Allowing Russian President Vladimir Putin to succeed in his invasion of Ukraine would have “absolutely catastrophic” consequences for the world, British Prime Minister Boris Johnson warned in a CNN interview on Sunday.
Speaking to Jake Tapper on CNN’s “State of the Union” hours after Russian missiles hit Kyiv, shattering what had been relative calm in the Ukrainian capital, Johnson urged Americans, Britons and others in the West to maintain resolve in punishing Moscow, despite the effect the war has had on global oil prices.
“I would just say to people in the United States that this is something that America historically does and has to do, and that is to step up for peace and freedom and democracy,” Johnson said. “And if we let Putin get away with it, and just annex, conquer sizable parts of a free, independent, sovereign country, which is what he is poised to do … then the consequences for the world are absolutely catastrophic.”
Johnson is joining other G7 leaders in the Bavarian Alps this week for talks centered on the conflict in Ukraine, which has become a grinding conflict of attrition as it enters its fifth month.
The leaders are expected to discuss new methods of punishing Moscow, including a ban on new gold imports from Russia that US President Joe Biden announced on Sunday. But hanging over the summit is whether the West can maintain its resolve in punishing Putin amid skyrocketing energy prices – and the political backlash the spike has caused for leaders back home.
Johnson, who has traveled to Kyiv twice to meet Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, said allowing Russia success in its invasion would set a dangerous precedent.
“You can see the consequences, the lessons that will be drawn,” he said. “That is what is ultimately disastrous, not just for democracy and for the independence of countries, but for economic stability.”
The costs to Western nations of defending Ukraine – including the billions of dollars in security assistance provided by the United States – is “a price worth paying for democracy and freedom,” Johnson said.
The G7 summit has provided a refuge of sorts for Johnson, who is facing serious political headwinds back home in the United Kingdom. The fallout from the “Partygate” scandal – in which Covid lockdown-busting events were held at Downing Street – continues to reverberate, and questions about Johnson’s leadership have only intensified even as he has said he’s interested in seeking a third term.
Just last week, Johnson suffered a blow to his authority after his Conservative Party lost two parliamentary by-elections in a single night. Yet so far, the Prime Minister has resisted calls for change in his political approach and recently said he would not undergo a “psychological transformation.”
In Germany, Johnson sought to frame his troubles as a sign democracy was working when Tapper questioned him about the cascade of criticism.
“I think the great thing about democracy is that leaders are under scrutiny. And I do have, you say that I’ve got things going back home – that’s a good thing. I got people on my case, I got people making arguments,” he said.
And he used Putin, who exists in a largely frictionless political environment, as an example of how leaders in anti-democratic systems can wield power.
“Do you really think that Vladimir Putin would have launched an invasion of another sovereign country if he’d had people to listen to, properly arguing, if he’d had a committee of backbenchers?” Johnson asked.
When it comes to American democracy, Johnson was similarly bullish – despite the violent attempt to overthrow it on January 6, 2021. He declined to pin blame on former President Donald Trump, with whom he cultivated a close relationship: “I’m gonna take the Fifth on this,” he said, adding: “In principle we shouldn’t talk about each others’ domestic politics. That’s for the people in the US.”
Scenes of violent chaos at the US Capitol that day shocked Americans and the world. But Johnson insisted the breach did not amount to the demise of American democracy.
“I think that reports of the death of democracy in the United States are grossly, grossly exaggerated. America is a shining city on a hill for me, and it will continue to be so,” he said, pointing to Biden’s efforts at uniting the West as evidence of a still-functioning system.
“I think that the mere fact that Joe Biden has stepped up to the plate in the way that he has, shows that the instincts of America are still very much in the right place,” he said.
Still, Johnson acknowledged the violent Capitol riot alarmed observers overseas.
“There was some weird and kind of unattractive scenes,” he said.
“Weird?” Tapper asked. “People died.”
“I mean, looking from the outside, it was pretty weird,” Johnson said. “But I don’t believe that American democracy is under serious threat. Far from it. I continue to believe that America is the greatest global guarantor of democracy and freedom.”