Kremlin dismisses Boris Johnson’s claim Vladimir Putin threatened to kill him with missile in call ahead of Russian invasion of Ukraine
The Kremlin has called Boris Johnson a liar and denied claims made by the ex-PM that Vladimir Putin threatened to kill him with a missile in a call ahead of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
The former prime minister has alleged the Russian leader told him “I don’t want to hurt you, but with a missile, it would only take a minute” in an “extraordinary” conversation which took place in February after he had visited Kyiv.
However, on Monday, the Kremlin accused Mr Johnson of lying, with spokesman Dmitry Peskov telling reporters what he said was not true, or “more precisely, a lie”.
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“There were no threats of missiles,” Mr Peskov said.
“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.”
Mr Peskov said President Putin had told Mr Johnson if Ukraine joined NATO, it would mean US or NATO missiles placed near Russia’s borders would be able to reach Moscow in a matter of minutes, and suggested that there may have been a misunderstanding.
“If that’s how this passage was understood, then it’s a very awkward situation,” Mr Peskov added.
Mr Johnson, who became a key backer of Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy’s administration in the months after Russia invaded, made the claim as part of a new BBC Two series looking at how the West grappled with Mr Putin in the years before the war.
The former PM recalled that on the visit to Kyiv he warned Mr Putin that an invasion of Ukraine would be disastrous and there would be tougher Western sanctions on Russia if he did so.
Mr Johnson also said he told the Russian leader that the escalation would only see Western states increase support for Ukraine, meaning “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 perfectively well’,” Mr Johnson said of the call with Mr Putin.
“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.
“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.”
Earlier this month, Mr Johnson made a surprise visit to Ukraine amid renewed scrutiny over his personal finances.
He said it was a “privilege” to be invited to the war-torn nation by Mr Zelenskyy, with whom he had a close working relationship during his time in office.
Downing Street indicated Rishi Sunak was “supportive” of the visit, after claims it could undermine his authority on foreign policy.
Mr Johnson was pictured visiting Borodianka near Kyiv – a town heavily damaged by the Russian invasion.
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In a statement, Mr Johnson said: “The suffering of the people of Ukraine has gone on for too long.
“The only way to end this war is for Ukraine to win – and to win as fast as possible. This is the moment to double down and to give the Ukrainians all the tools they need to finish the job.”
A spokesperson for Mr Johnson added that he fully supports UK government policy on Ukraine, including the recent decision to send Challenger 2 tanks.
The ex-prime minister pitched himself as a key ally of Kyiv during his time in Number 10, providing support and calling on Western allies to follow suit in the early days of Russia’s invasion last February.
As his scandal-plagued premiership unravelled, Mr Johnson was accused of using trips to Ukraine or phone calls with Mr Zelenskyy as a distraction for crises at home.
His latest trip came amid allegations BBC chairman Richard Sharp helped the former prime minister arrange a guarantee for a loan – and that Mr Johnson later recommended Mr Sharp for the role of BBC chair.
Mr Johnson’s spokesperson has denied the report as “rubbish”.
Senior Tories raised concerns about the trip, with Commons defence select committee chair Tobias Ellwood telling the newspaper that Mr Johnson should “not interfere with the messaging or the official lines of communication” between London and Kyiv.
At least 35 people killed after falling into well during celebration at Indian temple
At least 35 people have died after the roof of a stepwell collapsed, plunging scores of people tens of feet down into the well.
The army was called in last night to help with rescue operations that have gone on for over 18 hours.
The incident took place at the Baleshwar Mahadev temple in Indore, Madhya Pradesh.
Devotees had thronged the temple on Ram Navami, one of the most auspicious days in the Hindu calendar which celebrates the birth of Lord Rama.
Dr Ilayaraja, the District Collector of Indore, said “a total of 35 people died, one missing and 14 people have been rescued. Two people returned home safely after getting treatment. The search operation to trace persons reported missing is underway.”
A fire ritual (Havan) was being conducted on the concrete slab covering the stepwell where the devotees had gathered. The platform could not take the weight of the many on it and gave way.
Mahesh Chandra Jain, of the state Disaster Emergency and Response Force, said the army joined the rescue operation late on Thursday.
“Seventy army soldiers started the rescue and recovered at least 16 bodies buried under the debris of the roof in the stepwell.”
The National Disaster Relief Force (NDRF), police and locals have been engaged in rescue operations. Unable to reach some areas of the well, the authorities requested for military help.
Mr Jain said: “We were facing difficulty in rescue operation because water is continuously coming out of the stepwell.”
In a tweet Prime Minister Narendra Modi said: “Extremely pained by the mishap in Indore.
“Spoke to Chief Minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan and took an update on the situation. The State Government is spearheading rescue and relief work at a quick pace. My prayers are with all those affected and their families.”
Chief Minister Shivraj Singh Chauhan has ordered a magisterial inquiry into the incident. “I have given instructions to investigate the incident. In this unfortunate incident, the government stands with all those families with full sensitivity, whom we could not save.”
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The temple head priest Laxminarayan Sharma, who was rescued, said that due to construction in the temple the fire ritual was conducted on the stepwell platform.
“The roof was constructed without any concrete and was supported by putting stone slabs and concrete by fitting iron rods”, he added.
Images from the site showed many people including women and children trapped in a mesh of iron rods and concrete debris.
There are reports that residents of the area had made prior complaints to the municipal corporation regarding the safety of the temple.
The families of those killed have demanded action against the temple trust.
