Rishi Sunak says Nigel Farage 'playing into hands of Putin' with 'completely wrong' comments on Ukraine war

22 June 2024, 09:25 | Updated: 22 June 2024, 12:13

Rishi Sunak has said Nigel Farage's comments about the West provoking Vladimir Putin were "completely wrong" and play into the Russian dictator's hands.

The Reform UK leader is facing a backlash from across the political spectrum for saying that the expansion of NATO and the EU "provoked" Moscow's invasion of Ukraine.

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Mr Sunak told reporters: "What he said was completely wrong and only plays into Putin's hands.

"This is a man who deployed nerve agents on the streets of Britain, is doing deals with countries like North Korea

"And this kind of appeasement is dangerous for Britain's security, the security of our allies that rely on us and only emboldens Putin further."

In an interview with BBC Panorama, Mr Farage said he had been warning since the fall of the Berlin Wall that there would be a war in Ukraine due to the "ever-eastward expansion of NATO and the European Union".

He said this was giving Mr Putin a reason to tell the Russian people "they're coming for us again" and go to war.

The Reform leader confirmed his belief the West "provoked" the conflict - but said it was "of course" the Russian president's "fault".

Asked about comments he made in 2014 stating that Mr Putin was the statesman he most admired, Mr Farage said: "I said I disliked him as a person, but I admired him as a political operator because he's managed to take control of running Russia."

Mr Putin has served continuously as either Russian president or prime minister since 1999, with elections which have been described as "rigged".

Mr Sunak is the latest Conservative figure to condemn the comments, after Home Secretary James Cleverly said Mr Farage was "echoing Putin's vile justification for the brutal invasion of Ukraine".

Meanwhile, former defence secretary Ben Wallace branded the Reform UK leader a "pub bore...who often says if 'I was running the country' and presents very simplistic answers to actually I am afraid in the 21st century complex problems".

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Mr Farage has so far enjoyed a relatively smooth campaign, with his party's popularity increasing and even overtaking the Conservatives in some polls.

Senior Tories, some of whom want Mr Farage to join them to counter the threat of Reform UK, have until now refrained from the sort of personal attacks they have launched at Sir Keir Starmer.

The most that cabinet ministers have said against him up to now is that a vote for him is a vote to put Labour in Downing Street with a "super-majority".

Labour leader Sir Keir condemned Mr Farage's remarks, calling them "disgraceful".

"I've always been clear that Putin bears responsibility, sole responsibility for the Russian aggression in Ukraine", he said.

"Anybody who wants to stand to be a representative in our parliament should be really clear that whether it's Russian aggression on the battlefield or online, that we stand against that aggression."

Lib Dem Leader Ed Davey said: "It is Putin and Russia who are to blame for this, no one else."

He added: "I don't share any values with Nigel Farage."

Following the backlash, Mr Farage posted a late-night tweet appearing to clarify his comments.

The former Brexit Party leader wrote: "I am one of the few figures that have been consistent & honest about the war with Russia. Putin was wrong to invade a sovereign nation, and the EU was wrong to expand eastward.

"The sooner we realise this, the closer we will be to ending the war and delivering peace."