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Nigel Farage, leader of Reform UK, criticized for saying West provoked Putin to invade Ukraine

Britain's Nigel Farage, Reform U.K. party leader plays on a game in an amusement arcade holds out some coins whilst spending time with supporters in Clacton-On-Sea, Essex, England Friday, June 21, 2024. (AP Photo/Kirsty Wigglesworth) Britain's Nigel Farage, Reform U.K. party leader plays on a game in an amusement arcade holds out some coins whilst spending time with supporters in Clacton-On-Sea, Essex, England Friday, June 21, 2024. (AP Photo/Kirsty Wigglesworth)
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Nigel Farage, leader of Reform U.K., the recently formed right-wing party that is seeking to woo voters away from Britain's governing Conservatives at the July 4 general election, is facing wide-ranging criticism over his claim that the West provoked Russian President Vladimir Putin to invade Ukraine, including of being an appeaser.

In a BBC television interview broadcast Friday evening, Farage drew a link between the expansion of NATO and the European Union eastwards over the past few decades and the invasion.

Claiming that he warned of a potential war in Ukraine in 2014, when he was a member of the European Parliament, Farage said “we provoked this war.” It's unclear whether his warning came before or after Russia had annexed the Crimea peninsula from Ukraine in February 2014.

“It was obvious to me that the ever-eastward expansion of NATO and the European Union was giving this man a reason to his Russian people to say, ‘They’re coming for us again’ and to go to war," Farage said. “It’s, you know, of course it’s his fault — he’s used what we’ve done as an excuse.”

Farage's critics from across the political spectrum slammed his statement, with many describing him as a Putin apologist.

In perhaps his sharpest criticism of Farage, Conservative Prime Minister Rishi Sunak said it was “completely wrong” to say the West provoked Putin into launching a full invasion of Ukraine in February 2022.

“This is a man who deployed nerve agents on the streets of Britain, who’s doing deals with countries like North Korea," Sunak said. "And this kind of appeasement is dangerous for Britain’s security, the security of our allies that rely on us and only emboldens Putin further.”

Many Conservatives, including Sunak, have largely held back from overly criticizing Farage, who though not a lawmaker in the U.K. Parliament, was hugely influential in Britain’s vote to leave the EU in 2016.

The worry among many Conservatives is that attacking him too much will further alienate many Conservative voters, who sympathize with his tough rhetoric on issues like immigration and Brexit. In many constituencies around the country, Conservatives have argued that a vote for Reform would see the main opposition Labour Party come through the middle and win.

“I think Nigel Farage is a bit like that pub bore we have all met at the end of the bar who often says if ‘I was running the country’ and presents very simplistic answers to actually, I am afraid in the 21st century, complex problems,” Ben Wallace, the former Conservative defense secretary who has stood down as a lawmaker, told BBC radio.

This is the first general election that Reform U.K. is contesting and it has enjoyed a lift in the polls after Farage said in early June he would lead the party and contest the seat in Clacton in southeast England. Though the party is not expected to secure many seats, Farage is currently favorite to win his contest and finally enter Parliament after seven attempts.

Meanwhile, John Healey, who is set to become defense secretary if the left-of-center Labour Party wins the election as the polls indicate, said Farage would “rather lick Vladimir Putin’s boots than stand up for the people of Ukraine.”

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