LONDON (Reuters) – Britain is not aiming for regime change in Russia or to remove President Vladimir Putin, Prime Minister Boris Johnson said on Wednesday, saying the goal was to help to protect Ukrainians in the war.
U.S. President Joe Biden has said that Putin “cannot remain in power”, later saying his words reflected his moral outrage at Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and not a U.S. policy shift.
Asked about Biden’s comment, Johnson said he understood “the frustrations that people feel about Putin”.
“To desire a change of government in itself is not an ignoble thing … that’s the objective of a lot of democratic politics,” Johnson told lawmakers at a committee hearing.
“But let’s be absolutely clear, it’s not the objective of the UK government, and it’s very, very important that everybody gets this. We are simply setting out to help to protect the people of Ukraine, and to protect them against absolutely barbaric and unreasonable violence.”
Some G7 leaders have maintained direct dialogue with Putin. French President Emmanuel Macron and German Chancellor Olaf Sholz have held calls with Russia’s president since the war started.
Asked whether Macron had been speaking to Putin for too long, Johnson said that the unity of the G7 and NATO should be prioritised. He said the question of “the value of those of those negotiations (with Putin) is an open one.”
“My view is that, that Putin is plainly not to be to be trusted,” Johnson said.
Johnson said pressure should be maintained on Putin through sanctions even if a ceasefire was agreed.
“I certainly don’t think that you could expect the G7 to lift sanctions simply because there’s been a ceasefire in Ukraine. That again goes straight into Putin’s playbook,” Johnson said.
“In my view, we should continue to intensify sanctions with a rolling programme until every single one of his troops is out of Ukraine.”
(Reporting by Kylie MacLellan and Alistair Smout; editing by William James)