Peace talks to end the war in Ukraine are doomed because Vladimir Putin cannot be trusted, Boris Johnson has said.
Accusing the Russian president of a complete failure to approach talks in good faith, Mr Johnson said it was clear Putin was seeking to grab territory to use as leverage in talks – and could even launch another assault on capital Kyiv for that purpose.
Insisting that Putin cannot be viewed as a “valid interlocutor”, he asked: “How can you negotiate with a crocodile when it’s got your leg in its jaws? That is the difficulty that the Ukrainians face.”
While stressing that any decisions on Ukraine’s future must be for the country’s people and president Volodymyr Zelensky, Mr Johnson said that it was “very hard” to see how they could enter negotiations with Putin.
He said that Mr Zelensky was taking a “pretty maximalist” approach towards the position of the eastern Donbas region in any talks, insisting that Russian forces must withdraw from positions in Donetsk and Luhansk seized in 2014.
But he suggested that the Ukrainian president may have given up on hopes of regaining Crimea saying that Zelensky was “not as maximalist” about Russia quitting the peninsula.
Speaking to reporters on his two-day trade trip to India, Mr Johnson said: “It’s very hard to see how the Ukrainians can negotiate with Putin, given his manifest lack of good faith and his strategy, which is evident, to try to engulf and capture as much of Ukraine as he can and then perhaps to have some sort of negotiation from a position of strength – or even launch another assualt on Kyiv.
“I really don’t see how the Ukrainians can easily sit down and come to some kind of accommodation. How can you negotiate with a crocodile when it’s got your leg in its jaws? That is the difficulty that the Ukrainians face.”
Mr Johnson said that in phone talks on Tuesday with G7 leaders, including US president Joe Biden, and Ukraine’s neighbors Poland and Romania, it was agreed to stick to the existing support towards Kyiv.
“Keep going with the strategy, keep supplying them with the things they need to help them defend themselves, particularly with artillery,” said the prime minister.
“This is turning into a conflict of heavy artillery exchanges and the UK is doing a lot to supply Soviet-era shells, in addition to the 150 armored vehicles we have announced.”
He added: “The view of the president of Ukraine, if I have understood him correctly, is that he would actually like Russian forces to be expelled from their existing positions in Donetsk and Luhansk. That’s a pretty maximalist position.
“On Crimea, they are not so maximalist.
“I don’t see how Putin can be a valid interlocutor, I really don’t see that. But that’s for the Ukrainians.”
Ukraine is likely to be a sore point in Mr Johnson’s talks with Indian PM Narendra Modi on Friday, as India has sharply increased its imports of Russian oil in recent months, taking advantage of discounted prices resulting from international sanctions.
But Downing Street said that the PM will not “lecture” Modi on the need to cut off ties with Moscow, but will engage “constructively” on alternative ways for Delhi to source its energy and defense needs.