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Putin warns Boris it would ‘only take a minute’ in death threat

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Ukraine: Vladimir Putin’s position assessed by Richard Dearlove

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Mr Johnson revealed how following his visit to the Ukrainian captial Kyiv in early February last year, he had a “very long, most extraordinary call” with the Russian President. At the time, Putin continued to publicly maintain that Russia had no plans to invade Ukraine, but a steady stream of Russian battalions was heading to the border.

Mr Johnson recalled warning the Kremin chief that there would be much tougher Western sanctions if he was to invade Ukraine.He told Putin that this would only see the West intensify its support for Ukraine, which would mean “more NATO, not less NATO” on Russian 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 perfectively well,’” Mr Johnson recalled.

“He sort of threatened me at one point and said, ‘Boris, I don’t want to hurt you, but with a missile, it would only take a minute’, or something like that,” Mr Johnson said.

“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.”

The extraordinary telephone conversation is revealed in a new three-part BBC2 series ‘Putin vs the West’, which begins tonight at 9pm.

In the programme, Defence Secretary Ben Wallace described his journey to Moscow in February as he sought to reach a breakthrough and see off war.

He recalls speaking to Russia’s minister of defence Sergei Shoigu, as well as chief of general staff Valery Gerasimov.

“And I remember saying to Minister Shoigu ‘they will fight’ and he said, ‘my mother is Ukrainian, they won’t!’. He also said he had no intention of invading,” Mr Wallace said.

“That would be ‘Vran’e’ in the Russian language. ‘Vran’e’ I think is sort of a demonstration of bullying or strength: I’m going to lie to you.

“You know I’m lying. I know you know I’m lying and I’m still going to lie to you. He knew I knew and I knew he knew. But I think it was about saying: I’m powerful.

“It was the fairly chilling but direct lie of what they were not going to do that I think to me confirmed they were going to do it.

“I remember as we were walking out General Gerasimov said, ‘Never again will we be humiliated. We used to be the fourth army in the world, we’re now number two. It’s now America and us.’ And there in that minute was that sense of potentially why they were doing this.”

The revelations come as Ukrainian President Volodymr Zelensky’s top aide yesterday revealed that Kyiv is now in urgent talks with Western allies about being supplied with long-range missiles.

Just days after infuriating Moscow by securing battle tanks from Europe and the US, Kyiv said discussions over receiving advanced long-range missiles were now ‘progressing at an accelerated rate’.

Top presidential adviser Mykhailo Podolyak revealed that the talks over missiles have already started.

He said Ukraine would also continue to press for fighter jets to be sent by the West in a bid to drive Russian forces out of its nation.

Amid fast-moving developments, expedited talks are now underway between Kyiv and its allies about Ukraine’s requests for long-range missiles that it says are needed to prevent Russia from destroying Ukrainian cities, Mr Podolyak revealed.

“To drastically reduce the Russian army’s key weapon – the artillery they use today on the front lines – we need missiles that will destroy their depots,” presidential adviser Mr Podolyak told Ukraine’s Freedom television network.

He said on the Russian-occupied Crimean Peninsula there were more than 100 artillery warehouses.

“Therefore, firstly, negotiations are already underway. Secondly, negotiations are proceeding at an accelerated pace,” he added.

Ukraine has already won promises of Western battle tanks – including 14 Challengers from the UK – and is seeking fighter jets to push back against Russian and pro-Moscow forces, which are slowly advancing along part of the front line.

Mr Zelensky, speaking separately, said Ukraine wanted to preempt Russian attacks on Ukrainian urban areas and civilians.

“Ukraine needs long-range missiles … to deprive the occupier of the opportunity to place its missile launchers somewhere far from the front line and destroy Ukrainian cities,” he said in a video address to the nation.

The President said Ukraine needed the U.S.-made ATACMS missile, which has a range of 185 miles (297km). Washington has so far declined to provide the weapon.

But the Ukrainian air force denied a newspaper report that it was soon to get 24 fighter jets from allies, saying talks were continuing.

Spain’s El Pais newspaper, citing Ukrainian air force spokesperson Yuri Ihnat, said Ukraine initially wanted two squadrons of 12 planes each, preferably Lockheed Martin F-16 jets.

But in a statement yesterday, Mr Ihnat said his comments to a media briefing had been misinterpreted.

“Ukraine is only at the stage of negotiations regarding aircraft. Aircraft models and their number are currently being determined,” he said.

Mr Ihnat told the briefing that F-16s might be the best option for a multi-role fighter to replace the country’s current fleet of ageing Soviet-era warplanes.

He also told Ukrainian national television that allied nations did not like public speculation about jets.

Deputy White House national security adviser Jon Finer said the United States would be discussing the idea of supplying jets “very carefully” with Kyiv and its allies.

But Germany’s defence minister ruled out the idea of sending jets to Ukraine.

While discussions continue, Poland yesterday revealed it has seen a rush on young men signing up to its army, to strengthen its borders over any similar Russian invasion.

Poland’s armed forces have recruited the largest number of soldiers since it ended conscription in 2008 as Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has sparked greater interest in defending the homeland.

The Polish military recruited more than 13,500 professional soldiers last year, Defence Minister Mariusz Blaszczak said.

He said this number was equivalent to about eight percent of Poland’s total armed forces of 164,000.

But the rush to sign up has been fuelled by growing anger over Moscow’s actions – and fears Russian President Vladimir Putin could one day want to further widen his war.

As a result, Poland, which borders the Russian exclave of Kaliningrad, intends to increase its armed forces to 300,000 professional soldiers in the coming years.

Authorities in Warsaw were the first to officially put in a request to Berlin to transfer the country’s German-made Leopard 2 tanks to Ukraine.

Berlin immediately said it was ‘urgently reviewing’ the request, before giving the move the green light.

And it was Polish defence minister Mr Blaszczak who then also successfully appealed to the German government to join the coalition of countries supporting Ukraine with Leopard 2 tanks.

“This is our common cause, because it is about the security of the whole of Europe,” he explained at the time.

But Russia is also strengthening its military recruitment efforts.

The UK’s Ministry of Defence said the Russian education ministry has now made basic military training mandatory in the country’s secondary school curriculum and it will be taught from September this year.

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