In an interview with the BBC for a program that will air later on Monday, Johnson claimed that when the Russian leader asked him about the likelihood of Ukraine joining NATO, he had replied that it would not happen “for the foreseeable future.”
Johnson recalled the “very long” and “most extraordinary” call that took place in February 2022 after the then-prime minister’s trip to Kyiv. “He threatened me at one point, and he said, ‘Boris, I don’t want to hurt you but, with a missile, it would only take a minute,’ or something like that,” Johnson said.
“But I think from the very relaxed tone that he was taking, the sort of air of detachment that he seemed to have, he was just playing along with my attempts to get him to negotiate.”
Russia denies Johnson’s account.
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said there were “no threats” of missiles in the exchange.
“It is either a deliberate lie so you have to ask Mr. Johnson why he chose to put it that way or it was an unconscious lie and he did not in fact understand what Putin was talking to him about,” he told reporters.
Peskov argued that Putin had in fact explained to Johnson how, if Ukraine joined NATO, US or NATO weapons placed near Russia’s borders would mean a missile could reach Moscow in a matter of minutes.
“If that’s how this passage was understood, then it’s a very awkward situation,” Peskov said, as he suggested that there may have been a misunderstanding.
As the war dragged on after February 24 last year, Johnson emerged as one of the most impassioned Western backers of Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy.
But prior to the invasion, he says he was at pains to tell Putin that there was no imminent prospect of Ukraine joining NATO while warning him that any invasion would mean “more NATO, not less NATO” on Russia’s borders.
“He said, ‘Boris, you say that Ukraine is not going to join NATO any time soon.
“‘What is any time soon?’ And I said: ‘Well it’s not going to join NATO for the foreseeable future. You know that perfectly well.’”
The BBC documentary charts the growing divide between the Russian leader and the West in the years before the invasion of Ukraine.
It also features Zelenskyy reflecting on his thwarted ambitions to join NATO prior to Russia’s attack.
“If you know that tomorrow Russia will occupy Ukraine, why don’t you give me something today I can stop it with?” the Ukrainian leader says. “Or if you can’t give it to me, then stop it yourself.”
On the heels of the 2018 poisoning of former Russian spy Sergei Skripal in the British city of Salisbury, relations between Moscow and London had deteriorated to their lowest point in decades in the years prior to the start of the conflict.
Johnson, who quit in September following a slew of scandals, aimed to make London Kyiv’s primary Western ally.
He made multiple trips to Kyiv while in government, frequently phoned Zelenskyy, and was well-liked by Ukrainians.
He paid another unexpected visit last week to express his continuous support.
In a statement, he stated, “The sooner Putin fails, the better for Ukraine and for the entire world.”