UK to join Indo-Pacific trade bloc in biggest trade deal since Brexit
The UK is set to join the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership – known as CPTPP – in what the government says is its biggest trade deal since Brexit.
The CPTPP is a free trade agreement between 11 countries across the Indo-Pacific – namely Australia, Brunei, Canada, Chile, Japan, Malaysia, Mexico, New Zealand, Peru, Singapore and Vietnam.
The partnership sees the countries open up their markets to one another, reducing trade barriers and tariffs, with the hope of bolstering the economies of its members.
When it joins, the UK will become the first European country to enter the agreement, and the government claims it will lead to a £1.8bn boost to the economy “in the long run”.
The deal has been praised by a number of business groups, including the CBI, Standard Chartered and Pernod Ricard.
But other trade experts have warned it will not make up for the economic hit caused by leaving the trade bloc of the European Union.
Zero tariffs for cheese, cars, chocolate and gin
The UK began negotiations to join the bloc in September 2021 when Boris Johnson was in Downing Street.
The signatory countries of the CPTPP are home to 500 million people and the government claims after the UK joins, it will be worth 15% of global GDP.
Number 10 said as a result of becoming a member, more than 99% of goods exported from the UK to the list of countries would be eligible for zero tariffs, including cheese, cars, chocolate, machinery, gin and whisky.
And it said the services industry would benefit too, with “reduced red tape and greater access to growing Pacific markets”.
Commenting on the announcement, Prime Minister Rishi Sunak said the agreement “puts the UK at the centre of a dynamic and growing group of Pacific economies”.
He added: “We are at our heart an open and free-trading nation, and this deal demonstrates the real economic benefits of our post-Brexit freedoms.
“As part of CPTPP, the UK is now in a prime position in the global economy to seize opportunities for new jobs, growth and innovation.”
The final administrative and legal steps will now take place, before the UK formally signs up in 2023.
‘EU should be priority’
The announcement was welcomed by the interim director general of business group the CBI, Matthew Fell, who called it “a real milestone for the UK and for British industry”.
He added: “Not only does the agreement provide greater access to a group of fast growth economies representing 14% of global GDP and over 500 million consumers, but membership reinforces the UK’s commitment to building partnerships in an increasingly fragmented world.
“CPTPP countries and business need to work together to future-proof the rules-based trading system and stimulate growth with a focus on digital, services and resilient supply chains.”
However, while the Institute of Directors it was “vital the UK signs trade deals to restore our international reputation since Brexit”, it said “complete reorientation” to the Indo-Pacific would not solve “the very real problem that businesses currently face – namely that they have many more trade related challenges than they did six years ago”.
They added: “From our surveys, directors have told us that the EU-UK relationship is a priority issue the government needs to address in order to support business.
“UK companies still rely on the long established links they have with EU markets, which are directly on our doorstep and with whom they have closer historical ties.
“The Indo-Pacific strategy will open up important opportunities for UK businesses, but the government must not forfeit the significance of our relationship with the EU in order to do so.”
Donald Trump faces criminal charges over alleged hush money payment to adult film actress Stormy Daniels
Donald Trump has been indicted on criminal charges arising from an alleged hush money payment to an adult film actress.
A grand jury in New York voted to indict Trump over possible offences related to a $130,000 (£105,000) payment to Stormy Daniels during the 2016 presidential election campaign.
It was allegedly made in exchange for Daniels’ silence about an alleged sexual encounter she said she had with Trump a decade earlier.
He is the first former US president to face criminal charges in court, even as he makes a bid to retake the White House in 2024.
Trump, a Republican, said he was “completely innocent” and called the indictment “political persecution”, with his lawyers saying they will “vigorously fight” it.
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The Manhattan district attorney’s investigation centred on accusations of money paid to Daniels and former Playboy model Karen McDougal, whom Trump allegedly feared would go public with claims they had extramarital sexual encounters with him.
Trump, 76, has denied having affairs with either woman.
His former personal lawyer Michael Cohen said he co-ordinated with Trump on the payments to Daniels, real name Stephanie Clifford, and also to McDougal.
Cohen pleaded guilty to campaign finance violations in 2018 related to the payments and served more than a year in prison.
Federal prosecutors said Cohen acted at Trump’s direction.
Trump said: “The Democrats have lied, cheated and stolen in their obsession with trying to ‘Get Trump,’ but now they’ve done the unthinkable – indicting a completely innocent person in an act of blatant election interference.”
“Never before in our nation’s history has this been done.”
He added: “I believe this witch-hunt will backfire massively on Joe Biden.”
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Trump was expected to surrender to authorities next week.
He has denied any wrongdoing and has repeatedly attacked the investigation by district attorney Alvin Bragg.
His office has spent nearly five years investigating Trump and the grand jury has been hearing its evidence since January.
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On Twitter, one of Trump’s sons, Eric, wrote: “This is third world prosecutorial misconduct. It is the opportunistic targeting of a political opponent in a campaign year.”
Amid speculation in recent weeks that the former American leader was due to be indicted, Trump urged his supporters to protest against the authorities if he was detained.
He published a long statement describing the investigation as a “political witch-hunt trying to take down the leading candidate, by far, in the Republican Party”.
“I did absolutely nothing wrong,” he said, before criticising a “corrupt, depraved and weaponised justice system”.
Other ongoing cases Trump faces include a Georgia election interference probe and two federal investigations into his role in the 6 January 2001 insurrection at the US Capitol.
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