Why Boris Johnson remains keen to push the Ukraine narrative

On a day when any ordinary mortal would be feeling a bit sheepish, Boris Johnson did what he does best – bluster through as if nothing had happened.

Following survival of his party’s no-confidence vote – albeit with more of his MPs voting against him than he would like – Mr Johnson quickly worked to shift the focus onto something he believes has boosted his image – his handling of the war in Ukraine.

Education secretary Nadhim Zahawi was quickly propelled onto TV screens on Monday night to say Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelensky would be “punching the air” at the news Mr Johnson had survived the vote. Mr Zelensky himself played into the Prime Minister’s hands with his own comments on Tuesday morning.

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“I am very happy about this,” he said. “Boris Johnson is a true friend of Ukraine. I regard him as our ally and Great Britain as a great ally.”

Prime Minister Boris Johnson in front of a live video feed showing Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy at the Tate Modern in London last month.

There has been a bit of a mutual back-scratching exercise going on between these two for a while. Mr Zelensky sees Mr Johnson’s apparent refusal to be concerned by threatening Kremlin rhetoric, plus handing out the second highest level of military aid to Ukraine of any country apart from the US, as a useful tool in his parade around foreign parliaments. Meanwhile, cynics could argue Mr Johnson regards his profile as an ally of Ukraine as a useful deflection from matters at home, where the Prime Minister has received a fixed penalty notice for breaches of Covid rules.

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In April, Mr Zelensky said the leadership shown by Mr Johnson would “go down in history” after he took the train to Kyiv and joined him on a walkabout in the Ukrainian capital.

By mid-morning on Tuesday, Mr Johnson himself was fuelling the wartime leader narrative, tweeting a picture of himself on the phone with Mr Zelensky.

“President [Zelensky] just updated me on the ongoing battle against Russian aggression in the Donbas,” he said, clearly communicating a business-as-usual message.

There is little doubt the Ukraine situation has saved him. Some MPs said openly they were worried about a change in leadership during a time of conflict, perhaps winning him a few extra votes of support. It remains to be seen how long the effect will last.

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