DALLAS — Britain may need fallen out of affection with Boris Johnson. However Ukraine’s allies within the U.S. reckon the charismatic ex-prime minister remains to be the right messenger to shore up assist for the battle in wavering Republican heartlands.
Professional-Ukraine assume tankers on Monday introduced Johnson to a personal lunch in Dallas, Texas, to satisfy two dozen of the state’s main conservative figures, together with politicians, donors and captains of trade.
The message Johnson was there to ship was easy: America should keep the course in Ukraine.
“I simply urge you all to keep it up,” Johnson advised these seated within the grand, wood-panelled eating room in downtown Dallas, the place POLITICO was additionally in attendance. “It’ll repay massively in the long term.”
The previous U.Ok. prime minister flew to Texas as a rising variety of conservative lawmakers, candidates and activists have began to query the scale of the U.S. assist package deal for Ukraine because it makes an attempt to battle again towards the invasion launched by Russian President Vladimir Putin in February 2022.
Political tensions over the battle are anticipated to rise additional because the 2024 U.S. election attracts nearer.
The 2 most high-profile potential candidates for the Republican nomination — former President Donald Trump and Florida Governor Ron DeSantis — have each voiced skepticism about America’s unwavering assist for Ukraine. Trump has pledged to chop a “deal” to “finish that battle in at some point,” whereas DeSantis dismissed it as a “territorial dispute” which doesn’t contain America’s “very important nationwide pursuits — although later partially backtracked.
However Johnson advised Texan Republicans on Monday: “You’re backing the correct horse. Ukraine goes to win. They’re going to defeat Putin.”
The lunch was not the primary time Johnson has lobbied U.S. lawmakers on Ukraine’s behalf. He visited Washington in January, the place he publicly urged the U.S. administration to present Ukraine fighter jets, and privately met Republican lawmakers on the identical journey.
Following that go to, the Middle for European Coverage Evaluation (CEPA) — a bipartisan, Ukraine-supporting assume tank primarily based in Washington — determined to enlist Johnson’s assist for a broader mission.
The group wished him to take his energetic, pro-conservative case for the battle out of metropolitan D.C. and deep into Republican territory.
“We wished to make that case exterior of Washington — the place all of us reside in a bubble — and to essentially take it to the heartland, to locations like Texas, to get extra assist for Ukraine, and make the case to people who find themselves skeptical about that assist,” stated Alina Polyakova, CEPA’s chief govt.
“In some ways Dallas and Texas are the middle of the Republican debate,” she added.
Texas can be a key battleground within the 2024 Republican presidential main. Trump held his first presidential rally within the Lone Star State in March, whereas DeSantis and former Governor of South Carolina Nikki Haley have additionally been courting votes in Texas.
Johnson is “very a lot seen because the architect of the Western coverage” on Ukraine, Polyakova stated, including that “as a result of Trump had good issues to say about him when he was the president,” it additionally offers Johnson “quite a lot of credibility as effectively with the bottom of the Republican Get together.”
In addition to the personal lunch with Republicans in Dallas on Monday, Johnson additionally met with former U.S. President George W. Bush, who lives within the metropolis together with his spouse Laura. Johnson is because of meet Texas Governor Greg Abbott in Austin on Tuesday.
Unusually, the previous U.Ok. prime minister, who raked in virtually £5 million from talking charges within the first six months after leaving workplace, was not paid for Monday’s lunchtime talking engagement. Nonetheless, he did organize the Dallas journey as a stopover en path to the SCALE World Summit in Las Vegas, a fintech convention the place he can be paid an anticipated six-figure sum for a scheduled speech.
Man on a mission
Johnson has stored Ukraine on the high of his public agenda since being compelled to resign as PM final July over a string of private scandals, together with his attendance at COVID-19 lockdown-busting events at his Downing Avenue residence and workplace.
In energy, Johnson had cast a robust private bond with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, and performed a number one function in early Western efforts to arm Ukraine. His allies even mooted the concept of him turning into a proper envoy to Ukraine following his abrupt Downing Avenue exit, although the concept by no means got here to fruition.
That hasn’t stopped Johnson persevering with his private lobbying push, nonetheless. He visited the Ukrainian capital Kyiv in January 2023 — regardless of now not being a frontline politician — and has continued to talk in assist on a number of events.
On the Dallas lunch on Monday, Johnson insisted Western backing for Ukraine needn’t be indefinite, telling these current he had “each hope that the Ukrainians will have the ability to ship a really substantial counterpunch this summer season,” and that he believed there was “a prospect of a whole Russian navy collapse.”
And addressing considerations in Republican quarters that the U.S. ought to be focusing its consideration on China quite than on a land battle in Jap Europe, Johnson stated victory for Putin can be “horrible in its ramifications for south-east Asia, for the South China Sea, for all of the areas of potential battle between the good powers within the many years to come back.”
In contrast, he added, Western solidarity on Ukraine had already despatched a transparent message to China.
“From Beijing’s viewpoint, they’re taking a look at this and so they’re considering this has massively elevated the strategic ambiguity and the danger surrounding a enterprise towards Taiwan,” Johnson stated.
One businessman current pressed Johnson on corruption in Ukraine, which he stated he had heard was “actually unhealthy once more.”
However the former prime minister insisted the $50 billion spending package deal agreed by President Biden would show “worth for cash.” The U.S. is getting a “enormous, enormous enhance for international safety for a comparatively small outlay,” he stated.
And Johnson being Johnson, he couldn’t resist a swipe at his outdated rival Emmanuel Macron, whom he has reportedly referred to in personal as “Putin’s lickspittle.”
“I believe it was my French good friend and colleague Emmanuel Macron who stated ‘Putin should not be humiliated,’” Johnson advised the lunch social gathering, adopting a fake French accent to softly mock the president.
“I believe it takes an terrible lot to humiliate Vladimir Putin, frankly,” Johnson went on. “I don’t assume it’s our job to fret about Vladimir Putin’s ego, or his political prospects, or developments in his profession.”
Whether or not Johnson retains the populist credentials to win over probably the most ardent Trump supporters Stateside stays to be seen, nonetheless.
In an interview with Nigel Farage on GB Information final month, Trump stated that whereas Johnson was a “fantastic man” and “a good friend of mine,” he had been upset by his time in workplace.
Johnson had gone “a bit on the liberal aspect,” Trump famous sadly. “Most likely in a destructive means.”