Germany has angrily dismissed claims by Boris Johnson that in the run-up to the Russian invasion of Ukraine it said it would be better for Ukraine to fold than to become embroiled in a long war.
Johnson, interviewed by CNN, also claimed that the French president, Emmanuel Macron, was in denial about the threat of invasion, and that Italy, led at the time by Mario Draghi, said it could not help because it was so dependent on Russian hydrocarbons.
A spokesperson for the German chancellor, Olaf Scholz, rejected the claims with a diplomatically phrased dig at Johnson.
“We know that the very entertaining former prime minister always has a unique relationship with the truth; this case is no exception,” the official said. Miguel Berger, the German ambassador to the UK, backed the dismissal of Johnson’s account.
Johnson’s claims appear similar to comments from Andriy Melnyk, the former Ukrainian ambassador to Germany, who has said German politicians told him before the invasion that they expected Ukraine to be defeated within three days and so it was pointless to provide any help.
Melnyk claimed on Twitter in March: “On 14 February we were warning German politicians: ‘Kyiv may be bombed in the coming days! We urgently need 12 thousand anti-tank rockets from Germany.’ In response: just mockery. So sad. So furious.”
He later claimed that the German finance minister, Christian Lindner, was against supplying weapons to Ukraine or cutting Russia off from the international Swift banking payments. Melnyk told Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung that Lindner had told him with a smile that he thought Ukraine would collapse within a few hours and that he was ready to talk to a puppet regime that would be installed by Russia. The German finance ministry denied the accusation.
Macron was broadcast before the invasion making desperate pleas to Vladimir Putin to hold talks with Joe Biden.
Johnson stressed in his interview that EU nations had later rallied behind Ukraine and were providing steadfast support, but he said that was not universally the case in the period before the invasion in February.
“This thing was a huge shock … we could see the Russian battalion tactical groups amassing, but different countries had very different perspectives,” Johnson told CNN’s Richard Quest in Portugal.
“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,” he claimed, citing “all sorts of sound economic reasons” for that approach.
“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,” Johnson said. Germany has rapidly sought to reduce its reliance on Russian energy since Moscow’s invasion.
“Be in no doubt that the French were in denial right up until the last moment,” Johnson also said. The chief of French military intelligence, Gen Eric Vidaud, was told in March to step down from his post, partly for “failing to anticipate” the Russian invasion of Ukraine.
The British position, best expressed by Johnson in a speech to the Munich security conference on the eve of the invasion, was that the UK would back any Ukrainian resistance that was mounted once the invasion started.
Britain was not certain how Ukraine or its leader, Volodymyr Zelenskiy, would react once the invasion started, partly because British and US intelligence struggled for some time to convince Zelenskiy that the massive troop buildup by Russia was not a bluff.
The tenor of Johnson’s remarks was that only Britain and the US made the right judgment about Putin’s intentions. Johnson in the interview said that once Russia launched its invasion, attitudes across Europe changed quickly.
“What happened was everybody – Germans, French, Italians, everybody, Joe Biden – saw that there was simply no option. Because you couldn’t negotiate with this guy [Putin]. That’s the key point,” he said, adding that the EU had “done brilliantly” in its opposition to Russia since that time.
“After all my anxieties … I pay tribute to the way the EU has acted. They have been united. The sanctions were tough,” Johnson went on.
He added that he thought it would be good for Ukraine to join the EU, and he praised Zelenskiy’s personal courage.