military position on the ground has to be such, and I know this is an uncomfortable thing to say, that both sides can claim some military success.”

There is no formal definition of a "tactical" nuclear weapon. However, they can refer to smaller warheads meant for battlefield use and designed to fit on short-range missiles with a range of less than 300 miles.

Their explosion is often smaller than other types of nuclear weapons, although physically smaller warheads can have relatively large yields.

Because they are less destructive than the larger weapons meant for strategic use, some analysts say there is a risk that leaders might be too willing to launch them.

As part of moves towards a peace settlement, Lord Skidelsky also said the UK government “needed to drop talk of bringing the Putin regime to trial as war criminals”.

Responding, foreign minister Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon said he disagreed with the peer’s assessment.

A Russian serviceman stands guard at the destroyed part of the Ilyich Iron and Steel Works in Ukraine's port city of Mariupol on May 18, 2022, amid the ongoing Russian military action in Ukraine. (Photo by Olga MALTSEVA / AFP) (Photo by OLGA MALTSEVA/AFP via Getty Images)
A Russian serviceman stands guard at the destroyed part of the Ilyich Iron and Steel Works in Ukraine's port city of Mariupol. (Olga Maltseva/AFP/Getty)

Former Tory peer Skidelsky, who descends from Russian ancestry, sat on the board of Russian oil company Russneft since 2016, a company that is 50% owned by the Russian government, while sitting in the House of Lords.

He resigned from Russneft this year, telling the Daily Mail that “it was not appropriate to serve on the board of a sanctioned entity”.

Skidelsky, who backed Jeremy Corbyn to be Labour leader in 2015, previously argued that Russian-speaking parts of Ukraine should be given an opportunity to separate from Ukraine, after Russia annexed Crimea in 2014.

Boris Johnson, pictured with Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelenskyy, recently committed more support to Ukraine. (Ukrainian Presidency/Anadolu Agency/Getty)

Despite this, he recently condemned Putin for igniting “an indefensible war against Ukraine”, saying that “you do not call Ukrainians your brothers, then bomb them into submission”.

But in a letter to the Financial Times, Skidelsky said that Russia’s desire to retain both Belarus and Ukraine as buffers between Russia and Nato’s military alliance is “understandable and reasonable”.

Criticising Western policy, Skidelsky wrote: “I have never been able to understand why the west — or Ukraine itself — has refused to give Russia the assurance that there would be no forward deployment of Nato forces on its borders.”

He added that Putin “is partly a creation of appalling western diplomacy”.

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