Nigel Farage claims Russia was provoked into Ukraine war

Nigel Farage has said the EU and Nato “provoked” Russia’s invasion of Ukraine by expanding eastwards, as the Reform UK leader was challenged over a series of policies and beliefs in a sometimes combative TV interview.

Speaking to BBC’s Panorama on Friday evening, Farage also said Brexit would have benefited the UK economically if he had been running the country, and that many of the Reform candidates criticised for saying offensive things had been “stitched up in the most extraordinary way”.

Challenged on his beliefs over the invasion of Ukraine, and his stated admiration for Vladimir Putin, Farage said he disliked the Russian president personally but “admired him as a political operator” because of the extent of his control over Russia.

On why Putin invaded Ukraine, Farage said: “I stood up in the European parliament in 2014 and I said: ‘There will be a war in Ukraine.’ Why did I say that? It was obvious to me that the ever-eastward expansion of Nato and the European Union was giving this man a reason … to say: ‘They’re coming for us again,’ and to go to war.”

He added: “We provoked this war. Of course it’s his fault, he’s used what we’ve done as an excuse.”

The Conservatives, Labour and the Liberal Democrats have long accused Farage of being an apologist for the Russian president.

James Cleverly, the home secretary, criticised Farage’s comments, saying he was “echoing Putin’s vile justification for the brutal invasion of Ukraine”, while the former defence secretary Ben Wallace said the Reform leader was voicing “sympathy” to someone who “deployed nerve agents on the streets of Britain”.

John Healey, the shadow defence secretary, called the comments “disgraceful”, adding that Farage has “shown that he would rather lick Vladimir Putin’s boot than stand up for the people of Ukraine. That makes him unfit for any political office in our country, let alone leading a serious party in parliament.”

Earlier this year Rishi Sunak said it was “clearly ridiculous” to blame the west for the war.

Elsewhere in the interview, one of a series hosted by Nick Robinson with party leaders, Farage accepted that a claim he made saying the UK had moved from being the “world’s seventh-biggest exporter to the world’s fourth-biggest exporter” after Brexit referred only to services.

Asked why exports in goods had not similarly benefited, Farage blamed net zero policies, saying they had “de-industrialised Britain”. On the economic effects of Brexit, he said: “If you put me in charge it’d be very, very different, but of course they didn’t do that did they?”

Challenged over his support at the time for Liz Truss’s disastrous mini-budget, Farage praised it for having “a lot of things here that were pro-growth and pro-business”, while saying it was undermined by not including matched cuts in spending.

Asking about Reform’s own fiscal plans, set out this week in the party’s manifesto, Robinson seemed unconvinced by Farage’s explanations as to how the party would cut public spending enough to make mass tax cuts.

“Well, number one, we will get people off the unemployment register into work,” Farage said. Robinson replied: “That’s not going to raise you £140bn a year. You were on I’m a Celebrity – you should have been on Fantasy Island.”

Discussing migration, Farage repeatedly said that people arriving in the UK could bring their mothers with them, which is not the case. On net zero, asked if he still believed King Charles was “an eco-loony”, Farage replied: “He wasn’t the king then, and I can’t speak ill of the monarch obviously.”

Robinson also questioned Farage about comments from a series of Reform’s election candidates, including one who said the UK should have taken Adolf Hitler’s “offer of neutrality” instead of fighting the Nazis.

Reform has since blamed a vetting company it employed for failing to check what candidates had said. But Farage appeared to play down the seriousness of many of the comments, saying: “We’ve also had an awful lot of candidates being stitched up in the most extraordinary way with quotes being taken out of context.”

Robinson replied: “So, you can’t run vetting but you could find £140bn in public spending savings?”

Asked if Reform attracted such people because of his own views, Farage called this “cobblers, absolute cobblers”, quoting Martin Luther King and saying he believed in meritocracy.

Asked why he once praised Enoch Powell and criticised Rishi Sunak by saying he “doesn’t understand our culture”, Farage said this simply referred to the prime minister being “too upper-class”.

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