Vladimir Putin is spouting “fairytale claims” when falsely alleging that Nato is preparing for an invasion of Russian land, Defence Secretary Ben Wallace has said.
The Russian president used a military parade in Moscow on Monday as an attempt to cast his invasion of Ukraine as a necessary response to Western policies.
But Mr Wallace accused Mr Putin and his “utterly complicit” generals of “hijacking” the memory of Russian troops repelling the Nazis in the Second World War.
Instead he said they are “inflicting needless suffering in the service of lowly gangsterism”.
In Moscow, Mr Putin claimed that his attack on Russia’s neighbour was necessary to ward off “an absolutely unacceptable threat just next to our borders”.
He reportedly added at the Victory Day celebrations that the West has been “preparing for the invasion of our land, including Crimea”.
But, asked by journalists after a speech at London’s National Army Museum in Chelsea, south-west London, Mr Wallace bluntly denied that Nato and western allies have ever planned to attack Russia.
“President Putin has made a number of fairytale claims for months and years now,” the Cabinet minister said.
“If it wasn’t so tragic it would be amusing, but it isn’t.
“One of his claims is that he is surrounded. Nato accounts for 6% of his land border. That’s not being surrounded if only 6% of your land border is Nato countries.
“I think he is believing what he wants to believe – a slight shine of desperation. But let me put on the record categorically: Nato, Britain, eastern Europe is not planning to invade Russia and never has done.”
Mr Wallace accused the Russian regime of “mirroring (the) fascism and tyranny” of Nazi Germany as the Moscow parade to celebrate the 1945 victory over Hitler’s forces was under way.
Downing Street backed the allegation, with the Prime Minister’s official spokesman arguing it was “valid” given the “rhetoric being wrongly used by Putin today”.
Boris Johnson accused the Russian leader of waging an “unwinnable” war “solely for his own vanity”.
The Prime Minister told the Standard newspaper: “Russians are right to commemorate their heroic role in the defeat of Nazism. But Putin’s brutal attack on Ukraine shames Russia. His unwinnable war is being fought solely for his own vanity.
“He is now expending senselessly the lives of young Russians as well as innocent Ukrainians to avoid humiliation. I have always said Putin must fail and Putin will fail because this is an ego-driven mistake.”
The Defence Secretary also said Russian suffering was used under the Soviets “as it is now, to cover up the inadequacy of those ruling in safety and comfort from behind the Kremlin walls”.
“Fear and sycophancy dictated behaviours then, and today’s Russian armed forces still carry that Soviet imprint – the imprint of amorality and corruption,” he said.
“They are the ones who truly insult the memory of the Immortal Regiment. So let’s call out the absurdity of Russian generals resplendent in their manicured parade uniforms, weighed down by the gold braid and glistening metals.
“They are utterly complicit in Putin’s hijacking of their forebears’ proud history of defending against the ruthless invasion, of repelling fascism and sacrificing themselves for higher purpose.
“And now they are the ones inflicting needless suffering in the service of lowly gangsterism and for them, and for Putin, there can be no victory day, only dishonour and surely defeat in Ukraine.”
Mr Wallace’s speech came after Foreign Secretary Liz Truss accused Russia of war crimes over the bombing of a school in eastern Ukraine where civilians were sheltering.
Up to 60 are feared dead after the school in Bilohorivka in the Luhansk region of eastern Ukraine was bombed and caught fire on Saturday.
The Attorney General, Suella Braverman, visited Ukraine on Monday where she met the prosecutor general, Iryna Venediktova.
She also led a delegation of war crimes experts in Poland as part of the UK’s support for Ukraine’s investigations into Russian atrocities.
“I am determined that British expertise will help Iryna and her team to uncover the truth and hold Putin’s regime to account for its actions. Justice will be done,” Ms Braverman said.
On Sunday, G7 leaders including Mr Johnson and US President Joe Biden held talks with Ukraine’s president Volodymyr Zelensky.
The Prime Minister told his counterparts “the world must go further and faster to support Ukraine” against the Kremlin’s invading forces.
The UK has pledged an extra £1.3 billion in military support to Ukraine, in a dramatic escalation of assistance for Mr Zelensky’s forces.
It is the highest rate of UK military spending on a conflict since the height of the campaigns in Iraq and Afghanistan.