LONDON: Nigel Farage, leader of Britain’s anti-immigration Reform UK 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, Farage said “We’ve provoked this war”, while adding that “of course” it was Russian president Vladimir Putin’s “fault”.

British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak told reporters that Farage’s claim was “completely wrong and only plays into Putin’s hands”, likening the comments to “appeasement”.

Labour leader Keir Starmer, who looks set to take Sunak’s job after an election next month, said 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.

Farage — a former European Union parliamentarian who has tried and failed to run for the UK parliament seven times — is seeking a seat from Clacton in east England in a general election next month. His party is polling third behind the ruling Conservatives and opposition Labour parties, and is predicted to pick up a few seats.

Sunak, Starmer hit out at hard-right leader’s remarks

A surge of popularity for Reform UK since Farage took over as leader this month risks drawing away votes that the Conservatives sorely need to win a fifth term in power.

Russian media

Farage’s comments met with outrage across political parties on Saturday. Interior minister James Cleverly criticised 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 British wartime leader Winston Churchill “will be turning in his grave”.

Labour’s defence spokesman John Healey called the comments “disgraceful” and said his stance made him “unfit for any political office in our country”. The opposition Liberal Democrat party leader Ed Davey added that he did not “share any values” with Farage.

Probed 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”. Russian media, however, was more enthusiastic about Farage’s interview.

A newsreader on Russian state-owned Channel One said on the broadcast that Farage was “an experienced politician who follows the moods of the electorate”. The channel added on X that he was among the European politicians “showing enlightenment and sanity”.

Kremlin propagandist and show host Olga Skabeyeva wrote on Telegram: “‘We provoked the war in Ukraine’ — the leader of the Reform UK is trying to win the votes of those English people who do not want to go to war with Ukraine”.

Published in Dawn, June 23rd, 2024

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