Boris Johnson has said Vladimir Putin will not use nuclear weapons, comparing the Russian president to “the fat boy in Dickens” who wants to “make our flesh creep” with hollow threats.
The former UK prime minister was speaking at a breakfast event on Ukraine at the World Economic Forum in Davos, where he was introduced as a “legendary figure” in Ukraine.
Asked what he thought was going through Mr Putin’s mind, Mr Johnson warned against spending too much time obsessing about the Russian leader or worrying about the escalation of the conflict.
Mr Johnson said: “Putin wants to present it as a nuclear stand-off between Nato and Russia.
“Nonsense. He’s not going to use nuclear weapons, OK. He’s like the fat boy in Dickens, he wants to make our flesh creep. He wants us to think about it. He’s never going to do it.”
The ex-prime minister is known to pepper his speech with literary references, here citing a servant character in Charles Dickens’ novel, The Pickwick Papers, known as the fat boy, who tells an old lady “I wants to make your flesh creep” with a shocking revelation.
Mr Johnson argued that deploying nuclear weapons would put the Russian president into “a complete economic cryogenic paralysis”, turn states such as China and India against him, and “terrify the Russians”.
“He’s not going to do it. Don’t go down that rabbit hole, stop it,” Mr Johnson added.
Always strong support of the UK is now impenetrable and ready for challenges. In a conversation with the Prime Minister, @RishiSunak, I thanked for the decisions that will not only strengthen us on the battlefield, but also send the right signal to other partners.
— Володимир Зеленський (@ZelenskyyUa) January 14, 2023
Mr Johnson also urged the audience to “stop worrying about Kremlinology”, quipping: “It’s difficult to work out what’s gonna happen in UK politics, let alone in the Kremlin.”
He continued: “What we’ve got to focus on is supporting Ukraine and giving Volodymyr Zelenskiy the tools he needs to finish the job. And they can win and they will win…
“Give them the tanks.”
Mr Johnson was joined on the discussion panel by speakers including Dutch prime minister, Mark Rutte; Yulia Svyrydenko, first vice prime minister of Ukraine; US climate envoy John Kerry and Canada’s deputy prime minister, Chrystia Freeland.
Ms Freeland used an ice hockey analogy to call for more Western support for Ukraine, saying: “I don’t skate to where the puck is. I skate to where the puck is going. This puck is going to Ukrainian victory, so let’s skate there.”
Mr Johnson chimed in: “Tell Putin to get the puck out of Ukraine”, prompting laughter from the audience.
Ukrainian president Mr Zelenskiy reiterated his call for countries to move faster in supplying weapons as he addressed the event by video link.
“The vaccine against Russian tyranny is available,” he said.
The UK has announced plans to supply Kyiv with British Army Challenger 2 main battle tanks.
UK prime minister Rishi Sunak and chancellor Jeremy Hunt are steering clear of the annual gathering of international movers and shakers in the exclusive Swiss ski resort, although the British government is being represented by business secretary Grant Shapps and international trade secretary Kemi Badenoch.