Boris Johnson has said China will be making an “historic mistake” if it supplies Russia with weapons – as he urged the UK to “break the ice” by becoming the first country to supply Ukraine with fighter jets.
Speaking to Sky News’ Mark Austin as the one-year anniversary of Russia’s invasion approaches, the former prime minister said he was “very concerned” to see China’s top diplomat meet with Vladimir Putin in Moscow yesterday.
Asked about the possibility of Beijing supporting Russia’s war effort with weapons, he said: “I think it would be an historic mistake by the Chinese… Why does China want to be contaminated by association with Putin, who has revealed himself to be this gangster and adventurer? I think it would be a big, big mistake by China.
“But what it shows is the the urgency of us giving the Ukrainians what they need to succeed this year and to make sure that 2023 is their victory.”
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Mr Johnson, who was prime minister when Russia invaded Ukraine on 24 February 2022, has spoken after Sky News exclusively reported that The Treasury has signalled there is no new money for defence despite recognising the urgent need to rearm in the wake of the war.
As things stand, the British army would run out of ammunition within a few days if called upon to fight and would take up to 10 years to field a modern warfighting division of some 25,000 to 30,000 troops.
Asked whether the UK defence industry should be put on a “war footing” in light of its low stocks of ammunitions, Mr Johnson replied: “I certainly think we need to be making sure that we equip ourselves with what we need. But if you look at the UK’s own defences and how to make sure that our own country is protected and the entire Euro-Atlantic security area is protected, then the best thing you can do, the most economical thing you can do is to make sure that Putin fails in Ukraine and that the Ukrainians win.”
Mr Johnson added: “What I’m saying is that we should continue to supply the munitions that we can. We need to make more munitions.”
The former prime minister has been speaking as Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy urges Western powers to supply his country with fighter jets to support their war effort.
However, there are fears among Western leaders Ukraine would use the jets to strike targets inside Russia.
Mr Johnson appeared confident Ukraine would only use them to defend their country and encouraged the government to supply some of the UK military’s Typhoon jets.
“What the Ukrainians want is F-16s. As it happens, we don’t have F-16s but we do have Typhoons. I think there’s an argument for the UK breaking the ice and giving them some Typhoons. If it’s a question of of training people up to use those machines – we can do that.”
Mr Johnson added he has “no doubt” Ukraine can recapture territory from Russia if it has fighter jets to take out their artillery positions and command and control centres.
The former prime minister was also asked about a warning from President Zelenskyy that there could be a third world war if Ukraine loses the conflict.
“I think there is a real risk that if Putin can manufacture any kind of success out of this, then he will be able to continue to threaten not just Ukraine, but all the parts of the former Soviet empire that he wants to intimidate.
“And everybody else around the world will draw the conclusion that aggression pays off and that borders can be changed by force.
“This is an absolutely critical moment for the world. This is a pivot moment. This is a hinge of fate. This is the decisive moment in the early 21st century.”
Mr Johnson also spoke about how many people felt Ukraine “weren’t going to hold out for a week” when Russia launched its invasion almost a year ago.
“Very few people thought they would resist in the heroic way that they have,” he added.
The former prime minister also questioned Mr Putin’s reasons for launching his invasion and said: “He was never really threatened by Ukraine as a potential NATO member. There was no question of establishing NATO’s missiles on Ukrainian soil any of that nonsense.
“This has purely been done by Putin to bolster his flagging position at home and to try to reconstitute the old Soviet empire… I think it would be a terrible signal if he has any kind of success.
“It would be a terrible signal for the world, for everywhere, where we care deeply about borders that should not be changed by force.”