German Chancellor Olaf Scholz said Russian President Vladimir Putin has never threatened him or Germany, following claims by Boris Johnson that Putin threatened the former U.K. prime minister with a missile strike.
“Putin didn’t threaten me or Germany” in the phone conversations the chancellor has had with the Russian leader, Scholz told German newspaper Bild in an interview published Sunday.
In a British documentary that aired last week, Johnson revealed that Putin threatened him in a long phone call in February 2022 just before Russia invaded Ukraine. “He said ‘Boris, I don’t want to hurt you but, with a missile, it would only take a minute’ — something like that,” Boris said in the documentary, referring to Putin.
Johnson said he took the Russian leader’s threat to be “playing along” with attempts to get him to negotiate over Ukraine. The Kremlin has denied any threat.
Pushed in the Bild interview on whether Scholz had also received similar threats during phone calls with the Russian leader, the chancellor said “no.”
In his phone calls with Putin, “I make it very clear to Putin that Russia has sole responsibility for the war,” Scholz said. “In our telephone conversations, our very different positions on the war in Ukraine become very clear,” he said.
The chancellor also denied that Germany’s decision to deliver Leopard 2 tanks to Ukraine was a threat to Russia.
He said that Germany is delivering battle tanks to Ukraine, along with other allies including the U.S., so that Kyiv “can defend itself.”
“This joint approach prevents an escalation of the war,” Scholz said.
Scholz’s comments come as Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy warned that “the situation is getting tougher” on the front lines of the war in the east of the country. Moscow is throwing in “more and more of its forces to break our defenses. Now, it is very difficult in Bakhmut, Vuhledar, near Lyman, and other directions,” Zelenskyy said in his nightly address late Saturday.
The U.K. Ministry of Defense said on Sunday that Bakhmut “is increasingly isolated” following Russian advances in the area. “The two main roads into the city for Ukrainian defenders are likely now both threatened by direct fire, following the Russian advances,” the ministry said in a tweet.
As battles rage in eastern Ukraine, an early mediator between Russia and Ukraine at the start of the war — former Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett who served for just six months last year — revealed that Putin early in the invasion had promised not to kill Zelenskyy. In an interview with the Associated Press published Sunday, Bennett said that during a visit to Moscow in March 2022 he asked Putin if the Kremlin was planning to try to kill the Ukrainian leader.
“He said ‘I won’t kill Zelenskyy.’ I then said to him ‘I have to understand that you’re giving me your word that you won’t kill Zelenskyy.’ He said ‘I’m not going to kill Zelenskyy,’” Bennett told the AP. Bennett said that after his meeting, he called Zelenskyy to inform him of Putin’s comments.
The Kremlin has previously denied Ukrainian claims that Russia intended to assassinate Zelenskyy.