Vladimir Putin sees himself as heir to the brutal Soviet dictator Joseph Stalin, Boris Johnson has said.
The prime minister also believed the Russian leader’s threat of using nuclear weapons over his invasion of Ukraine is a “complete distraction” and part of his ploy “to get away with it”.
The prime minister said he had never witnessed such “a clear difference between good and evil” with the Russian leader unleashing a war “to conquer and subjugate, to crush a totally innocent country”.
Describing it as a fight for democracy, he pointed out that like in the UK, people in Ukraine could vote out their politicians, but if they challenged Mr Putin they were “probably going to be shot or poisoned”.
Mr Johnson made his comments in an interview with FYI, Sky News’ weekly current affairs show for young people, as the Kremlin continued its deadly onslaught against Ukraine.
Pressed over concerns about the use of nuclear weapons and the threat of World War Three, the Tory leader said: “This is a conventional war by Vladimir Putin to conquer and subjugate, to crush a totally innocent country and a totally innocent civilian population who’ve done nothing wrong – none of them.
“And in what he’s doing I’ve never seen such a clear difference between good and evil.
“And I think that what he wants is to get away with it and in order to get away with it, he’s going to try to sound threatening to the rest of the world about what could happen, including use of the types of weapons that you describe.
“But I think it is very important that we treat that as a complete distraction.
“This is about helping the people of Ukraine to protect themselves. They have every right to defend themselves.”
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Mr Johnson also promised more sanctions against Moscow, but warned it was not a short-term solution.
“I think that will tighten the screw, tighten the vice further on Putin’s regime,” he said
“But I’m not going to pretend it’s going to work overnight and we’ve got to be ready to keep going for a while.”
Warning against allowing the Russian leader to frame the war as him pitted against the West, Mr Johnson said: “It’s about him trying to crush Ukraine and other people around the world think that’s not fair.”
He added: “I think that he is a guy who grew up in the Cold War. He’s a secret service man. He’s a KGB man, he’s a Russian spy.
“He thinks in a very adversarial way towards the West. He believes the West, countries like ours, are trying to encircle Russia and threaten Russia.
“And he’s obsessed with that idea, and he’s wrong.”
Mr Johnson added: “I think he sees himself as being the successor in a way, not just of Stalin, but of the tsars, and he sees himself as somebody in the tradition of an all-powerful Russian autocrat, that’s how he sees himself.”
Mr Johnson also defended the government’s response to the refugee crisis, triggered by the war, which has faced criticism.
He said: “The UK doesn’t have a border, so we haven’t received the first wave, but we are taking many, many more now as people decide to come on to the UK and that’s right.
“We’ve got an amazing record as a country for taking people.
“We understand the importance of it and the benefit that refugees get, but also the benefit that the country gets from from taking people in.”
Asked if he would be offering a home to any refugees in Downing Street, he said: “I’m the temporary occupant of this place. It is up to others to decide how that would work.”
Despite the problems he has faced in office, Mr Johnson also said he wanted to carry on in the job.
“There are some members of the opposition who would like to remove me from office, but that’s their job. My job is to my job is to continue.”
He added: “The great thing about democratic politics is that we have a system whereby the people can remove you and that’s what they don’t have in Russia and it’s what they have in Ukraine.
“In Ukraine, the people could vote out. In Russia, if you stand against Vladimir Putin, you’re probably going to be shot or poisoned.
“That’s the difference. That’s why Ukraine matters.”
You can watch the full interview with Boris Johnson on FYI on Sky Kids this weekend and on Sky News at 10.30am 3.30pm 4.30pm on Saturday and Sunday.