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Putin’s victory would mean a “new era of intimidation”, warns Boris Johnson

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Western nations must never “renormalize” relations with Vladimir Putin, Boris Johnson has said, warning that Russia’s war in Ukraine has created a moment of choice for the world between freedom and oppression.

The Russian leader’s victory would usher in a “new era of bullying” in Eastern Europe and give autocrats around the world a green light, he said.

The comments came as Russian forces fired a Kinzhal hypersonic missile for the first time in combat, targeting a Ukrainian weapons depot, and moved deeper into the defeated Ukrainian port city of Mariupol.

In the southern city of Mykolaiv, a rescue mission was underway after Russian troops attacked a Ukrainian barracks where soldiers were sleeping. Witnesses reported seeing dozens of bodies in the rubble, and local officials said at least 50 had died.

Addressing the Conservative spring conference in Blackpool on Saturday, Johnson described the war as a “turning point for the world”.

“It is a time of choice. It is a choice between freedom and oppression,” she said.

“I know there are some around the world, even in some Western governments… who say it’s better to make deals with tyranny. I think they are deeply mistaken and trying to normalize relations with Putin after this, as we did in 2014, would be making exactly the same mistake.”

Putin is terrified by the prospect of being overthrown by a revolution in Russia inspired by the example of freedom and democracy in Ukraine, he said.

Standing up to Moscow and boycotting Russian oil meant economic pain for Britain, he said, “but the cost of doing nothing would be much, much higher.”

Johnson dismissed Putin’s alleged fears of Ukraine joining NATO and planting missiles on its territory as a justification for the invasion, along with his “Nostradamus meets Russian Wikipedia” essay questioning the existence of a separate Ukrainian people.

Instead, he said, the Russian president’s real motive for his brutal attack was his fear that the Russian people wanted to follow Ukraine’s example of free elections and freedom of expression.

“Ukraine has a free press and in Ukraine they have free elections,” the prime minister said. “With each year that Ukraine advances, not always easily, towards freedom and democracy, it fears the Ukrainian example and fears the implicit reproach it makes of itself.

“In Putin’s Russia, you can be jailed for 15 years for calling an invasion an invasion. If you go up against Putin in an election, you get poisoned or shot.

“It is precisely because Ukraine and Russia have historically been so close that he has been terrified of the effects of that Ukrainian model on him and Russia.

“He is in total panic about the so-called ‘color revolution’ in Moscow itself, and that is why he is trying to extinguish the flame of freedom in Ukraine.

“And that is why it is vital that it fails, because a victorious Putin will not stop at Ukraine.”

Johnson assured Ukrainian Ambassador Vadym Prystaiko, who was present in Blackpool and won a standing ovation from delegates, that: “We stand with the Ukrainian people and our hearts go out to them.”

And he warned: “The end of freedom in Ukraine will mean the extinction of any hope of freedom in Georgia and Moldova, it will be the beginning of a new era of intimidation throughout Eastern Europe, from the Baltic to the Black Sea. , and a green light for autocrats everywhere.”

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