Outrage as U.K. hard-right leader says West provoked Ukraine war

Published - June 23, 2024 12:43 am IST - London

Nigel Farage, leader of Britain's anti-immigration Reform U.K. party, faced strong criticism on Saturday after saying that the West provoked Russia's invasion of Ukraine.

In an interview with the BBC on Friday, Mr. Farage said "we have provoked this war", while adding that "of course" it was Russian president Vladimir Putin's "fault".

Prime Minister Rishi Sunak told reporters that Mr. Farage's claim was "completely wrong and only plays into Putin's hands".

Labour leader Keir Starmer, who looks set to take Mr. Sunak's job after an election next month, said Mr. Farage's comments were "disgraceful".

"Anyone who is standing for parliament ought to be really clear that Russia is the aggressor", he told reporters on the campaign trail.

Mr. Farage — a former European Union parliamentarian who has tried and failed to run for Westminster seven times — is seeking a seat for Clacton in east England in the country's general election next month.

His party is polling third behind the ruling Conservatives and opposition Labour parties, but is only predicted to pick up a few seats.

Even so, a surge of popularity for Reform U.K. since Mr. Farage took over as leader this month risks drawing away votes that the Conservative party sorely needs to win a fifth term in power.

His comments met with outrage on Saturday.

Interior minister James Cleverly criticised Mr. Farage for "echoing Putin's vile justification for the brutal invasion of Ukraine."

Former Conservative Defence Minister Tobias Ellwood called the comments "shocking" in the Daily Telegraph newspaper, adding that "Churchill will be turning in his grave".

Meanwhile Labour's defence spokesman John Healey called the comments "disgraceful" and said his stance made him "unfit for any political office in our country".

Probed further on his views on Putin in the interview, Farage said that he "disliked him as a person" but "admired him as a political operator because he's managed to take control of running Russia".

The former Brexit figurehead, Farage is close to former US President Donald Trump, who has said he gets along with Putin "great".

Farage has also spoken about his intention to run for prime minister in 2029.

He stood by claims that Sunak, the first UK prime minister of colour, does not "understand our culture", in response to Sunak leaving D-Day commemorations in France early.

He clarified in the interview that he meant Sunak was "too upper class".

Farage's comments on Sunak — first made in a political leaders debate — also drew criticism, with one Tory minister saying they made him "very uncomfortable".

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