Glee in Russia and sadness in Ukraine as Boris Johnson quits

·4 min read
<span>Photograph: EPA</span>
Photograph: EPA

Boris Johnson’s downfall has been met with delight and ridicule in Moscow, while in Kyiv Volodymyr Zelenskiy expressed sadness at the resignation of his key ally.

Johnson, who championed weapons transfers to Ukraine in the early stages of the war and was the first leader of a G7 country to visit Kyiv in April, has emerged as a much-loved figure in Ukraine. “We all heard this news [of Johnson’s resignation] with sadness,” Zelenskiy said in a statement after the two leaders spoke by phone. “Not only me, but also the entire Ukrainian society, which is very sympathetic to you.

“We have no doubt that Great Britain’s support will be preserved, but your personal leadership and charisma made it special.”

In a separate Instagram post, Zelenskiy addressed Johnson as a “friend”, writing that “all Ukrainians were saddened by the news of the resignation of the leader of the Conservative party”.

In Russia Johnson’s support for Ukraine made him a frequent target for state media. The Kremlin described him as the “most active anti-Russian leader”.

“He doesn’t like us. We don’t like him either,” Vladimir Putin’s spokesperson, Dmitry Peskov, said on Thursday morning.

As news of Johnson’s looming resignation reached Moscow, other senior Russian officials and Kremlin-linked businesspeople used stronger words, saying he had finally got his reward for arming Ukraine against Russia.

“The moral of the story – do not seek to destroy Russia. Russia cannot be destroyed. You can break your teeth on it, and then choke on them,” the foreign ministry spokesperson Maria Zakharova wrote on Telegram.

The deputy chair of Russia’s security council, Dmitry Medvedev, gloated that Johnson’s resignation was “the logical result of British arrogance and mediocre policy”.

“Ukraine’s best friends are departing. We are waiting for news from Germany, Poland and the Baltic states,” the former Russian president wrote on Telegram.

Russia’s leading businessman, Oleg Deripaska, said it was an “inglorious end” for a “stupid clown” whose conscience would be plagued by “tens of thousands of lives in this senseless conflict in Ukraine”.

Others used the opportunity to mock Johnson’s recent statements. The Russian embassy in the UK tweeted a Bloomberg headline from last month, which quoted him as saying he planned to stay on as prime minister until the mid-2030s. “Something must have gone wrong,” the embassy’s caption above the headline said.

In Ukraine one adviser to the president, who requested anonymity because he was not authorised to speak on the subject, similarly said: “We believe that the UK will remain an important ally, but we are of course saddened. There was a genuine personal bond between the two leaders.”

Mikhail Podolyak, another adviser to the Ukrainian president, thanked Johnson in a video address for “realising the threat of the Russian Federation monster and always being at the forefront of supporting Ukraine”.

He said: “Mr Johnson is a person who began to call a spade a spade from the beginning … Thanks to Mr Johnson we understand that victory is a real symbol of the future of Ukraine.”

Zelenskiy’s office has made no secret of its fondness for Johnson, repeatedly praising him as an example to other world leaders.

When Johnson survived a confidence vote in April, Zelenskiy said he was “very happy” that Ukraine had not lost an important ally.

Johnson, too, appeared to cherish his relationship with Zelenskiy, which he was accused by critics of using to distract from scandals at home.

On the day of the confidence vote, Johnson tweeted an image of himself in 10 Downing Street speaking to Zelenskiy on the phone, along with a message offering long-term support for Ukraine.

As his ratings at home hit dramatic lows, his popularity on the streets of Kyiv, where he was affectionately known by many as Borys Johnsoniuk, only grew over time.

A poll published in June showed that Johnson was the most popular foreign leader in Ukraine, with a 90% approval rating, just three percentage points behind Zelenskiy.

A hipster bakery chain in Kyiv even dedicated a pastry to him in the form of an apple cake topped with a frilly coating of meringue, to reflect his signature mop of unkempt hair.

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